CHARLOTTETOWN — Canada’s premiers and aboriginal leaders are inviting the federal government to participate in a roundtable to address the high number of native women who are missing and murdered.
Premier Robert Ghiz of Prince Edward Island said while the premiers and native leaders would still like to see a public inquiry, they agreed to a compromise in the hopes of federal involvement.
“If we know we’re not going to get somewhere, there’s no point in us putting our head in the sand and saying, ’OK, we’re done with it,’ ” Ghiz told a news conference Wednesday after hosting a meeting with aboriginal leaders and his provincial counterparts in Charlottetown.
“We believe that it’s better to compromise and open up the first line of discussions rather than to just sit back and say, ’Well, I guess we’ll wait for the next election and see what happens.’ ”
Ghiz said he would like to see federal cabinet ministers such as those in the portfolios of justice and aboriginal affairs participate in the roundtable, though he added the proposal was still preliminary.
Prior to the meeting, Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall expressed his support for the idea.
“I don’t think anyone wants another ponderous, interminable process where we don’t have action and results,” Wall said.
“I think what we can achieve as premiers and as a country, if the federal government would engage, is an event and an exchange of best practices that’s informed by action.”
Wall said the provinces have already set up something similar for health-care innovation. He said the forum should look at the justice system, First Nations education and also focus on the responsibilities of aboriginal groups.
The premier said there have been 29 studies and reports on aboriginal issues since 1996 that have produced more than 500 recommendations and the forum could look at what action has been taken on those ideas.
The Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women’s Association of Canada have also indicated their support for such a plan.
The demand for federal action comes less than two weeks after the body of a 15-year-old aboriginal girl was found in the Red River in Winnipeg.
Native leaders have said Tina Fontaine’s death, considered a homicide by police, has highlighted the need for an inquiry.
In May, the RCMP released a study of 1,181 cases involving aboriginal women since 1980. The study found aboriginal women made up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but accounted for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.
The federal government has rejected calls for an inquiry, saying it has taken action to deal with the problem, including setting up a national DNA missing person’s index and introducing 30 justice and safety initiatives aimed at helping native women.
Harper has said most cases like Fontaine’s should be handled by the police, adding that it would be a mistake to consider the crime part of a “sociological phenomenon.”
In Ottawa, Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair said Wednesday an NDP government would launch a full public inquiry within 100 days of taking office after consulting with women and First Nations about its parameters.
Mulcair said only an inquiry can get at the systemic problems reflected in the murder rate among aboriginal women.
The federal Liberals have also promised to establish an inquiry.