Federal Conservatives have suggested they will reject calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for both a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and Canada's implementation of a landmark United Nations document on First Nations' rights.
On Tuesday, the TRC released a long-awaited report on the shameful legacy of the residential school system. The push for a national inquiry and adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People were both included among 94 wide-ranging recommendations.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has previously ruled out taking both actions and, in question period, hinted its position was unlikely to change.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair asked if the government would implement the UN declaration, which outlines minimum standards of human rights and dignity for 370 million indigenous people around the world.
Harper responded that Canada is one of the few countries where aboriginal and treaty rights are already "fully recognized in our constitution." He said the government has already accepted the declaration as an "aspirational document."
Canada was the only country to flag objections about the declaration at a special UN General Assembly meeting in September. Ottawa expressed concern at the time over legal wording that could be construed as giving a possible "veto for aboriginal groups."
Last month, Conservatives also voted down a private member's bill from Cree NDP MP Romeo Saganash — a residential school survivor — that sought to align Canadian law with the declaration.
Though Harper made an historic and emotional apology for residential school abuses in 2008, he seemed to balk Tuesday when asked directly by Mulcair if he agreed with TRC chairman Justice Murray Sinclair that the system amounted to "cultural genocide."
The prime minister said he spoke seven years ago of the "devastation" caused by the policy of "forced assimilation."
"A good way to move forward, a good concrete action would be to recognize that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is right. That this was an attempt at cultural genocide," Mulcair replied.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said his party would implement all 94 TRC recommendations if elected, and asked if Tories would do the same. The prime minister responded that the government is still awaiting the full TRC report and will examine all recommendations.
NDP MP Niki Ashton, the opposition critic for aboriginal affairs, highlighted the TRC call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. She asked if the prime minister would "show leadership" on that matter.
Kellie Leitch, minister for the status of women, said "we don’t need yet another study" on crimes against innocent people, but rather for the police to catch and punish those responsible.
"What we need now is action, like those our government has taken on matrimonial property rights, the creation of safety plans, or making sure that there are shelters available for women on reserves," she said.
"Reconciliation, as we heard today, includes a national inquiry into missing and murdered women," Ashton shot back.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt was not in question period, but spoke at the Ottawa event after Sinclair released the report.
"Reconciliation is not to forgive and forget but to remember and change," Valcourt said.
Earlier, when Sinclair announced the recommendation for a national inquiry, a CBC News journalist snapped a photo of Valcourt sitting while others, including Mulcair, broke out in a standing ovation.
According to VICE News, Mulcair later said "it was a tragedy to be sitting beside Minister Valcourt and to see him crossing his arms."
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