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Harper: Police best suited to solve cases of missing, murdered women, not national inquiry

WHITEHORSE - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says police investigations, not a national inquiry, are the best way to deal with crimes involving missing and murdered aboriginal women.

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 a national inquiry.

Tina Fontaine had been in Winnipeg less than a month when she ran away from foster care.

Her body was discovered Sunday in the river and police are treating her death as a homicide.

But Harper, who is in Whitehorse as part of his yearly trek to the North, says most such cases are addressed — and solved — by the police.

He says it's important to keep in mind that these are crimes.

"We should not view this as sociological phenomenon," the prime minister told a news conference Thursday.

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

The Conservative government has rejected all calls for a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women, saying it prefers to address the issue in other ways, such as through aboriginal justice programs and a national DNA missing person's index.

In May, the RCMP issued a detailed statistical breakdown of 1,181 cases since 1980. The report 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.

When told of the prime minister’s comments, Manitoba Minister of Family Services Kerri Irvin-Ross, went quiet on the phone and then said, "There have been a number of people asking for a national inquiry. It’s a national issue - the loss of aboriginal girls and women in Canada - and we need to understand what’s happening."

When asked her if she was surprised or flummoxed by Harper’s comments, she said she was shocked.

—With files from staff.

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