© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Michele Audette of the Native Women's Association of Canada speaks to reporters in Charlottetown before a meeting with Canada's premiers on Aug. 27
The country’s premiers are calling for a national roundtable to discuss the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women as a compromise measure in the absence of a national public inquiry.
After a meeting with aboriginal leaders in Charlottetown Wednesday, P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz said the premiers reiterated their support for an inquiry, but as the federal government has rejected this, a roundtable discussion would be “a step in the right direction.”
“We are looking to compromise because we believe it is an issue that has to be addressed,” Ghiz said.
“We believe dialogue and compromise are good first steps. If we know we’re not going to get somewhere, there’s no point us putting our head in the sand and saying we’re done with it.”
The premiers also committed to putting together a socio-economic action plan for aboriginal women.
This will be concentrated on education, housing and job opportunities.
“We believe that’s one of the keys to helping alleviate this terrible black eye on Canada,” Ghiz said, adding he believes “socio-economic backgrounds play a huge part in missing or murdered aboriginal women.”
This comment comes on the heels of remarks made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week in response to news of a 15-year-old aboriginal girl found dead in Winnipeg in a suspected homicide.
Harper said this case and others like it in Canada should be viewed as crimes, not a “sociological phenomenon.”
Michele Audette, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, has disagreed with the prime minister, which is why her association has been calling for a national roundtable discussion in the absence of a public inquiry into the issue.
She said Tuesday she was pleased all of the country’s premiers have now endorsed the idea.
“I think you can see on my face how happy I am,” Audette said.
She stressed her belief a public inquiry is still “a must,” but that a national discussion is a good interim measure.
“Women are dying, women are disappearing every week and every month. So what do we do? Just watch and become accomplice?” Audette said.
“I believe that if there is that roundtable maybe we can solve a few things.”
Details of how a roundtable would work are still too preliminary to discuss, Ghiz said, but added he expected the federal justice and aboriginal ministers should take part.
Ghislain Picard, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was critical over the fact the federal government has not been part of discussions with First Nations leaders intent on finding concrete actions to deal with the 1,200 murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada.
“We do not want to find ourselves in the same situation one year from now, so that calls for action, action now and action for the months to come,” Picard said.
While the premiers discussed the issue in Charlottetown, federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair issued a promise in Ottawa Wednesday that he would call a public inquiry within 100 days of taking office, if elected prime minister in next year’s federal election.
In May, the RCMP released a study of 1,181 cases involving aboriginal women since 1980. The study found aboriginal women made up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but accounted for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.
With a file from The Canadian Press