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Harper Reportedly Denies Saying MMIW Inquiry Wasn't High On 'Radar'

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Stephen Harper told Chatelaine magazine he never said a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women wasn't high on his government's "radar," despite the fact he said those very words during a television interview last year.

In a Q&A interview published Monday, journalist Katrina Onstad noted that the United Nations, First Nations leaders, and Rinelle Harper — the Manitoba 16-year-old left for dead last year — have all called for an inquiry.

"But you have said it isn't 'high on your radar,'" Onstad said. "Why isn't it?"

"I haven't said that at all," Harper replied, according to the magazine.

The Conservative leader said the issue has already been "studied to death" more than 40 times, spurring the government to take action by providing additional resources for prevention and police investigations.

Read the full Chatelaine interview

But in a year-end interview with Mansbridge last December, Harper did indeed say an inquiry was not a priority for his government.

"There seems to be some indication that your government may be at least considering some form of formal inquest or inquiry or investigation (into missing and murdered indigenous women)," Mansbridge said to Harper at the time.

"It isn't really high on our radar, to be honest, Peter," Harper replied, before adding that his ministers will continue to have a "dialogue" with those concerned about the issue.

CBC News has video of that interview. The talk of an inquiry begins at the 18:24 mark:

Harper told Mansbridge his government has brought in strong laws to punish criminals, invested in preventative measures, and enhanced "the legal and social status of women in aboriginal communities" when it comes to matters like matrimonial property rights.

"I would rather spend my time focusing on what actions we can take to improve these situations, prevent these situations, than have more multi-million dollar inquiries," Harper said.

But opposition rivals pounced on the Tory leader's "radar" quip as proof that the government wasn't taking enough action.

Liberal candidate Carolyn Bennett mentioned the remark in May while tabling a motion calling on the government to call an inquiry.

"Last December, (Harper) even admitted to a national TV audience that this issue was not high on his government's radar," she said in the House of Commons. "The prime minister is simply on the wrong side of history."

New Democrat Murray Rankin did the same while discussing an NDP motion to call an inquiry in June.

"(The government) says going after the root causes is not high on the prime minister's radar, as he himself said to Peter Mansbridge," Rankin said at the time. "It should be high on the radar of Canadians. It should be high on all our radars."

Mulcair: 'It's time you had a prime minister who cares'

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair also criticized Harper late last month shortly after unveiling his plan to combat violence against women.

Mulcair referenced the murder of aboriginal Winnipeg teen Tina Fontaine, whose body was recovered from the Red River last August.

"Her tragic death shocked this country. And I say this to every mother, to every daughter, to every sister that it's time you had a prime minister who cares," Mulcair said.

The NDP leader said an "underlying attitude of racism" has prevented an inquiry into the 1,200 aboriginal women who have gone missing or been killed since 1980.

That was the same message he delivered at a rally in Winnipeg last month.

"Do you think that if 1,200 women had been murdered or had gone missing in Ottawa we'd need the United Nations to tell us to have an inquiry? It would have happened a long time ago," he told the crowd. "This is about racism. That's what this is about."

Mulcair has pledged to call an inquiry within 100 days of forming government.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has also vowed to call an inquiry if he becomes prime minister in October.

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