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Relatives listens to Wally Oppal give his report in Vancouver December 17, 2012 into the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Relatives listens to Wally Oppal give his report in Vancouver December 17, 2012 into the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Former B.C. attorney-general opposes national inquiry into missing women Add to ...

The former B.C. attorney-general who led a months-long inquiry into missing women in British Columbia does not support a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, saying the factors behind the high rate of violence for native women are well-known and that recommendations from his 2012 report could be applied across the country.

“We don’t need one [a national inquiry],” said Wally Oppal, who led the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry into police investigations of women reported missing from Vancouver’s hard-scrabble Downtown Eastside between 1997 and 2002, including victims of serial killer Robert Pickton.

“Before we start embarking on a national inquiry, we have to ask ourselves, ‘what will we learn’ from an inquiry – and I don’t think that there’s anything more that we can learn,’” he said, adding that an inquiry can give a voice to communities and families whose perspectives might otherwise not be heard.

Mr. Oppal was responding to recent calls for a national inquiry from groups and individuals including Winnipeg teenager Rinelle Harper, who survived a brutal attack in November. She spoke in favour of an inquiry to the Assembly of First Nations in Winnipeg this month.

“Your heart goes out when you hear that, and mine did too when I heard that – but I think the answer is to deal with her [request] by going into the communities and let’s do something about the educational system,” Mr. Oppal said. “Running water. Housing. Those are the things that are really needed.”

AFN chief Perry Bellegarde backs an inquiry, as does the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which calls it a crucial step in addressing the scale and severity of violence aboriginal women and girls face.

Mr. Oppal maintains that money needed for a national inquiry would be better spent tackling issues already linked to higher rates of violence against aboriginal women, including poverty, homelessness and abuse of drugs and alcohol.

The B.C. inquiry cost about $10-million, and a national inquiry could cost up to $100-million, depending on its length and parameters, he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has rejected calls for a formal federal inquiry into more than 1,100 aboriginal women who have been murdered or gone missing since 1980, saying enough studies have been done and that crimes should be investigated by police.

“We have dozens of reports on this phenomenon, including pretty comprehensive reports from the RCMP, and others, on the nature of the crimes involved,” Mr. Harper told The Globe and Mail in a year-end interview.

In an interview with the CBC, Mr. Harper said an inquiry “isn’t really high on our radar,” prompting an angry response from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, which on Friday called those comments – along with recent remarks by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt – “condescending, disgusting and racist” and said they underscore the dire need for a national inquiry.

In a recent interview, Mr. Valcourt – who also rejected the notion of a national inquiry – said there was a “lack of respect for women and girls on reserve.” That comment angered observers including the UBCIC and the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which in a statement on Friday called Mr. Valcourt’s remarks insensitive and disrespectful.

The B.C. inquiry, appointed by the provincial government in 2010, concluded police investigations into women’s disappearances were “blatant failures” marked by a lack of respect for the women involved, who were poor, often drug-addicted and sometimes working in the sex trade.

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