WINNIPEG - Provincial cabinet ministers and Canada's aboriginal leaders begin a two-day meeting Thursday on missing and murdered aboriginal women, but there is no sign that the two sides are any closer to an agreement on calls for a national inquiry.
"What's a national inquiry going to produce? It's going to cost a lot of money for one thing," Eric Robinson, Manitoba's minister for aboriginal and northern affairs, said Wednesday.
"I'm not saying I'm opposed to that. I've got to hear from the other provinces and the other jurisdictions as to what they feel about that. A national task force — would that make more sense? ... Is that more feasible?"
Robinson is co-chair of the Winnipeg meeting, which will include aboriginal affairs or status of women ministers from every province and territory.
The meeting comes amid increasing pressure from the Assembly of First Nations and other groups for an inquiry into the estimated 600 aboriginal women who have disappeared or been killed over the past two decades.
Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has said an inquiry is needed to examine how police have investigated reports of missing aboriginal women, as well as the social and economic circumstances that make aboriginal women more prone to violence than non-natives.
"Striking an independent and inclusive National Public Commission of Inquiry would demonstrate a clear and focused commitment to achieve positive change for and with indigenous peoples," Atleo said in a recent written statement.
The federal government has rejected the demand and said it has worked to address the issue by funding new initiatives such as a database that allows police forces across the country to share information on cases.
The provinces have appeared lukewarm to the idea as well. The premiers did not endorse an inquiry at their annual meeting in June, which included a meeting with Atleo. The provinces have said there are already initiatives underway in different parts of the country, including the British Columbia inquiry into the deaths of women in Vancouver's downtown east side.
But aboriginal groups say only a national inquiry can address what has prompted native women across the country to end up facing violent deaths. They have been supported by the federal NDP.
Three federal cabinet ministers were invited to the Winnipeg meeting, Robinson said, but are sending bureaucrats instead.
"As to why the federal government's not present in terms of their elected representatives, I have no idea," Robinson said.
This week's meeting is the third National Aboriginal Women's Summit. The two previous meetings, in 2007 and 2008, focused primarily on improving social and living conditions of native women.