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Ottawa should heed call for inquiry into missing native women: Editorial

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    Ottawa should heed call for inquiry into missing native women: Editorial Stephen Harper is wrong to dismiss the premiers call for a public inquiry into the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 29, 2013
      Ottawa should heed call for inquiry into missing native women: Editorial
      Stephen Harper is wrong to dismiss the premiers' call for a public inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women.


      Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt says an inquiry into missing aboriginal women would be too expensive.

      Published on Fri Jul 26 2013
      Is it indifference to the problem or a distaste for evidence that has led Prime Minister Stephen Harper, yet again, to reject calls for a much-needed national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women?

      At the Council of the Federation meeting this week, Canada's premiers added their voices to the chorus calling for the inquiry. Within 24 hours, the Harper government had yet again dismissed the idea.

      It should reconsider.

      Some 600 native women are believed to have been killed or have gone missing since 1970. Between that year and 2009, 321 bodies were discovered along roads, under bridges or in boarding rooms across the country. But the issue came to wide public attention only in 2002 when the remains of 33 more were found on the B.C. pig farm of serial killer Robert Pickton, who had managed to evade police for years by targeting aboriginal sex workers whose disappearances went unreported or uninvestigated.

      "Would the reaction of the police and the public have been any different if the missing women had come from Vancouver's west side?" asked Wally Oppal, the commissioner of the inquiry into the botched Pickton investigation. "The answer is obvious."

      But how to address the disproportionately high incidence of violence against native women - and the apparent public and police apathy in its face - is much less so.

      That's why the Assembly of First Nations and groups like the Native Women's Association have been lobbying the federal government for years to establish a national public inquiry - a campaign the premiers rightly endorsed in Niagara-on-the-Lake this week. We need to identify the roots of this tragic problem and begin to develop a national strategy for solving it.

      So why is the federal government dead-set against an inquiry? Harper has repeatedly said that inquiries are too expensive - a sentiment echoed by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt last month. "The way out is not to study anymore," he said. "The way out is to take action."

      And yet the piecemeal actions the government has taken suggest it hasn't studied enough. Upon rejecting the AFN's latest call for an inquiry last year, the government pointed to a $25-million investment in tracking and reducing violence as proof that it's already taken the necessary "concrete action."

      But those programs, whatever their merits, are not designed specifically to address the problem of violence against aboriginal women, and in some cases, they've made it more difficult to do so. In 2010, the government withdrew funding from Sisters In Spirit, the only organization collecting data on crime against native women, and put the money toward a missing person database with no specific aboriginal mandate.

      A public inquiry may be expensive, but there's no greater waste of money than action not guided by knowledge. Before the government can begin to fix this pressing problem, it will need to understand the complex interaction of socio-economic factors and public and police biases that make native women so vulnerable to violence. The premiers, six women among them, have done the right thing by calling for a national inquiry. But only the federal government has the power to make it happen.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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