05/16/2013 06:19 EDT | Updated 07/16/2013 05:12 EDT

Harper 'skeptical' of inquiry into missing aboriginal women

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he remains skeptical that a national inquiry would give answers to concerns about missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Harper made the comment Thursday in New York City, where he was promoting Canada-U.S. trade and the Keystone XL pipeline to business leaders.

During a question-and-answer session hosted by the Council for Foreign Relations, Harper was asked by a member of Human Rights Watch about the prospects of a federal inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

"I remain very skeptical of commissions of inquiry generally. My experience has been they almost always run way over time, way over budget, and often the recommendations prove to be of limited utility," he replied.

Harper said the issue has been studied extensively, and that "it is time to pass to action."

The Conservative government, Harper said, has invested resources to establish prevention programs and to buttress the investigative powers of police, and has also worked to improve the status of aboriginal women living on reserves, including legislation to protect their property rights.

On Thursday, the civilian watchdog that oversees the RCMP announced it will investigate allegations that aboriginal women and girls were abused by police in northern British Columbia.

Human Rights Watch, the Assembly of First Nations and federal opposition parties have for months called for a national commission of inquiry looking at the issue of missing aboriginal women.

The Conservative government responded by offering up a special parliamentary committee to study the issue.

Three human-rights groups, including two from the United Nations, will be visiting Canada over the next year to look at living conditions in First Nations communities.

The groups will also probe whether government and law enforcement are doing enough to resolve the cases of missing or murdered aboriginal women, which number as high as 600 according to the Native Women's Association of Canada.