OTTAWA Canada launched a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women on Wednesday, a long-awaited look into the root causes of decades of violence that have led to more than a thousand deaths and attracted international criticism.
The inquiry, which will be overseen by five commissioners, will look at the systemic issues that lead to violence against indigenous women and girls, the Canadian government said. It will run from September to the end of 2018 and deliver a report with recommendations.
"The national inquiry is an important step in our journey of reconciliation," said Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett.
A United Nations watchdog last year urged Canada to launch an inquiry. While aboriginal people account for only about 4 percent of Canada's population, they on average suffer from higher rates of crime, poverty and addiction.
The inquiry was announced last year by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, fulfilling a campaign pledge from the October federal election. Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper had resisted demands for an inquiry.
"This is huge. This is a historic moment that we are now beginning to start the work," said Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, which campaigned for an inquiry for 11 years.
Nonetheless, there were some concerns, including that there does not appear to be an opportunity for families to pursue or reopen cases through the justice system, said Lavell-Harvard.
"We're committed to working on the details to make sure that this inquiry works for the families and that we see justice," she said.
The independent commission will decide what to review and will have the authority to summon witnesses and compel documents in all jurisdictions. It will also examine policing and child welfare practices.
The inquiry is expected to cost the federal government C$53.8 million ($41.05 million), more than the C$40 million over two years it had earmarked in its budget earlier this year.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in 2014 that 1,017 aboriginal women had been murdered between 1980 and 2012.
A follow-up report last year found that 174 aboriginal women had been missing for at least 30 days as of April 2015, accounting for about 10 percent of all missing women at that time.
Earlier this year, a remote indigenous community declared a state of emergency following a string of suicide attempts by aboriginal teenagers.
($1 = 1.3106 Canadian dollars)
(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Jonathan Oatis)
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