By Ryan Leef
There has been a lot of discussion around the call for an inquiry into the serious and troubling issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada. In the Yukon, this was cemented by Premier Darrell Pasloski passing a unanimous motion in the Yukon legislature calling for a national inquiry. This decision was born from the premiers’ meeting on July 24 of this year at Niagara-on-the-Lake where our country’s 13 provincial and territorial leaders called on the federal government to have such an inquiry.
At that time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that he remains skeptical of commissions of inquiry generally – not to say they never work, or never produce good recommendations, but his experience has been they almost always run over time, over budget, and often the recommendations prove to be of limited utility.
The federal government has taken concrete and measurable action that deals, head on, with many of the conditions that contribute to the alarming rates of murdered and missing aboriginal women. We have been studying several different venues and have provided funding for multi-year studies within various branches of our government.
Funding elements within the justice system have been provided to increase the efficacy of both prevention programs as well as investigative techniques delivered by organizations and police services.
In the House of Commons we supported a unanimous motion calling for a parliamentary committee on murdered and missing aboriginal women: a report is due in 2014. This committee is continuing its in-depth study, and parliamentary committees have a much higher impact on legislation necessary to address Canadian issues.
While the opposition has been calling for an inquest, it is important to note that an inquest alone is not the solution in and of itself, and to stop short with merely a call for action is not a genuine effort to address the issue. The opposition has failed to support our government’s very real efforts to improve the lives of aboriginal women. Our introduction of real matrimonial property rights legislation; budget measures to support groups and organizations that focus on violence prevention; literacy investments; affordable housing funding like the $110 million for Nunavut and $600 million Canada-wide in Budget 2013; education and job-specific training initiatives; all of which are designed to improve social conditions providing opportunities that help reduce the risks currently faced by aboriginal women and girls.
Inquests can provide some challenges, and in the worst cases they fail to honour the victims and the families seeking closure, answers, and solutions. To that end, I believe that a meaningful and complete inquest requires the participation both in human resources and financial terms from the provinces, territories, and the First Nation governments.
Many of the social conditions that enhance the risk and account for the disproportionate percentage of aboriginal women that go missing, are murdered, and suffer desperately low solution rates fall within the jurisdictional control of the provinces. From social services, to housing, to municipal and provincial police forces, education and health care delivery, an inquest that does not have a solid partnership and participation of the provincial and territorial premiers and First Nation governments will only disappoint and frustrate those we seek to serve – those who deserve answers, solutions and closure.
As a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and as an investigator with Yukon’s Safer Communities and Neighborhoods Unit, I have seen first-hand the path that leads an individual to increased risk and the impact of violence on individuals, families, communities, and our territory.
I do understand why Yukoners are seeking such an inquest, and it is my job as their representative to carry their message forward. So, I have joined the voice of Yukon citizens asking for a national inquest on missing and murdered aboriginal women.
I also believe, that done properly, an inquest will serve to complement the already outstanding efforts our government is making to provide opportunity, hope, healing and prosperity to all First Nation communities in Canada.
Ryan Leef is Yukon’s member of Parliament.