POLITICS

Ryan Leef, Tory MP, Wants Harper To Call Inquiry Into Murdered And Missing Aboriginal Women

10/11/2013 01:52 EDT | Updated 10/11/2013 01:56 EDT
CP

A backbench Conservative MP is urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

But Yukon MP Ryan Leef doesn't think he is breaking rank with his party, despite Harper's opposition to the idea.

As reported by the Whitehorse Daily Star, Leef made his announcement at the "Sisters in Spirit Vigil" in Whitehorse last week. The rally was one of 216 held across the country and abroad.

"This is not an aboriginal issue," Leef said. "This is not a territorial issue. This is a national issue."

Leef told iPolitics' Annie Bergeron-Oliver that his decision was based on a desire to represent his constituents. The Yukon government announced support for an inquiry in April.

"It boils down to my role and responsibility as Yukon's member of Parliament to make sure that what I see as a loud and clear voice on this issue gets communicated effectively," he said.

In an interview with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network on Thursday, Leef said he hasn't heard any feedback from his party but doesn't fear repercussions from Harper.

"My experience has been that the prime minister has always been very open and available and accessible to the views and opinions of Yukoners," he said.

Leef said he has always felt free to vote his conscience and express the views of his constituents within his party.

The MP was asked directly in the interview what he would say to those who think an inquiry won't resolve anything and may just end up producing general statements about First Nations poverty and other issues.

"It's certainly one of the concerns that the prime minister has expressed that inquests… if they don't have focus…can run over time, over budget, and fail to provide the solutions that Canadians would be looking for," he said.

Leef said that concern is why he believes any inquest would require the full participation of the provinces.

Canada's premiers announced support for a national inquiry at the Council of the Federation meeting in July, intensifying pressure on Harper to follow suit.

Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called the united stand from premiers "an important expression of support."

But the Harper government remains unconvinced an inquiry will accomplish anything.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Peter MacKay said at the time that the government has already taken action, including passing legislation that gives women living on First Nations reserves access to emergency protection orders. She also said the government will continue working with a parliamentary committee studying the issue.

Those remarks echo what Harper said this May during an interview at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York.

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

Harper said the issue has been studied in "several different venues" by the federal government, and that "it is time to pass action."

It is estimated there are close to 600 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada dating back to the 1960s. But the Native Women's Association of Canada believes the number could be higher as cases have gone undocumented.

The RCMP says it does not collect data on the ethnicity of missing women, which means the precise number is a mystery.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair nearly became emotional about the issue at a "Sisters in Spirit" rally on Parliament Hill last week.

"The number of women in the Ottawa area is the same number of native women in Canada," Mulcair said. "If you heard that 600 women were murdered or missing in Ottawa do you think we'd have to have demonstrations to get an inquiry?"

With files from The Canadian Press

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