Government now open to roundtable on missing and murdered aboriginal women

The federal government has done an about-face, with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt saying he's open to a roundtable into Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt says roundtable would have to be more than just talk

Bernard Valcourt on missing and murdered aboriginal women

8 years ago
Duration 8:03
Aboriginal affairs minister questions need for a national inquiry, but leaves the door open for a roundtable

The federal government has done an about-face, saying it's now open to a roundtable into Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women.

On CBC News Network's Power and Politics, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt told host Evan Solomon that if the premiers ask the federal government to be part of a roundtable, it would participate.

"What I am open to is if the Council of the Federation and the aboriginal leaders that were present there want to spearhead the roundtable, where we will have the provinces committed to take action, of course I would recommend that we participate," Valcourt said.

Last week provincial and aboriginal leaders proposed a national roundtable into Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women as a compromise, after the federal government slammed the door on a national inquiry.

The proposal came after a meeting between premiers and aboriginal leaders in Charlottetown, just before a conference of the Council of the Federation, which brings together Canada's 13 provincial and territorial premiers.

Government initially rules out roundtable

The federal government initially rejected the idea of a roundtable. Heritage Minister and Manitoba MP Shelley Glover said the government was already talking about the issue.

"This government has been very strong in putting forward measures that actually deal with this....We believe action is required and action is what we've demonstrated," Glover said.

The prime minister's director of communications also ruled out a roundtable last week. In a statement, Jason MacDonald wrote, "These are terrible crimes against innocent people. We don't need yet another study on top of the some 40 studies that have already been done, in addition to roundtables and discussions.... Now is the time for action."

Now the government's position has changed, but with some conditions.

Valcourt said the government would consider accepting an invitation to a roundtable on Canada's missing and murdered aboriginal women, but it had to result in more than talk. 

"We would certainly consider this, but it has to be more than just talks. Because they have been advocating for talks and talks and talks and we have been acting," he said.

Valcourt also put the onus on not only governments but First Nations leaders and communities to address the issue of violence.

"It is also the responsibility of First Nations, and you know this is very seldom said, but a lot of work has got to take place at the community level among and within First Nations to eradicate this violence, to eradicate these murders and reduce them," he said.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay echoed Valcourt's comments Wednesday in Halifax.

"The progress that is underway must continue," MacKay said. "That includes meetings and consultations for certain and could include a roundtable of sorts."

Ontario wants to hear more from the feds

In a statement, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's office said: "We look forward to learning more about Minister Valcourt and the federal government's seemingly new openness to a roundtable on missing and murdered women and a potential open dialogue on this issue."

The statement went on to warn that the federal government has to be "prepared to act."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper rebuffed renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered women during his annual trip to the North in August.

"It's very clear that there has been very fulsome study of this particular,… of these particular things. They're not all one phenomenon," Harper said. "We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime."

In May, the RCMP confirmed  there were 1,181 reported cases of murdered and missing aboriginal women over the past 30 years. Of the total reported cases, 1,017 are homicide victims and 164 are considered missing. A total of 225 remain unresolved.

with files from The Canadian Press