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'Am I Next?' campaign urges Harper for inquiry into murdered native women

"It’s such a heartache for families across Canada" says 34-year-old Lorelei Williams, who has lost an aunt and cousin.

Lorelei Williams Am I Next - Mychaylo Prystupa
Lorelei Williams, 34, on Vancouver's downtown eastside on Monday -- photo by Mychaylo Prystupa

After a decade of demands to have a national inquiry into the 1,000 plus cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women—the topic hit the floor of Parliament Monday.

It couldn’t come soon enough for 34-year-old Lorelei Williams.

"It’s such a heartache for families across Canada,” said 34-year-old Lorelei Williams in Vancouver.

Williams’ aunt Belinda, whose youthful image is seen on her t-shirt, has been missing since 1977.

Her cousin, Tanya, also went missing—her DNA was found on Robert Pickton’s farm.

Another aunt was thrown from a hotel in downtown Vancouver’s eastside and survived.

And Williams’ cousin Doreena was taken by an alleged serial killer who raped her in the mountains, she said.  

“This is what is going on, this is what’s happening and I could be next and it’s very scary—especially having a daughter,” said Williams. 

Fuelled by a new social media campaign "AmINext?" created by aboriginal women -- the NDP asked the Harper government why it is "refusing" to hold a public inquiry to systemically review these cases.  

“The government has a responsibility to help end the violence against indigenous women. Many have shared a social media campaign with the chilling slogan “Am I next?” said MP Niki Ashton in the House of Commons.

In response, Conservative Minister of Status of Women Kellie Leitch said "these are terrible crimes against innocent people" but said "now was not the time for yet another study, another look by the lawyers."  She argued most of these cases are solved by police investigation.

"We need the police to actually catch the individuals who perpetuated these crimes and make sure they are punished." 

Harper rejects an inquiry so far

It was an echo of what Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in August, when he rejected a public inquiry as well.

"We should not view this as sociological phenomenon," Harper told the Canadian Press while touring the north.

"We should view it as crime. It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such,” he added.

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said Harper is on the wrong side of history. 

“He stubbornly refuses to listen to premiers, indigenous leadership, the international community and most importantly, the families of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls," said the Toronto M.P.

"His response 'We should not view this as a sociological phenomena' is actually a refusal to accept his responsibility to prevent the deaths and stop this tragedy,” she added.  

Williams works with families of missing aboriginal women at the Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre and she said she does everything she can to help bring awareness to the issue. 

“I want a national inquiry into missing aboriginal women. This happened to my family,” said Williams. 

A recent national RCMP study showed that aboriginal female victims were most often murdered by an acquaintance (30% aboriginal compared to 19% non-aboriginal).  Aboriginal women were also more likely to be slain by a casual acquaintance (17% aboriginal versus 9% non-aboriginal).

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said his organization has been calling for a national public inquiry for more than a decade.

“We completely reject the prime minister’s notions that this is merely a criminal matter and not a sociological phenomenon,” said Grand Chief Phillip.

“The Prime Minister Harper has a very hostile, adversarial and racist attitude toward aboriginal people."

"Certainly this is reflected in his response to opposition to call an inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered women,” said Grand Chief Phillip.

He said the United Nations has chastised Canada about this attitude toward missing and murdered women and the fact that the government refuses to seriously engage this issue.

Grand Chief Phillip said that an inquiry has the full support of provincial premiers and the general public.

Williams said no one will understand until it happens to them.

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