Growing support for inquiry, premiers, native leaders say ahead of meeting

The Canadian Press
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Ghislain Picard, Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, responds to media questions at a news conference Wednesday April 16, 2008 in Quebec City.

The federal government is rejecting renewed calls for a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in advance of a meeting Wednesday between premiers and native leaders, one of whom says the prime minister is isolated in his position.

The premiers and aboriginal leaders endorsed the idea of an inquiry when they met last year, but there is growing momentum behind such a proposal, said Ghislain Picard, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

“The difference between last year and this year is that there is more and more support,” Picard said in an interview ahead of the meeting in Charlottetown.

“What we have today is that the federal government is standing alone.”

Native leaders say the need for an inquiry has been highlighted by the death earlier this month of a 15-year-old aboriginal girl whose body was found wrapped in a bag that was dumped in the Red River in Winnipeg.

Tina Fontaine had been in the city for less than a month when she ran away from foster care. Police are treating the case as a homicide.

“In light of recent events ... it’s clear that this issue cannot be overshadowed by other pressing issues,” Picard said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week that cases like Fontaine’s should not be viewed as a “sociological phenomenon” but rather a serious crime to be investigated by police.

The federal government says it is taking steps to deal with the problem of violence against aboriginal women, such as setting up a national DNA missing person’s index and introducing tougher sentences for murder, sexual assault and kidnapping.

“We don’t need yet another study on top of the some 40 studies that have already been done,” a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement.

“We need police to catch her killer and ensure the perpetrator or perpetrators are punished and face the full force of the law.”

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police also decided Tuesday against endorsing an inquiry, saying it was up to all levels of government to take immediate action to address the underlying issues that lead aboriginal women to be vulnerable to crime and violence.

Newly elected association president Clive Weighill, chief of the Saskatoon police, said the group’s board of directors met to discuss the issue and they fear an inquiry will only delay action.

But several premiers including Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, Manitoba’s Greg Selinger and Brad Wall of Saskatchewan have spoken out in recent days calling on the federal government to change its mind.

Wynne said Harper’s comments were “outrageous,” suggesting the prime minister is ignoring the systemic problems behind the violence faced by aboriginal women.

Wall said the provinces remain united with aboriginal leaders.

“Saskatchewan, on a percentage basis, has a high First Nations and Metis population ... so we’d like to see it the subject of an inquiry,” he said in an interview.

“There’s a societal element that we do need to look at and the provinces and the federal government bear responsibility in that regard.”

Michele Audette, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said an inquiry could take years to complete its work, which is why she would like to see a federal-provincial working group established to spur some action.

Audette said her roundtable proposal would bring together federal and provincial ministers responsible for various programs affecting aboriginal people.

“It would help to stop working in silos,” she said in an interview.

“And it would help end the broken relationship between indigenous people and this current government. ... If the federal government says no to this, it’s obvious there’s a huge problem here.”

P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz said the call for an inquiry is part of the meeting agenda, but he is also interested in the roundtable idea.

“Dialogue is good,” said Ghiz, who will be the longest-serving premier at the meeting. “If one door closes, you always have to look for another to open up.”

The premiers will continue with their own meetings on Thursday and Friday. Ghiz said other items on the agenda include health-care innovation, internal trade, competitiveness and the temporary foreign worker program.

The long-term bid to create a national energy strategy will also be discussed, but Ghiz suggested he doesn’t expect much progress because two of the largest energy-producing provinces — Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador — are in the midst of replacing their premiers.

Organizations: Assembly of First Nations, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Native Women Association of Canada

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Red River, Saskatchewan Saskatoon Ontario Manitoba Alberta Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • Kenneth
    August 27, 2014 - 10:26

    Read Chantel Hebert in the Guardian this a.m. and you will understand why the Premier's are busy with this. They don't have a clue about how to accomplish anything. It is a sad crop at this point in time. There are all kinds of issues that needs attention and they waste time with 'feel good' issues. Fix the trade between the Provinces, fix the deficits, fix the roads, eliminate the senate - show leadership, save us money and scrap that useless, wasteful "club", known as "the Council of the Federation". Just an other excuse for travel and wine and dine themselves. With the exception of Premier Wall, this group has very little credibility as leaders, that is particularly true of the Premier of PEI.

  • Vick
    August 27, 2014 - 10:16

    They need to continuing pushing an enquiry into the amount of money the Canadian tax payer is giving natives and how much the chiefs are paying themselves in salaries! That would be a start!

  • William
    August 27, 2014 - 10:12

    "Growing support for inquiry", - where? Not from the public, but from ambitious politicians at all levels who want to get their face in the paper and who want further their own political agenda. Why can the man in the street see what is wrong here, and the politicians not? Because, they have their own greedy agenda, and the public have common sense. Nothing new would come from this. All the evidence is available, but it is more politically beneficial to ignore that and blame Harper, - and more political correct to ignore that the reserve leadership and living conditions there are the culprits in all this. Harper may have his faults, but on this one, he is the only one with any sense.

  • Sally
    August 27, 2014 - 10:03

    What a farce this is turning into. Politicians and Native leaders falling all over themselves with a demand, just to make themselves look good. Everyone knows it is the sad state of affairs that exists on the reserves that causes this. The Chiefs do not want change, they are at the top of the heap, getting outrageous wages, doling out goodies and jobs on whims and to those that 'beg' and 'adore' them. As long as the people under them buckle under them, and do not demand proper democracy, things will not change. Don't regard the rest of us as the enemy, the enemy is within - and you have to fix it yourself. - Don't be bought by self serving politicians.

  • heather
    August 27, 2014 - 09:56

    absolutely agree, Angus, this is nothing but pure party politics, played out on the back of the poor dead women. I am so thankful our current Prime Minister will not engage in such a futile mission. WE HAVE ALL THE EVIDENCE WE NEED, - IT IS SELF GOVERNMENT AT IT'S WORST. I hope this backfires on those heartless individuals (POLITICIANS etc.) who are using this sad state of affairs for their own gain. Shameful---

  • Angus
    August 27, 2014 - 08:45

    As per Power & Politics last night; the percentages are about the same as those in the Canadian population as a whole and there's acutally more native men cases then women's. This is just another Liberal and NDP stick to beat the government with AND to spend millions of tax dollars on for lawyers and their staffs. They get to travel the country, wine and dine on public money for a few years and then prepare a report that offers few solutions and is ignored by successive governments, no matter who's in power. This is just political gamesmanship on the backs of the victims.

    • Angus
      August 27, 2014 - 09:57

      I should also add that the 3 leading National print columnists, Coyne, Simpson and Walkom have all said an inquiry is unnecessary. To quote Simpson, 'it's posturing.' As well the National Police Chiefs association has also dismissed the idea of an inquiry as serving any public good. I suspect the above opinions carry more weight with average Canadians than those of the premiers.

  • bob from cardigan
    August 27, 2014 - 08:16

    oh wait another liberal idea taht involves tax paying dollars.1

  • Lloyd
    August 27, 2014 - 08:05

    So they appoint 20 friends to do an inquiry. Pay them big money for a few years. What will they solve? Nothing All deaths of Canadians should be treated the same. So sick of special treatment for any groups.

  • enough already
    August 26, 2014 - 21:04

    A public inquiry is a total waste of money. The money would be better spent trying to put these families back together so the women are not lost and abused.