Support growing for ‘stolen sisters’ inquiry

Some major developments over the past week—some horrible, others good—have given new momentum to the idea of a national inquiry for missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.
If you’ve seen the evening news over the past week or two, then you know the grim story of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, a young indigenous women and resident of Winnipeg.
Her body was found in a suitcase in the Red River on Aug. 17 and she was laid to rest last weekend.
In describing her situation, Sgt. John O’Donovan of Winnipeg police’s homicide unit told reporters: “She’s barely been in the city for a little over a month and she’s definitely been exploited, taken advantage of, murdered, and put into the river in this condition.”
Tina is far from the only victim of violence against indigenous women, just the latest—and perhaps the one that will be remembered as the tipping point for action. She now is one of more than 1,200 indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered in Canada over the past 30 years.
For years now, a movement has been growing that wants a judicial inquiry into these women. Tina’s murder, as sickening and violent as it was, may have done what others have failed, and that is to help create a national consensus among Canada’s political leaders for such an inquiry.
Well, near consensus, that is.
New Democrats have called for an inquiry into Canada’s “stolen sisters” for more than a decade. Libby Davies, who represents the east side of Vancouver and a part of that city where there are many vulnerable indigenous women living and working, first raised the issue in Parliament in 2001.
She was joined by Jack Layton, who also began to call publicly for an inquiry as early as 2009.
When he was elected NDP leader in 2012, Tom Mulcair renewed these calls. And this past week, in what may be the first promise by any party in the 2015 election campaign, he promised a New Democrat government would call a judicial inquiry into these missing and murdered indigenous women within 100 days of assuming office.
While the NDP position on this issue has been known for a decade, I was glad to hear other voices join the movement this week. During their annual Council of the Federation conference in P.E.I. last week, Canada’s premiers unanimously urged the Harper Conservative government to call an inquiry.
New Democrats like Manitoba’s Greg Selinger, Conservatives like Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall, Liberals like Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, and non-partisan premiers like Brad McLeod of the Northwest Territories all stood in unanimity on this issue.
The premiers of Canada’s provinces weren’t the only ones to join the call for an inquiry this week. At a meeting this past week, Thunder Bay city council voted—again unanimously—to support the call for a national inquiry.
The level of violent crime, including murder, in Thunder Bay is something most residents are aware of and concerned about. But people also know that indigenous people are, in many cases, at a higher risk than average to become victims—and women and children even more so.
It’s easy to say that such things are “another government’s” problem, but I’m glad Thunder Bay council decided to show leadership on this issue where others have failed to.
Sadly, the only government that doesn’t think a national inquiry is needed is Stephen Harper’s federal Conservatives. Depending on the day, the excuses range from it would be “too expensive” to it’s simply not needed because they already have passed a series of “tough on crime” laws.
To this I would respond: if $100 million is not too much to spend on partisan Economic Action Plan ads, then $50 million to find out what has happened to 1,200 missing and murdered women is quite affordable.
And the Conservatives’ “tough on crime” laws obviously aren’t working as Tina Fontaine’s murder tragically has proven.
A national consensus is forming. If you honestly care about victims of crime half as much as you say, then call the inquiry, Mr. Harper.
It not only is the right thing to do for Tina, the 1,200 other victims, their families, and future generation of indigenous women; it is your responsibility.