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UN rapporteur pushes Ottawa on First Nations

By: Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press

 | May 12, 2014 - 1:18 PM |
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on October 15, 2013. A new United Nations report says while there have been some positive steps in Canada's relationships with its aboriginal people, much more needs to be done. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, holds a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on October 15, 2013. A new United Nations report says while there have been some positive steps in Canada's relationships with its aboriginal people, much more needs to be done. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - A United Nations representative is urging the Harper government to hold a national inquiry into an estimated 1,200 cases of aboriginal women and girls who have been murdered or gone missing in the past 30 years.

A report released Monday by law professor James Anaya, the UN's special rapporteur on indigenous rights, ratchets up the pressure on a Conservative government that has flatly resisted calls to launch a comprehensive investigation.

The report comes on the heels of revelations from RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson that police have compiled a list of 1,026 deaths and 160 missing-persons cases involving aboriginal women — hundreds more than previously believed.

The Conservatives have so far resisted calls for a national inquiry, saying the issue has been studied enough and now is the time for action.

But Anaya's report says even though steps have already been taken, an investigation "into the disturbing phenomenon of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls" is still necessary.

"The federal government should undertake a comprehensive, nationwide inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal woman and girls, organized in consultation with indigenous peoples," the report says.

Anaya spent nine days in Canada last year meeting with First Nations representatives and government officials. Among his other findings:

— There's still a "well-being gap" between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada;

— Treaty and other aboriginal claims remain unresolved;

— Aboriginal people have "high levels of distrust" toward all levels of government.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt acknowledged more work needs to be done, but highlighted steps the government has taken to give First Nations the same access to safe housing, education and matrimonial rights as non-aboriginals.

"Our government is proud of the effective and incremental steps taken in partnership with aboriginal communities. We are committed to continuing to work with our partners to make significant progress in improving the lives of aboriginal people in Canada," Valcourt said in a statement.

"We will review the report carefully to determine how we can best address the recommendations."

Opposition parties criticized the federal Conservatives' handling of the aboriginal file.

"This report clearly articulated both the serious and persistent crisis in outcomes for indigenous people in this country, and that the steps taken by the Conservatives have not only failed to address this crisis, but have created a high level of distrust towards the federal government," Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said in a statement.

One way to restore trust would be to heed Anaya's call for a national inquiry into murdered and missing women and girls, Bennett added.

New Democrat MP Jean Crowder likewise called for an inquiry.

"The rapporteur also noted the lack of trust many indigenous people feel toward this Conservative government," Crowder said in a statement.

"Continuing to ignore calls for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women only increases that distrust because people honestly don't understand why they continue to ignore what amounts to a public safety emergency."

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