05/22/2014 09:15 EDT | Updated 07/22/2014 05:59 EDT

A National Inquiry For Aboriginal Women Should Not Be a Partisan Issue


It is not surprising that the Prime Minister's former lawyer Benjamin Perrin wrote an article supporting Mr. Harper's stubborn refusal to call a national public inquiry into the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

However, his position is in stark contrast to the overwhelming consensus in Canada on the need for a national public inquiry. Grieving families, Indigenous leaders, all of the opposition parties, victims' advocates, civil society, the United Nations and every provincial and territorial premier have all urged the government to call a national inquiry.

This should not be a partisan issue. The failure to ensure the safety of Indigenous women and girls has persisted for decades and spanned numerous governments. A national inquiry is imperative to ensure accountability, provide justice for the victims, healing for their families and to put an end to the violence. It would have the scope and resources necessary to identify the root causes of this situation and allow us to move forward with the benefit of a comprehensive national investigation into what is causing this growing overrepresentation of Indigenous women and girls in homicides and persons who go missing. To focus only on statistics, policing and sentencing disregards a broad range of social, historical and cultural issues that are contributing to this ongoing tragedy.

This horrifying situation was already a crisis when the Native Women's Association of Canada identified almost 600 cases in 2009. Recent statistics compiled by the RCMP have doubled this estimate, identifying approximately 1200 cases. This epidemic of violence must end and this Conservative government -- which claims to be tough on crime and to stand up for victims of crime -- cannot continue to ignore this national disgrace.

Although Mr. Perrin acknowledged that statistics in a recent RCMP report reflect a "crisis", he neglected to highlight one of the most shocking findings. Indigenous women represent only about 4% of the female population in Canada, but in 2012 23 per cent -- almost one in four -- female homicide victims was Indigenous. This proportion has exploded since 1984, when Indigenous women were already vastly overrepresented in female homicide statistics at 8 per cent. The proportion of Indigenous victims is getting drastically worse and initiatives of various governments have not worked.

Mr. Perrin argued that we need a national action plan instead of a national public inquiry. Liberals and others have been calling for both a national action plan and a national public inquiry for years and these initiatives are not mutually exclusive. In fact, an inquiry is essential to ensure such an action plan includes all the necessary partners and is targeting the full range of issues contributing to this complex problem. Contrary to what the Conservative government believes, creation of good public policy relies on having all the facts and the various reports to date have not provided us with the complete picture.

When discussing what he sees as solutions for this crisis, Mr. Perrin highlights the need to water down the Gladue principle, which requires courts to take into account cultural considerations for Indigenous offenders. This misguided and thinly-veiled suggestion that this problem can be resolved by toughening sentencing for Aboriginal offenders shows why a public inquiry is so important. Dealing with issues like the legacy of residential schools and cycles of abuse and violence are going to be fundamental to turning this around.

These are complex issues and solutions will involve the cooperation between many government departments and all jurisdictions across Canada. Liberals have been arguing for some time that the federal government must show the leadership to immediately develop and implement a national action plan to address violence against Indigenous women and girls, the structural root causes of the violence, and the coordination and accountability of government bodies charged with preventing and responding to the violence. There is no question that there are actions that can and should be implemented immediately that would improve this situation. We know that increased investments in front-line services and shelters on reserves and in rural areas would ensure that more Indigenous woman and girls experiencing violence have access to immediate support. However, for a national action plan to be credible and comprehensive it should be rooted in a non-partisan, in depth and national investigation into why this problem has persisted for so long and why initiatives to date have not improved the situation.

The Prime Minister is on the wrong side of history and must call a national public inquiry now.


Protests For Missing, Murdered Aboriginal Women