A native leader who has been one of the main voices calling for an inquiry into the large number of murdered and missing aboriginal woman and girls says she is planning to run for the Liberal Party in the next federal election.
Michele Audette, the president of the Native Woman's Association of Canada, said she met Thursday with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to discuss whether she should seek the party's nomination in the Quebec riding of Manicouagan.
"I shared my dreams, my vision and my passion. And we had a good, good, good discussion. So I said, officially, yes I will," Ms. Audette said in a telephone interview on Friday.
Ms. Audette's chat with Mr. Trudeau took place on the same day the Mounties said they have compiled nearly 1,200 cases of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada over the past 30 years – a number that is three to four times higher than their average representation in the country.
Her decision to enter politics comes after the Conservative government has refused repeatedly to call the inquiry that has been demanded by the Assembly of First Nations and is supported by the provinces and territories. "I was complaining," said Ms. Audette, who is Innu. "So I said, why don't I complain inside the box now?"
Liberals said they were thrilled Ms. Audette had joined them.
"We think one of the Conservatives' key weaknesses is they are a one-man operation," said a senior Liberal source. "Mr. Trudeau believes strongly that governing this country requires a team of deeply committed and talented people. One of his very top priorities is to build that team in 2014."
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told reporters this week that, while aboriginal women represent 4 per cent of the female population in Canada, they account for 16 per cent of murder victims and 12 per cent of those who have been declared missing.
Commissioner Paulson said there are 160 cases of missing aboriginal women in Canada; foul play is suspected in two-thirds of those cases, while the other third are missing for unknown reasons. This means that about 1,000 aboriginal women have been murdered in Canada over the past three decades – a situation that has spurred a series of calls for an inquiry.
Ms. Audette said the numbers prove what her organization has been saying for years and she does not know why the government would take such a hard line against an inquiry. A report prepared by a Commons committee dominated by Conservatives was revised earlier this year to remove the recommendation that an inquiry be called.
"Maybe they are afraid. Maybe they are stubborn. I have no clue," said Ms. Audette, who added that her organization is considering a legal challenge of the government's position.
Carolyn Bennett, the Liberal Party's critic for aboriginal affairs, said the call for an inquiry is not going to end – especially in the face of the new numbers.
"I think," Ms. Bennett said, "that's what the government's got to figure out: that we will not get to then bottom of this – in root causes, in sexism, in racism, in policing, in all of the things that can stop this epidemic – without a national public inquiry."