Winnipeg should take a lead role on the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women, says police chief Devon Clunis, who added that he's just waiting to be given the mandate to do it.
Clunis made the remark at a meeting of the Winnipeg Police Board on Friday, in response to a question from mayoral candidate David Sanders.
"Aboriginal women continue to go missing and to turn up murdered. If we really know how to stop this, why aren't we stopping it?" Sanders asked the board.
Clunis replied, "It is, I would agree with you, an absolute atrocity."
The police chief told the board that if any city could take the lead on the issue, it should be Winnipeg.
"When you look at the urban population of First Nations, Métis in the city of Winnipeg, that's what I meant by that — [there's] a significant population," Clunis said.
"So if any city should feel really close to this issue, it should be the city of Winnipeg."
Clunis said First Nations and Métis people have been historically and systemically marginalized for years, and crime can only be reduced when those issues are dealt with head-on.
Somebody has to take the reins, he said.
"When you're looking for something to truly sink your teeth into, I think any if city in the country should take the lead, any police organization or police board, it should be the Winnipeg Police Board that would take the lead on this," he said.
Could the next mayor play a key role?
Clunis also said whoever is elected Winnipeg's next mayor on Oct. 22 can play a key role in addressing the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Mayoral candidate Paula Havixbeck said more could be done at the civic level to give the police service the resources they need to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
"I'm saddened and I believe that what's going on in our city is tragic right now. My heart breaks when I think of the most recent situations and the numbers," Havixbeck said Friday.
Rival candidate Brian Bowman agreed, saying it's time to address the issue.
"It's time that this community step up in greater ways and our municipal leaders step up in greater ways to protect our own. It's an absolutely heartbreaking issue that needs to be a priority for our community," Bowman said.
Judy Wasylycia-Leis has long been calling for a national inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women and children, a campaign spokesperson told CBC News.
Wasylycia-Leis most recently reiterated that call when she unveiled her crime prevention plan late last month.
"She also agrees with Chief Clunis's call to have the Winnipeg Police Board examine the issue. We have all been to far too many vigils," the campaign spokesperson said in an email.
Bowman, Sanders and Mike Vogiazakis all said they would support a national inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Robert-Falcon Ouellette also said he supports the idea of a national inquiry, but he said he's concerned that if an inquiry is called, not enough of its findings would be implemented.
Police must be 'front and centre,' says Steeves
Gord Steeves said the recent death of Tina Fontaine, which is being investigated as a homicide, is a "horrible tragedy" in the community, but he added that he hasn't directly considered a national inquiry into missing and murdered women and as such wouldn't make a comment on it.
"Don't have a comment on altering the operations of the Winnipeg Police Service to deal with this issue or larger issues in the city of Winnipeg right now," he said.
Steeves added, "Anyone who is harmed in our community, the police service has to be front and centre in terms of assisting anyway they can."
Sanders, the candidate who pushed the issue onto the Winnipeg Police Board's agenda, said the door is now open to possible solutions.
"If people have a good idea, let's hear it," he said. "I think maybe the community will now listen and respond with political support which, as you heard, has been missing."
Winnipeg Police Board chair Scott Fielding said the board is currently planning strategy for the next five years and will consider what direction to give to the police service.
The board has an open meeting with members of the city's aboriginal community next week.