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Saskatchewan's Wall joins call for inquiry

Premier latest to speak out about tragic issue

Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS files 
Chief Const. Jim Chu is waiting to hear from inquiry proponents.

CP Enlarge Image

Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS files Chief Const. Jim Chu is waiting to hear from inquiry proponents.

OTTAWA -- Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says he doesn't know how long any level of government can ignore the murder of a 15-year-old aboriginal girl before looking at ways to prevent such deaths.

"And then you have the absolute tragedy that has been... highlighted... in Manitoba," Wall said Monday in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press. "I don't know how long you ignore those kinds of things at any particular level of government before you want to ask every single question that you can possibly ask to make sure that it doesn't happen again."

Brad Wall: �Absolute tragedy�

Enlarge Image

Brad Wall: �Absolute tragedy� (CP)

Wall is the latest in a string of provincial premiers to speak out about the need for a national inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women in the wake of the death of Tina Fontaine. His comments come just as premiers prepare to meet with national aboriginal leaders Wednesday in Charlottetown as part of their annual premiers' meeting.

Head of police chiefs

not taking sides

VICTORIA -- The head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women is "on the radar" of the county's law enforcement leaders.

But Chief Const. Jim Chu of the Vancouver Police Department, who is the association's outgoing president, avoided taking sides in what has become a highly politicized debate over the need for a national public inquiry.

Hundreds of the nation's top police officers gathered Monday for the start of their annual general meeting in Victoria, where Chu said the association's policing with aboriginal people committee had already met for a couple of days to discuss the issue.

"They've had an extensive discussion on it," said Chu, referring to the committee.

"One thing that hasn't happened is the groups that are calling for the national inquiry have not asked us to support their request... The details on the nature of the request and the nature of the inquiry, we need to get them."

Chu said the association will reach out to the Native Women's Association of Canada and other groups to get those details.

"And then we'll come out with a position," said Chu.

The death of teenager Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg has renewed calls for an inquiry.

The petite 15-year-old was found Aug. 17, wrapped in a bag and dumped in the Red River. She had been in Winnipeg less than a month when she ran away from foster care.

Hers is the latest name on a list the RCMP says includes 1,181 cases of murdered or missing aboriginal women between 1980 and 2012. In a report released earlier this year, the force 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.

"It has been on their radar and they're well aware also of the report the RCMP released with the numbers of missing women, and that's been part of the discussion of that committee as well," Chu said.

Michele Audette, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, seemed disappointed that the national chiefs shied away from a stance.

"I think this organization has an important role to play," she said. "We have to have them on board. They're the front line and it's not easy."

-- The Canadian Press

A national inquiry, and other steps premiers and aboriginal leaders can take to get one, will be a hot topic on the agenda.

Fontaine had been in foster care for just a few weeks when she went missing Aug. 8. Her body was found wrapped in plastic in the Red River Aug. 17.

She quickly became the face of a renewed effort for a national inquiry to look at why aboriginal women face a far higher risk of violence. An RCMP report in May showed aboriginal women and girls are three times more likely than non-aboriginal females to be victims of violence.

Between 1980 and 2012 there were 1,017 aboriginal female homicide victims and 164 aboriginal women who went missing and have never been found.

Aboriginal women account for about four per cent of Canada's total female population but comprise 11 per cent of missing women currently, and 16 per cent of murdered women between 1980 and 2012. In Manitoba, aboriginal women accounted for half the murders since 1980, a total of 196 victims. Aboriginal women make up about 16 per cent of Manitoba's female population.

A year ago, provincial premiers unanimously agreed to back a call for a national inquiry. Wall said Monday with Fontaine's death, the momentum is building behind it again.

"I think when the provinces are united as we are, together with the national aboriginal leadership, I think there is momentum. I think the RCMP have agreed in principle with the importance of an inquiry and I think there is momentum picking up."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives were holding steadfast last week against calling a national inquiry despite the increased pressure.

Harper called Fontaine's murder sad but said it was first and foremost a crime for the RCMP to solve. He said it was not part of a larger sociological phenomenon worthy of further study.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne both spoke out against those remarks, but many dismissed them as partisan attacks from the NDP and Liberals.

Wall represents the Saskatchewan Party, which is closely aligned with the Conservative Party in Saskatchewan, and Wall and Harper are known to be close allies.

Despite that, University of Saskatchewan political expert David McGrane doesn't think Wall's voice in the mix will make much difference to Harper.

"Any time the prime minister faces friendly fire it's going to hurt a little more," said McGrane.

"Harper is probably going to face more pressure because of it, but on the other hand, he seems immune from criticism."

-- with files from The Canadian Press

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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