Canada's premiers are expected to renew their call for a public inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women when they gather this week in Charlottetown as the Council of the Federation.
But with Prime Minister Stephen Harper continuing to reject the idea, national aboriginal leaders meeting with premiers this week will push for an alternative that would see key federal ministers sit down with aboriginal leaders to discuss the issue and potential courses of action.
Debate over the merits of a public inquiry heated up last week in the wake of another violent death, after the body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was discovered wrapped in plastic in Winnipeg's Red River. The RCMP reported earlier this year that more than 1,000 aboriginal women were homicide victims between 1980 and 2012, and a further 164 were missing.
Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz, who will host this week's Council of the Federation meeting, confirmed a national inquiry – which premiers called for last year – will be back on the agenda.
"We're hoping that if we can keep the pressure on the federal government, we will see a reversal in their decision," he told The Globe and Mail in an interview Sunday. The Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations want the premiers to also endorse the idea of national roundtables with federal ministers. Mr. Ghiz said he will discuss that with national aboriginal leaders on Wednesday.
More than 250 mourners crowded St. Alexander Roman Catholic Parish on Saturday in Sagkeeng First Nation for Ms. Fontaine's funeral.
"Our sweet girl is now reunited with her daddy and the angels," long-time family friend Sandra Longford said during the eulogy.
Mr. Harper continued his tour of the north Sunday but he has not commented publicly on the issue since Thursday, when he made remarks that were later called "outrageous" by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and challenged by Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger.
"We should not view this as sociological phenomenon," Mr. Harper said in Whitehorse. "We should view it as crime. It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such."
Kellie Leitch, the federal Minister of Status of Women, defended the Prime Minister's remarks Sunday and said she is always willing to meet with aboriginal leaders.
"Having conducted roundtables with victims' family members I can tell you that the Prime Minister is correct – the families view these acts as heinous crimes and all Canadians should view these as crimes as well," she told the Globe in an e-mail. "Numerous studies have been conducted on this issue … The time for meaningful and effective action is now."
A spokesperson for federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay expressed condolences to Ms. Fontaine's family and said the government is spending $25-million over five years to address the broader issue, in addition to $8-million for a national DNA missing persons database.
Michèle Audette, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said all of the ministers responsible for aboriginal issues should agree to a roundtable to decide on a policy response.
"If they say no to that, my god, it's obvious it's like we don't exist," she said in an interview Sunday. Ms. Audette, who is seeking a nomination to run as a Liberal candidate in the next federal election, is also calling on the provinces to take measures under their control, such as appointing aboriginal women as advisers on issues such as preventing family violence.
Ghislain Picard, acting National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said he can't understand Ottawa's stance but hopes the suggestion for a roundtable will be accepted.
"We have no choice but to be outraged that the Prime Minister would look at this simply as a crime among other crimes," he said. "It's totally unacceptable."
Opposition NDP and Liberal MPs expressed hope Sunday that this week's premier's summit will increase the pressure on Ottawa to act. In his answer last week, Mr. Harper said there has already been a "very fulsome study" of the issue and pointed to a detailed RCMP report released earlier this year.
The report found that the number of aboriginal female homicides per year has been largely constant over the past three decades. However, the number of aboriginal female homicides as a proportion of total female homicides per year has grown from 9 per cent in 1980 to 23 per cent in 2012. The RCMP said this is a direct reflection of a decrease in non-Aboriginal female homicides.
The data found that police solve almost nine out of every 10 female homicides, regardless of whether or not they are aboriginal.
The RCMP report also said there are certain factors that make an individual more susceptible to violence, including unemployment and substance abuse.
The RCMP report analyzed the relationship between the homicide victim and the person who killed them. Among non-aboriginal women, the most common offender is a spouse at 41 per cent, followed by "other family" at 24 per cent and "acquaintance" at 19 per cent. In contrast, murdered aboriginal women were most likely to be killed by an acquaintance at 30 per cent, followed by a spouse at 29 per cent and other family at 23 per cent.
The percentage of women murdered by a stranger was essentially the same at 8 per cent for aboriginal women and 7 per cent for non-aboriginal women.
With files from Kristy Hoffman in Sagkeeng First Nation, Man.