9 Dec 2015

Canada to hold inquiry into its missing women

7:41 pm on 9 December 2015

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, as part of an appeal to First Nations chiefs.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Photo: AFP

The public inquiry will be a top priority of the Liberal government, the newly elected leader said - calling for a total renewal of the relationship between Canada and First Nations peoples.

Mr Trudeau also promised increased funding for education and a review of laws on indigenous peoples.

Calls for an inquiry have grown since a review found 1181 indigenous women had been murdered or gone missing since 1980.

"We have made this inquiry a priority for our government because those touched by this national tragedy have waited long enough," he said at an assembly of First Nations chiefs in Gatineau, Quebec. "The victims deserve justice; their families an opportunity to heal and to be heard."

After Mr Trudeau's speech, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Minister of Status of Women Patricia Hajdu outlined the first steps of the inquiry.

Canadian Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.

Canadian Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett Photo: CBC

"We will meet with the families in the national capital region with the goal of hearing their views on the design of the inquiry and what it needs to achieve," Ms Wilson-Raybould said.

"And over the next two months, we will hear from more families, other indigenous peoples, national aboriginal organisations and a range of front-line services workers and others."

Ms Bennett said they would "apply what budget it will take to do it right".

Mr Trudeau said the Liberal government would also provide more funding for First Nations education.

Every child and young person living in Canada deserves a chance for a good education, he said, and First Nations students were "no less deserving".

The 2 percent cap on funding for First Nations programs previously upheld by the Canadian government would be lifted, he said.

The prime minister said he was committed to the implementing suggestions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, including an implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

A report released this summer by the commission, which was created in 2006 as part of a $NZ7.5 billion class action settlement between the government, churches and 90,000 First Nation students, found that First Nation children were often physically and sexually abused in state-funded church schools.

The Canadian government forced more than 150,000 First Nation children to attend these schools from the 19th century until the mid-1990s. The schools sought to integrate the children into mainstream Canadian society, but in doing so rid them of their native culture.

"Working together as partners, I am confident that we can make meaningful and immediate progress on the issues that matter most to First Nations communities," Mr Trudeau said.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau won a parliamentary majority in a general election on 19 October.

Indigenous women hopeful after inquiry announcement

One Canadian woman, Lorelei Williams, was very emotional after she learned the national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women would definitely happen - and that her family members would also be involved in the process.

"I can't believe this is actually happening," Ms Williams told CBC Vancouver after watching Ms Bennett make the announcement on Tuesday.

Her aunt, Belinda, went missing in 1977 and the DNA of her cousin, Tanya Holyk, was identified on serial killer Robert Pickton's farm.

"We have been fighting for this for so long, and it's got me very emotional."