Yukon MP Ryan Leef has announced that he will support a federal inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.
He has heard “loud and clear” from Yukoners that this is something that they want, said Leef. People have told him that inquiry would give closure, answers and hopefully solutions, he said.
“I’ve committed to Yukoners that if the call for an inquest reaches the floor of the House of Commons that I will indeed vote for that, regardless of who tables it in the House.”
Premiers of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories have all joined together to ask for a federal inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper has, so far, rejected the call.
When Harper visited the Yukon in August, he dodged a reporter’s question on if he would support an inquiry.
“It’s our strong belief that there has been a lot of study of this particular issue, and we have taken a number of steps to deal with this,” Harper said.
He added that the focus should be on protecting all Canadians.
“We think that what is important is that we look for ways of taking action, not just for missing and murdered aboriginal women but more broadly. It’s about securing safe streets and communities,” he said.
While Leef is prepared to go against party leadership on this issue, this does not signal a rift between him and the party or the prime minister, he said.
“The reality is, I’m not defying leadership, I’m standing up for Yukon constituents.”
The Conservative Party has been clear on the issue of free votes in the House, so a vote against party lines is no act of defiance, he said.
Leef agrees with the prime minister that there are many concrete actions that the government is already taking on this issue, he said.
He criticized the NDP Opposition for failing to support these initiatives.
“I’d certainly be calling on the Opposition to join the government on a lot of the substantive and concrete measures that we’ve already taken to eliminate and reduce violence, to improve the social conditions for First Nation women and girls,” said Leef.
He mentioned specifically the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act.
“That body of legislation provided First Nation women the same property rights as any other woman in Canada when they are divorced. Before that, they had no right of claim to property they were living on when a divorce occurred.”
The act received royal assent in June, but has not yet come into force.
“We were able to get that piece of legislation through, despite the Opposition not supporting it, which is absolutely alarming, to me, that they wouldn’t have supported that body of legislation,” said Leef.
Some First Nation groups have raised concerns with the legislation, arguing that it steps on their sovereignty over their jurisdictions and fails to guarantee the resources necessary to administer the law.
It has no effect in the Yukon, since there are no reserves in this territory.
Leef also mentioned $182,000 in federal money directed at engaging Yukon men and boys to end violence against women and girls, and various other investments in education, housing and training.
“It’s the social conditions that are contributing the greatest to the higher level of risk that aboriginal women and girls are facing,” said Leef.
Leef also agrees with Harper that inquiries are often unfocused and sometimes fail to provide real solutions, he said.
He is therefore calling on provinces, territories and First Nations to agree to contribute financial and human resources to any inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women.
That would ensure that the inquiry has a sharp focus, stays on track, and acknowledges regional differences, said Leef.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at