10/07/2013 12:59 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

We Need Justice for Missing and Murdered Women and their Families

For seven years now, Indigenous women, men and children have gathered on Parliament Hill to ask the Government of Canada to acknowledge and act upon the murders and disappearances of hundreds of their family members. Their vigil is a powerful symbol of the strength that is born in grief and loss.

The October 4th vigils have grown in size and scale, and can now be found in all regions of the country. The growing numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women have become well known throughout Canada, and in recent years the international community has issued call after call for the Canadian government to take action.

This year, families have been dealt a specific blow by the Conservative government. On September 13th, in their response to the UN Universal Period Review, the Government of Canada rejected recommendations calling for immediate action to address violence afflicting Indigenous women. Canada formally stated that it would not be conducting any kind of review or inquiry into the deaths and disappearances of more than 600 women. Instead, they again transferred responsibility onto local and provincial governments.

Indigenous organizations, and First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women and families have long asked for justice to be served, demanding a National Inquiry and a coordinated National Action Plan to end violence against women. In the summer of 2012, I -- along with my NDP caucus -- joined with the Manitoba Chiefs in calling for an inquiry. This year, all of Canada's premiers have followed suit, supporting calls for national action. In the face of such overwhelming consensus, I believe it is the Conservative government's duty to assume the task they are being told to perform. And yet, they refuse.

Indigenous women face violence at a rate 5 times higher than non-Indigenous women, and are seven times more likely to be murdered. Mothers, daughters, wives, cousins and aunts continue to be kidnapped, trafficked and killed. Why, in the face of a crisis such as this, is Stephen Harper not responding? I cannot help but wonder if his response would be the same if it were not First Nations, Métis and Inuit women who are at risk.

New Democrats have been steadfast in their support of First Nations, Métis and Inuit families.

My Private Member's Motion, M-444, calls for a comprehensive and a coordinated National Action Plan to Address Violence against Women -- of which a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls is a key component. Alongside the call for an inquiry, I am calling for benchmarks for measuring progress based on the collection of data on levels of violence against women over time.

Today, and every day, I stand in solidarity with families of murdered and missing Indigenous women. From my home in Northern Manitoba, where families have lost loved ones, to my seat in the House of Commons, I will not stop acting in solidarity until there are no more stolen sisters.