CHARLOTTETOWN - Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s inaction on the scourge of missing and murdered aboriginal women means the premiers have to step up, says Kathleen Wynne.
As Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders gather here for their annual summer meeting, Ontario’s premier said the plight of native women is high on the agenda.
“Last year I really pushed at Niagara-on-the-Lake to support the First Nations and aboriginal leaders in their call for a public inquiry,” Wynne told the Star on Tuesday.
“Nothing has gotten better; in fact, it’s gotten worse.”
The RCMP has determined that while aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the population, they account for 11.3 per cent of missing women and 16 per cent of female murder victims.
In the wake of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine’s recent slaying in Winnipeg, Harper has been under increased pressure to act given that hundreds of women are missing or dead.
“We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon,” the prime minister said last week, provoking outrage from premiers, First Nations leaders, and many others.
“The fact that this is the approach that Stephen Harper is taking is very disheartening,” Wynne said.
“I know that this is on the premiers’ minds as we gather and so I have no doubt that there will be a push for Stephen Harper to hold a public inquiry,” she said.
“But I also think that we need to have another conversation. We need to talk about . . . the things that we (premiers) could actually do.”
Wynne, a former aboriginal affairs minister, said there are things the provinces and territories could do to help in the absence of Ottawa.
“I think we’ll have that two-pronged conversation at the table. How do we continue to push for a public inquiry and how do we come together with First Nations leadership?” she said.
“Like many people, I think that many of the things that we would find out in a public inquiry we know. So when Stephen Harper says there’s no sociological issue here, I think it’s the reverse,” she said.
“Housing and education and child welfare and family supports . . . clean water — all of those things contribute to the determinants of health or lack there of.”
Wynne admitted she remains somewhat baffled by the prime minister’s claim that the dead and missing women are a criminal matter and not a societal problem in Canada.
She noted that Harper is appearing to contradict his own landmark statement of apology on residential schools to the House of Commons on June 11, 2008.
“If you look at the language in the apology that he gave, he talks about underlying causes for challenges in the First Nations communities so I don’t understand where he’s coming from. It’s not a reasonable position.”
Indeed, six years ago Harper lamented that “the legacy of Indian residential schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today.”
Canada’s largest private-sector union, meanwhile, on Tuesday added its voice to the chorus calling for a public inquiry.
Unifor president Jerry Dias, who represents 305,000 workers across the country, urged the prime minister to act.
“For Prime Minister Stephen Harper to declare that there is no sociological phenomenon behind the murder and disappearance of aboriginal women in this country is disgraceful and an indication that he does not have the insight, understanding or leadership this country requires,” said Dias.
“Only a full inquiry can get to the bottom of those troubling facts and give us the information we need to develop an effective action plan.”