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Aboriginal affairs, justice ministers vow action on missing women

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    Aboriginal affairs, justice ministers vow action on missing women By Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service October 30, 2009
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 31, 2009
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      Aboriginal affairs, justice ministers vow action on missing women
      By Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service
      October 30, 2009

      A stretch of Highway 16 between Smithers and Burns Lake. The highway is known as the Highway of Tears.
      Photograph by: Mikael Kjellstrom file photo, Canwest News Service
      Canada's aboriginal affairs and justice ministers, attending separate federal-provincial meetings in Toronto and Fredericton on Friday, highlighted the tragedy of this country's 1,559 missing women and vowed action on several fronts.

      The proposals, including a bolstered national databank of missing-persons information and a co-ordinated strategy "against the exploitation of aboriginal women," follow the publication last week of a special Canwest News Service series exploring the scope of the crisis.

      At a federal-provincial-territorial meeting of justice and public safety ministers in Fredericton, a final communique "acknowledged the seriousness of missing persons, particularly aboriginal women and girls."

      The ministers also directed officials "to report back on efforts to create a national information database of missing persons."

      And in Toronto, in response to a push by Eric Robinson, Manitoba's acting aboriginal affairs minister, his provincial, territorial and federal counterparts agreed to a explore a "national strategy" to address the epidemic of missing and murdered native women and the underlying causes of the crises.

      "It's got to be seen for what it is," Robinson told Canwest News Service in an interview Friday. "It's a state of emergency and we have to take some action."

      He said the pan-Canadian ministerial push - which Robinson stated was strongly "embraced" by federal Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl - should send the message to the public and government officials from all jurisdictions that the tragedy of the deaths and disappearances of so many aboriginal women is now a national priority.

      "We've taken a significant first step," said Robinson, adding that "this issue is really a disgrace to all of us as Canadians."

      The RCMP currently manages a computer clearing house of data about missing persons in Canada. But there are lingering concerns about a lack of co-ordination between jurisdictions in tracking and investigating missing women, a problem highlighted in August when Manitoba RCMP and Winnipeg police struck a task force to share more information about a cluster of deaths and disappearances of aboriginal women in and around the city.

      The task force also reactivated a number of cold cases involving missing women.

      Vancouver Island resident Judy Peterson, who was profiled in the Canwest News Service series, also has gained support from various MPs and the RCMP in pushing for a national human-remains index, which could be used to solve some missing-persons cases in Canada.

      Peterson's daughter, Lindsey, went missing in 1993 at age 14 in a case that has never been solved.

      Peterson has lobbied for years for new rules that would allow investigators to overcome existing legal barriers, and compare unidentified human remains with DNA volunteered from relatives of thousands of missing Canadian men, women and children.

      The Canwest News Service series also examined the uncertain fate of Sisters in Spirit, a federally funded, five-year initiative that has compiled information about more than 520 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

      The program, operated by the Native Women's Association of Canada, has earned high praise from the Conservative government for its research and advocacy efforts, but faces the end of its funding within months. Earlier this week, Winnipeg MP Anita Neville, the federal Liberal critic for women's issues, called on the government to renew funding for Sisters in Spirit to continue its campaign to reduce violence and other social problems in Canada's aboriginal communities.

      In their statement Friday, the justice ministers recognized "the efforts of those who reach out to victims," but no announcement was made about the future of Sisters in Spirit.

      Robinson, who is also Manitoba's culture and tourism minister, said in a statement he garnered a "unanimous commitment" from fellow ministers to combat the violence underlying Canada's missing native women.

      "The national tragedy of our stolen sisters knows no provincial boundaries, and urgently requires a national strategy," said Robinson.

      "I am pleased my colleagues from coast to coast to coast have agreed with me by adding this issue to the agenda."

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