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Prime Minister Stephen Harper has consistently refused to convene a national inquiry into the high incidence of unsolved murders and disappearances of indigenous women.

10 Unheeded Calls for a Canadian Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

David P. Ball
2/11/14

Every Valentine's Day, indigenous women, their families and their allies rally across Canada to remember the now more than 824 missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls whose cases have gone unsolved and in many cases uninvestigated.

That updated statistic—previously estimated at nearly 600 before the Conservatives pulled the plug on Native women's data collection—was revealed by independent Ottawa researcher Maryanne Pearce in late January, the Winnipeg Free Press reported. Other advocates estimate the numbers could be many times worse, according to Rabble.ca.

First held in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 1991, the annual march has grown to thousands and spread to cities across the country, and this year will be no different. The largest ever was held in the midst of the 2010 Olympics when the world's eyes were on Canada. This year, the Winter Games have rolled around again, as have the annual Women's Memorial Marches, though Sochi is as far from these shores as a national inquiry is from the Canadian government’s to-do list.

But despite the prominently featured quilt squares featuring missing women's faces and names, the event is not just about remembrance. Many of the groups marching have maintained a consistent demand over the last several years: that the federal government convene a public inquiry into the shockingly high number of disappearances.

Call after call has gone out for a national inquiry into the deaths and disappearances, but to no avail. From the national to the global stage, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has given a flat-out no to the likes of the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, the Assembly of First Nations, church groups and a host of other organizations that have suggested he convene a panel to study the issue. His reason, he said last year, is that he does not think it would help solve the problem. 

"I remain very skeptical of commissions of inquiry generally," Harper said last year, according to CBC News. "My experience has been they almost always run way over time, way over budget, and often the recommendations prove to be of limited utility."

Many organizations and individuals disagree, however. Here are just a few of those who are calling for a national inquiry.

1. United Nations

The United Nations has, through a number of its bodies, shone a harsh light on Canada's treatment of aboriginal women and girls. The high profile visit of the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya ended with his endorsement of calls for a national inquiry.

“I have heard a consistent call for a national level inquiry,” he said in a statement following his tour across Canada. “I concur that a comprehensive and nation-wide inquiry into the issue could help ensure a coordinated response and the opportunity for the loved ones of victims to be heard, and would demonstrate a responsiveness to the concerns raised by the families and communities affected by this epidemic.”

Meanwhile, amidst ongoing investigations on the missing women issue by the Committee to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), last April's Universal Periodic Review—conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council—saw Canada face scrutiny from dozens of other countries, many zooming in on violence against indigenous women. On paper, Canada said it had accepted 119 of the recommendations. But it rejected recommendations from Ireland and Belarus to launch a national public inquiry, as many of the human rights organizations submitting briefs had requested.

In its recommendation, Ireland advised Canada to “develop a comprehensive national action plan for addressing violence against indigenous women, and, also, give due consideration to an independent national enquiry (sic) into missing indigenous women.”

Likewise, Belarus suggested that Canada conduct “an independent investigation of cases of disappearances and murders of aboriginal women and girls.”

According to the U.N., the review process “provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations.” Canada lashed out at the notion of a national inquiry, ostensibly at the idea of being instructed on human rights from countries with their own spotty records on the issue.

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