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First Nations leaders urge Trudeau to act quickly on missing women inquiry

Aboriginal leader Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was elected as a Liberal in Vancouver Granville riding on Monday to become the first aboriginal woman from British Columbia elected to Parliament, waves to commuters and thanks her supporters in Vancouver on Oct. 20, 2015. Ms. Wilson-Raybould has long pushed for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, saying the issue is “a true Canadian tragedy.”

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Justin Trudeau has not been sworn in as prime minister yet, but First Nations leaders are already urging him to get moving on a national inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls in Canada.

The prime-minister-designate, whose Liberal Party swept to a stunning victory in Monday's election, said at a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday that "we're going to move forward on this [national inquiry] quickly."

But he said he will spend the next two weeks selecting a cabinet, suggesting any announcement on an inquiry will have to wait until that is done.

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In the past, he has described the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada as "a national tragedy" that needed to be immediately addressed by government.

"The Prime Minister must take urgent action … starting with a full, public, transparent inquiry mandated to determine the causes of the nearly 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women and girls," he said last year.

Now, native leaders are asking him to act with that same sense of urgency.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, who on Monday became the first aboriginal woman from British Columbia elected to Parliament, said the Liberal Party promised an inquiry and one will be launched soon.

"I'm not going to speculate on how soon, but we did use the word 'immediately' [in the campaign]," she said.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould, a former Crown prosecutor, treaty commissioner and regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, won the new riding of Vancouver Granville for the Liberals, campaigning primarily on broad issues such as the economy, the environment and urban transit.

But Ms. Wilson-Raybould has long pushed for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, saying the issue is "a true Canadian tragedy" that is symptomatic of deeper social problems related to the marginalization of native people.

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In an interview on Tuesday, she said the Liberal Party plans to deal with a wide range of First Nations issues, but a national inquiry will be high on the list.

"With respect to murdered and missing women, this is a national and international disgrace," she said. "We need to bring justice to the murdered and missing indigenous women. We [the Liberal Party] have said that we will call an immediate inquiry into the murdered and missing women. That's a priority."

Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said she is hoping Mr. Trudeau will indeed act quickly.

"I think we need that commitment to get started right away," she said. "We can't afford to spend months or even weeks trying to figure out processes, or waiting while the new government gets itself established."

Dr. Lavell-Harvard said the Liberals should be ready to act without going through long consultations on how an inquiry will be held.

"We don't need to have more of our girls go missing, have more of our women murdered while they try to decide what the process is going to be," she said. "This is something they went into the campaign promising, and therefore I hope and fully expect they have good plans for how they can roll that out."

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In a statement issued on Tuesday in Ottawa, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he is "looking forward to immediate action" on aboriginal issues, including education, health and a national inquiry.

In Vancouver, the First Nations Summit called on the Liberals to "immediately launch a national public inquiry," and to act quickly on economic and governance issues important to First Nations.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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