National News

Harper wrong on aboriginal women inquiry:Wynne

By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is wrong in saying that police investigations, not a national inquiry, are the best way to deal with crimes involving missing and murdered aboriginal women, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Friday.

"For Stephen Harper to say that there's not a systemic aspect to this, I think is just — I think it's outrageous quite frankly," she said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

All the provinces and territories endorsed calls for a public inquiry when they gathered last year in Ontario for the annual Council of the Federation premiers' conference. They'll meet up again next week in Charlottetown, P.E.I., where they'll talk with aboriginal leaders.

The death of a 15-year-old aboriginal girl found wrapped in a bag and dumped in the Red River has prompted renewed calls for an inquiry. Tina Fontaine, whose body was discovered Sunday, had been in Winnipeg less than a month when she ran away from foster care. Police are treating it as a homicide.

But the federal Conservatives have firmly rejected an inquiry, saying they prefer to address the issue in other ways, such as through aboriginal justice programs and a national DNA missing person's index.

Most such cases are addressed and solved by the police, Harper said Thursday, adding it's important to keep in mind that these are crimes.

"We should not view this as sociological phenomenon," he said in Whitehorse.

"We should view it as crime. It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such."

In May, the RCMP issued a detailed statistical breakdown of 1,181 cases since 1980. It said aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.

"As the RCMP has said itself in its own study, the vast majority of these cases are addressed and are solved through police investigations, and we'll leave it in their hands," Harper said.

He's wrong and the premiers will continue to press for an inquiry, Wynne said.

Aboriginal communities face many systemic issues, she said. In Ontario, high-school graduation rates among aboriginal youth are as low as 40 per cent compared to 83 per cent among mainstream students.

Some communities in northern Ontario haven't had drinking water in years, an issue that will be raised at the premiers' conference, she said.

Ontario has done what is can to improve conditions, but constitutionally, they're the responsibility of the federal government, Wynne added. Ottawa doesn't want an inquiry because it would call into question all those societal issues.

"For whatever reason, Stephen Harper is choosing not to tackle those issues in a serious way," she said.

He seems to prefer dealing with provinces and territories separately rather than sitting down with all of them to design a national vision on issues like energy, infrastructure and internal trade, Wynne said.

"I think that's wrong. I think there should be a national discussion and that the prime minister should be part of it," she said.

"Right now, the national discussion happens at the table with Canada's premiers, as opposed to with the prime minister."

Last year, the provinces and territories banded together against the Conservatives when Ottawa tried to push changes to job training funding. The Tories were forced to come to the table and compromise in order to win their support.

Those conflicts wouldn't happen if Harper took a more collaborative approach, Wynne said.

"By making a decision as he has not to deal with us collectively, he runs the risk of more of those situations," she said. "It's a polarizing approach and I think it's counterproductive."

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