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Premiers, opposition leaders support call for national inquiry

Wednesday September 3, 2014
Wawatay file photo

The recent death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine has sparked renewed calls from various organizations and leaders for a national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

The subject was discussed at a meeting with premiers and territorial leaders in Charlottetown, PEI prior to the annual Council of the Federation Premiers Conference.

The meeting between the premiers and Aboriginal leaders came not too long after Prime Minister Stephen Harper said there was no need for a national inquiry when questioned on the subject, and Fontaine’s death, during a visit to Yukon College in Whitehorse, NWT.

“I think we should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime. It is crime against innocent people and it needs to be addressed as such,” Harper said.

His response triggered criticism from many, including federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Katherine Wynne, and opposition leader Thomas Mulcair.

Mulcair called the comments from Harper “cold” and “heartless,” and said that they ignore the disproportionate levels of violence that Aboriginal women face in the country.

“And it ignores the fact that this violence is indeed systemic,” he added.

At a press conference in Ottawa on Aug. 27, Mulcair announced that within 100 days in office, an NDP government would establish a national public inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Before the start of the annual meeting, premiers and Aboriginal leaders Clément Chartier, head of the Métis National Council, and Native Women’s Association of Canada president Michèle Audette, renewed the calls at a press conference for a national inquiry, but also proposed a national roundtable with federal ministers.

“We are also extremely supportive of the idea that if there is a national roundtable with federal ministers,” said P.E.I Premier Robert Ghiz.

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Ghislain Picard welcomed renewed support for a national inquiry.

“The challenges and priorities before us are a tall order, but I am pleased that we came together today as individuals and as leaders to discuss working together to achieve change for First Nations and other Indigenous peoples in Canada,” Picard said.

Picard said: “we are encouraged by the agreement from premiers and territorial leaders to convene regional roundtables and to engage in and support a national roundtable with Indigenous representative organizations to coordinate efforts to end violence against Indigenous women and girls.”

Picard said that ending violence was a collective challenge for First Nations, the federal government, and the provinces and regions.

“Support for a national inquiry is welcomed, but we cannot stop here. We cannot find ourselves in the same situation next year, we absolutely need to make progress and it needs to start now,” Picard said.

He stated that “everyone” needs to be at the table to support all efforts to address ongoing challenges and root causes of vulnerability and violence.

The call for a national inquiry was also supported by the municipalities of Thunder Bay and Toronto, as each city council passed resolutions to call on the federal government to start an inquiry.

Meanwhile, there have been published editorials in the media from those who are against a national inquiry. The editorials have outraged the Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA).

ONWA issued a press release in response to a column that appeared in the Globe and Mail on Aug. 27 titled “Posturing is the only reason for a missing women inquiry.” ONWA stated that they were shocked and appalled by the article, which was penned by Jeffrey Simpson.

“The article not only disregards the true magnitude of the problem Canada has with missing and murdered Aboriginal women, but makes the blatantly racist and stereotypical assumption that all Aboriginal women are killed by Aboriginal men,” read the statement from ONWA.

The Globe and Mail piece stated that even though the report released in the spring by the RCMP (entitled Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview) “does not say so directly, the data strongly suggest that Aboriginal women were (and are) largely being victimized by Aboriginal men, which means the solutions to the problem lie not within a public inquiry but within Aboriginal communities about why this is happening.”

ONWA stresses that it is important to clarify for Simpson, and the Canadian public at large, that the RCMP report makes no reference whatsoever to the race of the perpetrators who have been convicted of killing Aboriginal women.

“While it does state that most homicides are most often perpetrated by spouses or someone known to the victim, it is nothing more than a stereotypical assumption that all Aboriginal women are married to Aboriginal men and that all their known acquaintances are Aboriginal,” ONWA stated.

ONWA stated that to imply that the over 1,200 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women are simply the result of “Aboriginal-on-Aboriginal crime” is nothing more than shameful victim blaming and a desperate attempt to negate Canada as a whole of any responsibility to the issue.

Dawn Harvard, ONWA President, said that the epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women is a systemic problem that affects all Canadians, and needs to be treated as such.

“Mr. Simpson’s article fails to mention that Aboriginal women are losing their lives at alarmingly higher rates than non-Aboriginal women. This is the atrocity! To downgrade this tragedy to an issue that lies solely within our communities shows a complete and utter disregard for the seriousness of it,” Harvard said.

Harvard said the writer’s assumption that it is primarily Aboriginal men who are killing Aboriginal women “only perpetuates racist attitudes and divisiveness in this country.

“The focus needs to be on why this is happening at such alarming rates,” Harvard said. “We need to look at this from a broader perspective and examine the underlying socio-economic issues that are contributing to the violence. This is not the time to be pointing fingers.”

ONWA called on all media to honour their responsibility to the public to ensure that what is being published does not perpetuate racist attitudes and beliefs that leave Aboriginal women even more vulnerable to violence than they already are.

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