Cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women are best dealt with through police investigations, not a national inquiry, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said at a press conference at Yukon College yesterday.
“We should not view this as sociological phenomenon, we should view it as crime. It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such.”
Calls for an inquiry have been renewed after the body of a 15-year-old Anishinabe girl, Tina Fontaine, was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg this week.
But these cases are best left to police, Harper said.
“We want to extend all of our sympathies to the families and friends. This is a terrible crime, clearly a crime. But first and foremost it is a crime, and the most important thing is to ensure we have a thorough police investigation.”
Marian Horne, president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, called Harper’s refusal to call an inquiry “a disgrace” in an interview Thursday.
“It’s shameful. It’s absolutely shameful. We have at least one woman or girl missing each week (across Canada),” she said.
According to a recent RCMP report, aboriginal women are nearly three times as likely to be missing and four times as likely to be murdered as non-aboriginal women in Canada.
“We know the problems, we know what causes it,” said Horne. “And the factors include poverty, poor housing, lack of education. It’s the fallout of colonialism that was forced upon us in residential schools.
“People think, ‘Oh yeah, residential school, that’s in the past.’ It’s not. It’s the residual effect, and the government has an obligation to us to heal us from the trauma that was caused in this continuing cycle.
“They owe us to have health care to address the trauma, to address the substance abuse. If we address the trauma, we will lessen the substance abuse, the mental issues. We will have healthy families.
“It does go back to the federal government. It’s time the prime minister wakes up and sees that it is his duty. It’s a disgrace against us as Canadians.”
All of Canada’s premiers have voiced support for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Yukon’s legislative assembly unanimously passed a motion in support of such action.
Yukon’s MP Ryan Leef, who is a member of Harper’s Conservative caucus, has come out in support of an inquiry as well.
“I do understand why Yukoners are seeking such an inquest, and it is my job as their representative to carry their message forward,” he wrote in an open letter in 2013. “So, I have joined the voice of Yukon citizens asking for a national inquest on missing and murdered aboriginal women.”
Horne said she hopes Canadian premiers will use their upcoming meetings in P.E.I. to push the prime minister again for an inquiry.
But she’s not hopeful that Harper will change his tune, she said.
It will probably take a change in government, said Horne.
“We have to be very careful on who we’re voting for in our next election, make sure that the government will be supportive of our First Nations across Canada and respect the women and the girls that are going missing.
“It’s always said that the governments that are in power don’t need the vote of the aboriginal people to get into office. Well, what we have to do is stand up and have our voices heard, get out and vote for who supports us, who will stand up for us, who will call for a national inquiry.
“We’d better get with it. Canada has to get on board. We are human beings. We are not disposable.”
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