No call for national inquiry in MPs' report on aboriginal women

A long-awaited report from MPs on the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women makes 16 recommendations, but does not call on the federal government to launch a public inquiry.

16 recommendations include the creation of a public awareness and prevention campaign

A final report tabled in Parliament today from MPs on the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women does not recommend a national public inquiry. A Sisters in Spirit rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 4, 2013 was held to remember missing and murdered aboriginal women such as Maisy Odjick (left) and Shannon Alexander (right). (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

A long-awaited report from MPs on the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women tabled Friday makes 16 recommendations, but does not call on the federal government to launch a public inquiry.

The report, titled "Invisible Women: A Call To Action,"​ fell short of demands by aboriginal groups and opposition parties who have been relentless in their call for a national inquiry.

The New Democrats and federal Liberals tabled dissenting opinions alongside the final report calling on the federal government to launch a national inquiry and implement a national action plan to address the violence against indigenous women and girls.

The Assembly of First Nations said the report was "disappointing" to the victims and families of missing and murdered women and girls.

"I have spoken to the leadership of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and we will be meeting Monday to discuss next steps and set out a plan to get action on this critical matter," said Shawn Atleo, the national chief for the AFN in a written statement on Friday.

"This report fails to show the needed commitment and resources to adequately address this ongoing tragedy — a tragedy that is a reflection on Canada as a whole,” said NWAC president,  Michèle Audette.

After months of hearing 61 witnesses testify​, the report's 16 recommendations include:

  • The creation of a public awareness and prevention campaign created by the federal government in conjunction with the provinces, territories and municipalities​.
  • The implementation of a national DNA-based missing person's index.
  • The possibility of collecting police data on violence against aboriginal women and girls that includes an ethnicity variable.

The final report proposes that the federal government implement all of the recommendations "in a co-ordinated action plan."​

Partisan messaging?

"I believe that this report will go further to take action," said​ Conservative MP Stella Ambler, the chair of the special committee, moments before the report was tabled.​​

But opposition party MPs who served as vice-chairs on the special commons committee said the recommendations are either not new or would do nothing to prevent or stop violence against indigenous women and girls.

"We heard very clearly from women and men, family members and friends of murdered and missing aboriginal women that the status quo is not good enough," said Jean Crowder, the aboriginal affairs critic ​for the NDP and vice-chair of the special committee.

"What we saw today in the House of Commons was a report tabled by the Conservatives that basically said the status quo is OK."

The special committee was first struck by way of a unanimous motion which was introduced by Liberal aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett last February.

Bennett, who also served as a vice-chair on the committee, said the final report does not accurately reflect the recommendations made by the witnesses who appeared before the MPs.

"Those were replaced by a disappointing list of what aren't even recommendations," Bennett said adding that "the number one thing they wanted to have happen was a national public inquiry."

Bennett asked Ambler during question period earlier today whether she believed "the report actually reflects the testimony of witnesses" or whether "it was improperly influenced by the six Conservative parliamentary secretaries on the committee taking orders from the Prime Minister's Office."

Ambler did not answer the question saying only the report would outline "all of the actions that have been taken and all the actions that can be taken."

Mounting pressure

The government appears to be increasingly at odds with a growing number of groups that have been calling for a national public inquiry.

The most recent calls have come from Nova Scotia's three main party leaders following the slaying of Loretta Saunders. The 26-year-old Inuk woman from Labrador was studying at Saint Mary's University in Halifax when she vanished last month.

Her body was later found alongside a highway in New Brunswick, and a man and woman are facing murder charges in the death. Saunders was an honours student, who was writing her thesis on murdered and missing aboriginal women.​

Her cousin, Holly Jarrett, has since garnered more than 60,000 signatures on a petition calling for a national inquiry.

The special committee heard testimony from the government's own federally appointed victims ombudsman Sue O'Sullivan who said on Jan. 30 she supported the creation of a national commission of inquiry and a related action plan.

James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, who visited Canada last October, called on the federal government to launch a "comprehensive and nationwide" inquiry into the case of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Conservative MP Ryan Leef pledged to his constituents in Yukon last October to support a national public inquiry, but only if the provinces played a role.

The premiers also backed a call to launch a national public inquiry when they met for a two-day summit of the Council of the Federation last July.

Despite mounting pressure for an inquiry Conservative cabinet ministers — from Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt to the Minister of Status for Women Kellie Leitch and Justice Minister Peter MacKay — have repeatedly pointed to several anti-crime initiatives passed into law since 2006 as evidence the government has and continues to take action to address the issue of violence against women.

MacKay tabled dozens of documents earlier on Friday including studies on violence against aboriginal women and girls dating back to the 1990s. He also apologized for throwing papers on the House floor after an earlier attempt to table those documents on Thursday.

Leitch issued a statement after the report was tabled saying that ending violence against all women and girls "remains a priority" for the government. 

"We remain concerned about the high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada and the devastating impact these tragedies have on families and communities across our country."

The government has 120 days to respond to the report released Friday.