Conservative MP Ryan Leef has pledged his support for a national public inquiry into the case of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada — but only if the provinces are willing to play a role.
Leef said he made the decision after Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski recently passed a unanimous motion in the legislature calling for a national inquiry, a decision born out of the Premiers meeting at Niagra-on-the-Lake this summer.
While the Premiers agreed to support a call by the Native Women's Association of Canada, the provinces and territories did not say what role, if any, they would play.
In a letter posted on the his website this week, Leef said, "I believe that a meaningful and complete inquest requires the participation both in human resource and financial terms from the provinces, territories and the First Nation governments."
As a former member of the RCMP and as investigator with Yukon’s safer communities and neighbourhoods unit, Leef said he has "seen first-hand the path that leads an individual to increased risk and the impact of violence on individuals, families, communities and our territory."
In taking this position, Leef is straying from the official party line. But in a phone interview on Thursday, Leef's executive assistant, Kay Richter, said the Yukon MP is not breaking ranks with the party.
Richter said Leef acknowledges there are problems with inquiries, though she denied any "backpeddling" from his statement.
"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," Leef said.
Leef is telling the provinces and territories: "put your money where your mouth is," Richter said.
No public inquiry, Valcourt says
In an interview with CBC News on Tuesday, Bernard Valcourt, the aboriginal affairs minister, said that inquiries are for those who want to hide behind the pretext of taking action.
"An inquiry would not bring anything more than we already know. So instead of further study and spinning our wheels, let's take action."
The federal government did support a unanimous motion calling for a special commons committee on murdered and missing aboriginal women. The committee is expected to continue its work when Parliament resumes next week, with a report due in 2014.
'An inquiry would not bring anything more than we already know' - Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt
The minister said the federal government also adopted, following the 2010 budget, a seven-point strategy to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Valcourt conceded the strategy isn't "perfect" but that the federal government has been working in conjunction with provincial, territorial, and municipal levels of governments to address an issue "no one [Canadian] can stomach."
In an email to CBC News on Thursday, a spokesperson for Justice Minister Peter MacKay said the federal government had made progress "on all seven points of this strategy."
"Our government has provided funding to support the development of programs aimed at reducing vulnerability to violence of young aboriginal women and girls, increased the accessibility and number of culturally appropriate victims services for aboriginal victims of crime, and passed legislation that gives women living in First Nations reserves the same matrimonial rights as all Canadians," Paloma Aguilar, the press secretary for the justice minister said.
New RCMP database coming in 2014
Valcourt also told CBC News the RCMP was playing a role in the strategy to address the issue of missing women.
A new RCMP database, as first reported by CBC's Alison Crawford this summer, will help police co-ordinate investigations into missing persons and unidentified remains.
The database, expected to be launched in the coming months, will allow officers to upload more detailed cultural information about victims — a level of detail national aboriginal organizations have been calling for.
The new computerized database will not, however, include samples of DNA.
In an interview with CBC News on Thursday, Supt. Tyler Bates, the director of national aboriginal policing and crime prevention services, said the database will be "up and running" in 2014.
The NWAC has said it has documented over 600 cases where aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing between 2005 and 2010 — a number the RCMP told CBC News it could not confirm.
Bates said the RCMP can't confirm that number because they police approximately 20 per cent of Canadian territory. The RCMP are one of more than 200 police agencies that police the country and as such "are not the gateholders, so to speak, of that information," Bates said.
He said the Mounties started a province-by-province file review of homicides involving aboriginal women within RCMP jurisdiction in February.
According to Bates, the RCMP are working with the NWAC to ensure that "if there's an investigation that needs to be initiated, that we obtain the data needed to do so."