WINNIPEG — Liberal MPs described the Harper government’s response to the slaying or disappearance of 582 aboriginal girls and women as “tepid” Wednesday, while renewing calls for a public inquiry into what they called a “national tragedy.”
At a Winnipeg news conference held in conjunction with the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting, they rebuked Ottawa for failing to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with the issue and noted that $10 million earmarked in March for related programming has yet to be allocated.
“Nothing has been forthcoming and we’re waiting,” said Winnipeg South Centre MP Anita Neville.
Beverley Jacobs, past-president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which shone a light on the issue through its Sisters in Spirit initiative, said Wednesday that families of the missing or murdered women also lack the supports they need.
Victims’ services available through provincial justice departments are “not culturally relevant,” and governments fail to understand that the trauma of losing a loved one impacts more than the immediate family, she said.
Jacobs said governments and police agencies also need to do more to deal with unsolved cases, such as putting up posters and offering rewards for information.
Pamela Stephens, spokeswoman for federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, said Wednesday that the government’s plans for how it will spend the $10 million earmarked earlier this year will be announced “in due course.” She said she could not be more specific than that.
According to the latest reports, there are 582 cases of murdered or missing aboriginal women in Canada since 1970 — up from an estimated 520 a year ago.
At that time, NWAC said charges had yet to be laid in the deaths of 45 per cent of the slain women.
With the number of victims and potential victims now nearing 600, there may be 300 perpetrators on the loose, Jacobs said. “That to me is an issue that needs to be addressed,” she said.
On Wednesday, Neville, flanked by Liberal aboriginal affairs critic Todd Russell of Labrador and Liberal Senator Lillian Dyck of Saskatchewan, said it’s time the federal government showed leadership on the issue.
“You ask yourself, if it was 580 white men that had gone missing in this country, would the response have been silence, inaction,” said Russell. “Where else in the world — 580 murdered or missing people and we don’t have a national public inquiry into it. Unbelievable.”