At a vigil for Loretta Saunders in Ottawa on March 5, supporters lobby for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. (Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
A renewed wave of pressure is mounting on the federal government to launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
The calls come in the wake of the murder of Loretta Saunders, a 26-year-old St. Mary's University student (originally from Labrador) who died last month (and whose research at school was into this very topic).
They also come after the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women released a report with 16 recommendations, none of which include a call for inquiry, despite support from a vast and varied array of witnesses.
The pressure is coming mainly from aboriginal groups, who decry what they see as a lack of action being taken by the government on this issue.
“We have so much expertise and knowledge to share that we were ready to join forces with them. We were thinking that it would be different this time,” Michèle Audette, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, told The Hill Times. “If we had that dialogue, that frank conversation, we could build better programs, polices, and services for the women. It’s not there in the 16 recommendations. It’s too soft. It’s not putting the government in a position that it must act.”
The issue is also taking hold in Newfoundland, Loretta Saunders' home province. There, all three main political parties — the ruling Conservatives as well as the opposition Liberals and NDP — have joined together to call on Ottawa to launch an inquiry.
"Violence against aboriginal women and children is a serious problem, both in our province and across Canada,” Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Tom Marshall told the Telegram. “We are calling on the federal government to launch an inquiry into the tragedy of missing and murdered aboriginal women in this country, and we are prepared to work with the Government of Canada on such an inquiry.”
The chair of the federal committee, Conservative MP Stella Ambler, defended the report by saying it focused on taking action.
"We heard that the families wanted the government to take action, and the recommendations reflect that,” she said. “Where there were calls for a national inquiry, many of the calls came with a request to use that inquiry to look at root causes. Frankly, we didn’t hear in a year of testimony and work what we didn’t from the previous 40 reports. If we don’t have a pretty good idea of what the root causes are by now, then frankly I don’t understand how one more gigantic report will actually help us.”
The report's 16 recommendations include creating a public awareness campaign, strengthening the justice system and creating the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights.
The Native Women's Association of Canada has documented more than 582 instances of missing or murdered Aboriginal women. On the group's website, there's a petition you can sign to lobby Parliament to launch a national inquiry.
There is also a petition at change.org — which currently has almost 250,000 supporters — calling for the same thing.