Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is detailing how he would frame a public inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women, calling for an examination of “systemic issues” such as the role of the federal and provincial governments in the tragedies.
Mr. Wall’s proposal – which he is taking to his provincial colleagues and national aboriginal leaders Wednesday at the opening meeting of the Council of the Federation in Charlottetown – is more specific than other premiers have been so far. Mr. Wall is also at odds with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who recently dismissed renewed calls for an inquiry, arguing that the deaths should be viewed as crimes and not as a “sociological phenomenon.”
The Prime Minister’s remarks came in response to the outcry over the violent death of Manitoba teenager Tina Fontaine, whose body was found last week wrapped in plastic in Winnipeg’s Red River. Earlier this year, the RCMP reported that more than 1,000 aboriginal women were victims of homicide between 1980 and 2012, and 164 women were missing.
“We wouldn’t agree that there isn’t a societal thing, there,” Mr. Wall said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
“Obviously, there are also societal things here where the country as a whole and the two levels of governments bear some responsibility to determine what else can be done and done better, including the province of Saskatchewan,” Mr. Wall said.
At last year’s Council of the Federation meeting, premiers and territorial leaders supported calls for a national inquiry. They are expected to press again this week for an inquiry although several of the big players have changed – Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador are without permanent premiers and federalist Premier Philippe Couillard is now in charge in Quebec.
Mr. Wall’s proposal is three-pronged: An inquiry would look at how to prevent crimes or how to solve them quickly when they do happen; consider the role and responsibility of the federal and provincial governments; and look at the responsibility of native communities.
“I think there is a responsibility piece,” he said, adding that “over 40 per cent of violence against aboriginal women can be at the hands of family or spouses.”
He says that there must be responsibility taken not just at the level of the national aboriginal leadership but at the reserve level, at band councils, and among elders and mentors.
Mr. Wall is not alone in his concern over this issue. Other premiers, including Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne and Manitoba’s Greg Selinger, have criticized Prime Minister Harper for his remarks. Ms. Wynne characterized them as “outrageous.”
Last week, Prime Minister Harper also said that there “has been a very fulsome study of this particular, of these particular things. They’re not all one. They’re not all one phenomenon.”
Mr. Wall acknowledged that there have been studies and recommendations into various aspects of the issue – he believes there have been at least 29 reports or inquiries and 500 recommendations since 1996.
“We need to have a look at what has already been recommended and where we’re at,” he said. “Have governments including provincial governments actually been responding or not?”
Assembly of First Nations interim national chief Ghislain Picard is attending Wednesday’s meeting. He told The Globe and Mail that the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women will most certainly “overshadow” the talks with the premiers.
He says it’s a positive step that the premiers have renewed their calls for an inquiry – and that they have rejected the Prime Minister’s “totally unacceptable” reaction to Ms. Fontaine’s death.
However, he wants a plan of action to be developed, as well as a national inquiry. Chief Picard also says there are steps premiers can take now to help with the problem – but he will not say what those are, preferring to hear first from the premiers.
Last month in Halifax at the AFN’s annual general assembly, the chiefs passed a resolution supporting national roundtables as “part of a framework for developing the national dialogue with respect to the on-going issue.” They will also continue to push for a national inquiry.