APTN National News
OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his refusal to call a public inquiry into the high number of murdered and missing Indigenous women Thursday by using talking points undercut by a report released on the issue earlier in the day.
Harper said during question period his government was countering violence against Indigenous women by “cracking down on violent crime,” funding shelters and family violence prevention programs, along “dedicated RCMP project teams,” the creation of a centre for missing persons and passage of the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act.
“Now is the time for action, not more NDP studies,” said Harper, who was responding to a question from Nova Scotia NDP MP Meagan Leslie, who led off question period for her party.
Harper is personally against a public inquiry and has told two successive Assembly First Nations national chiefs that his government would not be calling one. Harper has said the issue isn’t a priority for the government and that he doesn’t believe violence against Indigenous women is a sociological phenomenon.
Harper’s answer in question period, also echoed in responses from Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, justifying the government’s position was dissected by a report released Thursday morning.
Harper emphasized his government’s anti-crime stand as being the “first and foremost” way to counter violence against Indigenous women.
The report, by the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women (LSC), was based on a review of 58 studies on the issue and it found a consensus that the only way to stem the violence was to target its root causes, not by simply crime-fighting.
“The existing literature does not support the government’s stance,” said the LSC report.
The report found that the 58 studies made over 700 recommendations and most of them were about preventative actions.
In his answer, Harper also highlighted the funding of shelters as part of his government’s “multi-pronged” action plan to counter the violence.
Yet, funding for 41 on-reserve shelters has remained about the same since 2010-2011 at about $23 million, with about $3.5 million going to reimburse territorial and provincial governments.
Harper also referred to RCMP teams dedicated to historical unsolved murders and missing person cases. One of the most prominent of these RCMP teams from British Columbia was forced to cut resources to its E-PANA program late last year as a result of a $1.4 million budget cut to its major crime unit. E-PANA was created in 2006 to investigate unsolved murders of women from the “Highway of Tears” in northern B.C.
Harper’s answer also highlighted the RCMP’s new missing persons centre, which includes a DNA bank. The centre, however, does not have a focus Indigenous women.
The LSC report found that the Harper government has no interest in supporting focused programs on Indigenous women.
“Our research has shown that the federal government has dramatically cut funding to Indigenous-led organizations providing services to Indigenous communities and Indigenous women in particular,” said the report. “These organizations delivered preventative programs aimed at alleviating poverty and minimizing the social and economic marginalization of Indigenous women as well as services designed to protect, heal and support women and girls who had experienced violence.”
Harper’s answer also mentioned the recently passed matrimonial property legislation.
The report found that the legislation “does not properly address the complicated issues associated with on-reserve marital rights and that there is no plan for how to ensure women can enforce their rights,” said the report.
One of the co-authors of the report, Pippa Feinstein, said Harper and his cabinet ministers resort to “myopic” arguments to defend their opposition to an inquiry that ignores “Canadian colonialism.” Feinstein said Harper’s use of the matrimonial property legislation as to reinforce the government’s position is all about spin.
“That argument really relates to Indigenous women on-reserves, it neglects all the Indigenous women who live in urban centres who are disproportionately impacted by violence, and Inuit and Metis women,” said Feinstein. “It is another example of how myopic and strategically scoped their argument is.”