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Harper's "Action Plan" for Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls: No New Action

09/17/2014 05:53 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:54 EDT
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The "Action Plan" tabled in the House of Commons this week does nothing new to actually "Stop the Violence" against indigenous women and girls. Unfortunately the Prime Minister sees the overwhelmingly disproportionate number of indigenous women and girls facing violence, who go missing or who are murdered, as nothing more than crimes that should be investigated by the police after they happen.

His cold-hearted and insensitive comments this summer that "we should not view this as sociological phenomenon," not only flies in the face of the evidence, but is an insult to the victims and their families.

The Prime Minister's apparent indifference to this issue, and his refusal to accept and address the systemic and underlying root causes of this ongoing tragedy, is reflected by his government's attempt to repackage an inventory of inadequate existing federal programs as a new "action plan."

Shockingly, while Indigenous women represent only about four per cent of the female population, almost one in four female homicide victims in 2012 was Indigenous. This is dramatically up from an already staggering eight per cent, or double their proportion of the population, in 1984.

There is no question that the urgency of the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls requires the development and implementation of a comprehensive and multi-jurisdictional national action plan. But an effective national action plan requires a truly coordinated approach of the many relevant federal departments, provincial and territorial governments and aboriginal leadership focused on preventing these senseless deaths and stopping this ongoing national tragedy.

Unfortunately, the so-called "Action Plan" announced this week is simply a laundry list of existing federal government initiatives, many not even specific to indigenous women and girls. This latest attempt to mislead Canadians into thinking there really is a plan to "Stop the Violence" reinforces the fact that the Conservatives have absolutely no credibility when they claim to be tough on crime or are prepared to support victims effectively.

The $25 million highlighted in the announcement is not "new money." It is simply a re-announcement of funding from the 2014 budget, which in fact is merely an extension of temporary funding of $25 million over five years first announced back in 2010.

The DNA-based Missing Persons Index is also a general public safety measure that has been characterized as part of this strategy for Indigenous women and girls. While it may be a positive initiative, it is a DNA database for all missing persons, regardless of ethnicity or gender. Many of the broader initiatives noted in the "strategy" are also not directed at indigenous people at all. For instance, the Victims Bill Of Rights is a general Harper commitment from his last Throne Speech and is not focused on indigenous peoples. In fact, the families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls have been very clear that they have not been listened to, treated with respect, or felt supported.

This week's announcement is a disappointing, but unfortunately predictable response to last spring's recommendations of the Conservative-dominated Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women. The white-washed committee report was a complete betrayal of our responsibility to the victims, the grieving loved ones left behind and those indigenous women and girls who continue to be victimized by violence. The final recommendations ignored the evidence and instead simply cited the same inventory of inadequate existing government initiatives that the Conservatives are now selling as an "Action Plan."

This type of political smoke and mirrors is why a national action plan must be rooted in a non-partisan national investigation into why this problem has persisted for decades and why successive governments have been unable to fix it. But a national action plan and a national inquiry are not mutually exclusive. We need both if we are to end this epidemic of violence.

It is important to understand that a national public inquiry is not only a matter of seeking justice and reconciliation for past injustices, but critical if we are to ever address the systemic problems underlying this ongoing crisis. We were appalled that instead of honourably reporting what the committee heard, including the unanimous urging of provincial and territorial premiers and the unequivocal demand of victims' families and aboriginal leadership for a national public inquiry, the Conservative majority on the Committee chose to obediently acquiesce to the Prime Minister's stubborn refusal to establish one.

It is time for the Prime Minister to heed the overwhelming consensus on this issue and call a national public inquiry now.

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