WATCH ABOVE: If elected, Tom Mulcair and the NDP would make ending violence against women one of their top priorities announcing they would restore the shelter enhancement program and invest $40 million over 4 years.
SASKATOON – Kimberly Jonathan knows well the toll that violence against women can take.
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The first female chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations says she has met with the families of victims and sat in court and watched “their pain” as cases involving their loved ones make their way through the courts.
“We are so glad our women are being heard, that there will be an inquiry,” said Jonathan.
“We know that 1,200 aboriginal women are missing. They’re not just numbers. We are not just numbers, we are not disposable.”
Jonathan shared the podium at a news conference Monday in Saskatoon as NDP Leader Tom Mulcair unveiled new measures aimed at curbing violence against aboriginal women.
Mulcair promised to undo what he called an “underlying attitude of racism” that he says has prevented a national inquiry into the issue.
READ MORE: Mulcair unveils plan aimed at ending violence against women
He made his pitch in a province with a rate of violence against women that is more than double the national average, adding that he would repair the federal government’s relationship with indigenous women.
“Now I say this to every mother, to every daughter, to every sister, that it’s time you had a prime minister who cares,” Mulcair said.
Mulcair committed to restore a shelter enhancement program scrapped by the Conservative government, saying it would have sufficient funding to ensure no woman in need is turned away from a shelter.
But the Conservatives later said the shelter enhancement program has not been cancelled and the federal government has in fact increased funding for shelters.
Mulcair also vowed to work with women’s groups, indigenous peoples, communities and organizations to create a national action plan to end violence against women and girls, with dedicated funding and benchmarks for progress.
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That’s on top of Mulcair’s previous commitment to call an inquiry into the nearly 1,200 aboriginal women who have vanished or been murdered since 1980. He said he would launch the inquiry within his first 100 days in office.
“If there still hasn’t been an inquiry today, to this date, on murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada, it’s because of an underlying attitude of racism,” he later added.
“We’re going to change that attitude.”
Jonathan welcomed the NDP promise.
“Hopefully this is a turning point where racism isn’t OK, discrimination isn’t okay … and our women matter and our children matter,” Jonathan said.
“We’re not asking to be any better than any other woman that walks Mother Earth. We’re asking we be afforded that self-respect.”
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Campaigning in Ottawa, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said his government has implemented a series of initiatives to improve safety for aboriginal women, including giving police more investigative tools and providing more money for prevention services.
“We also brought in a series of criminal justice reforms to make sure there are serious penalties for those who commit violence against women, obviously commit violence more generally,” Harper said.
“Also, we’re making use of the existing 40 studies to figure out what additional action we should take, so we’re taking a whole range of actions across the spectrum.”
A report in January from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States, said aboriginal women in Canada are murdered or disappear at a rate four times higher than their representation in the population.