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National inquiry into indigenous women to launch by summer: minister

Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett says Ottawa will take the time to consult Canadians to determine the scope of the inquiry.

Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal Indigenous Affairs minister says the Liberal government plans to launch a national inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women by the summer, at which point a dedicated team is expected to have the resources and mandate it needs to begin its work.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Monday evening, Carolyn Bennett said Ottawa will take the time to consult Canadians to determine the scope of the inquiry and who is best suited to lead it, but she said the government hopes the inquiry will be under way by the summer, if not sooner.

"We believe that the families have waited long enough," she said. "We have to find the balance between getting it right in terms of its design and timeliness."

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The Liberals campaigned on a promise to "immediately" launch an inquiry into the disproportionate rate of violence suffered by indigenous women in Canada. Just one day after being elected last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would move forward "quickly" with a federal probe.

Indigenous leaders have long urged Ottawa to take such action, with calls growing louder in the wake of a 2014 RCMP report that found 1,181 indigenous women were killed or disappeared between 1980 and 2012. A 2015 update to that report said there were 32 additional homicides of indigenous women in RCMP jurisdictions during the previous two years. The former Conservative government held the position that these tragedies are not part of a wider sociological phenomenon, but rather crimes best handled by police.

With a federal government now committed to a probe, native leaders have said they are eager for the work to begin. Dawn Lavell-Harvard, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, told The Globe late last month that waiting any longer could have fatal consequences: "We don't need any more of our girls to go missing, have more of our women murdered, while they try to decide what the process is going to be," she said.

Ms. Bennett said Ottawa is also seeking input on how long the inquiry should last. Asked about what she has heard so far from victims' families and indigenous leaders, she said people are "relieved" the probe is going to happen. "Now their job is to make sure we get it right," she said. "We've committed to undertake the inquiry, and now [stakeholders] are redoubling their efforts to give us good advice."

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