In an interview with CBC News, Prime Minister Stephen Harper exposed his complete lack of sympathy towards the families of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls across Canada. “It isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest,” Harper told CBC’s Peter Mansbridge. “We have an awful lot of studies and information on the phenomenon and an awful good indication of what the record is in terms of investigation and prevention of these sorts of things.”
Harper said the government can spend “hundreds of millions of dollars,” as it has on other royal commissions or inquiries, and simply “get the same report for the 41st or 42nd time.” He stands firm on his refusal for a national public inquiry. An Angus Reid survey earlier this fall that showed 73% of Canadians favour a public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen on December 18th, newly elected AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he was “very disappointed” by Harper’s comments. Bellegarde was also critical of comments made by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt on the same issue. Valcourt said Aboriginal men have a “lack of respect” for women on reserves and that First Nations should do more themselves to fix the problem of violence against Aboriginal women.
“I always say if you have to change minds around, you need to engage in a dialogue,” said Chief Bellegarde, indicating that he will continue to pressure the Prime Minister. “I want to engage in that sooner than later to change his mind and heart on this very important issue. We need to shed some light on the need to address the root causes. Dealing with housing, the poverty, and looking at the need for more safe shelters and daycares. But basically, to look at prevention so that this phenomenon doesn’t happen anymore.”
“I welcome the prime minister’s participation in trying to resolve the issue,” continued Bellegarde. “But I also realize that with statements like that, we have a lot of work to do to get him properly educated about the issue, to fully understand the issue and not blame victims or the communities.”
Native Women’s Association of Canada president Michele Audet said Harper has a double standard for indigenous and non-indigenous people. “It could be one woman or 1,000 Aboriginal women, he doesn’t care at all,” said Audet. “But when a young woman commits suicide because she was bullied through Facebook, he will go and visit the family and say he will do everything in his power to make sure his government puts in place legislation that will not tolerate any bullying on the internet.”