Calls for a public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women were renewed Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations, with one native leader accusing the federal government of ignoring their plight.
Cheryl Maloney of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association said she is not optimistic the Conservatives will change tack and launch such an inquiry, but she added she wasn’t deterred from continuing to push for such a review.
“I don’t hold out much hope for the Harper government,” Maloney said in an interview following a presentation to the assembly in Halifax. “We have a lot of commitment from Canadians and from parliamentarians, just not the right ones.”
Maloney said aboriginal leaders will approach the opposition ahead of next year’s election and are gathering a team of experts to look at possible legal action against Ottawa, including international remedies at the International Court of Justice.
“We’ve done pretty much everything we can do as a country and it seems apparent that this Canadian government is indifferent to the fact that our streets are not safe.”
She urged chiefs to continue pushing the government for answers on the more than 1,100 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.
The president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada went further, imploring people not to vote for the Conservatives in the October 2015 election.
“It doesn’t matter who you believe in, which colour, which political party — make sure there is no Harper government, because they don’t want a national public inquiry,” said Michele Audette.
Three resolutions were passed, directing the Assembly of First Nations to create a roundtable to kick-start a national dialogue on the issue. The assembly also vowed to lobby for national legislation protecting indigenous women involved in the sex trade.
Their calls for an inquiry have been repeatedly rejected by Ottawa. But Kellie Leitch, the minister of the status of women, has said the federal government is concerned about the high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Andrew McGrath, a spokesman for Leitch, said the minister has met with several families of victims and has been told repeatedly that “now is the time for action.”
“We’re interested in taking what we’ve learned and implementing immediate and concrete measures that will reduce violent crimes against aboriginal women and girls,” McGrath said in an email, citing as one example a five-year, $8-million commitment towards a national DNA-based missing person’s index.