RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says he is 'surprised' by the high number of reported cases of murdered and missing aboriginal women, but that the RCMP does not have the authority to call a national public inquiry.
A report published by the RCMP on Friday found that there has been a total of 1,181 reported cases of murdered and missing aboriginal women over the past 30 years — a number the RCMP concedes "exceeds previous public estimates."
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In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Paulson said, "We have known for some time that there's a higher rate of violent victimization within the aboriginal female population, but to see these numbers crystallized as they have was a little surprising."
Of those 1,181 reported cases, 1,017 are homicide victims and 164 are considered missing. And of the total reported cases of murdered and missing indigenous women, 225 remain unresolved.
The report also found that close to 90 per cent of all female homicides are resolved and that "there is little difference" in solve rates between aboriginal and non-aboriginal victims.
The federal government has so far resisted calls for a national public inquiry into the matter, despite mounting pressure from aboriginal leaders, opposition parties and activists alike.
"We must continue to take concrete action now, not just continue to study the issue," Justice Minister Peter MacKay said Friday following the release of the report.
No authority to call for an inquiry
Paulson told CBC host Evan Solomon it's not up to him to call for a national public inquiry.
"I'm not in a position to call for an inquiry and nor do I have the authority to call for an inquiry," Paulson said.
"There needs to be focused action taken at the community level, co-ordinated nationally, and this is exactly what we're doing."
Paulson rejected accusations that systemic bias by the RCMP against aboriginal people was the reason why it took the police so long to initiate this study.
"That's just not true," he said.
Paulson said all police agencies work to resolve homicides "irrespective" of the victims' background.
He noted there were 5,370 non-aboriginal women who were murdered and 1,291 other non-aboriginal women who went missing during the same period.
Canada's top Mountie also said it was not the federal government that asked for the RCMP-led study.
"I thought it fell to the police to make sure that we could answer from an informed position and put some context around these numbers," Paulson said.
"We are making sure that unsolved cases are reviewed systematically and peer reviewed for avenues of investigation that perhaps have not been seen."