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Walk 4 Justice demands answers to missing women cases

VANCOUVER - Members of First Nations from across the province will be greeted today by the mayor of 100 Mile House and other supporters as they continue their walk from Vancouver to Prince Rupert to raise awareness about missing women and children throughout the country.

“We are demanding a public inquiry for the more than 3,000 unsolved cases of missing and murdered women and children in the last 10 years,” said Walk 4 Justice, the organizing body of the campaign, in a press release.

“We want to demand action from the Premier Gordon Campbell, Attorney General, Public and Safety Minister, and all levels of the government to seek justice, closure, equality and accountability and ask for a public inquiry into all of these cases we present to them.”

The group of around 15 has been walking for over a week, providing information sessions and educational materials about the issue along the way, as well as performing spiritual practices, said Walk 4 Justice event coordinator and spokesperson Laurie Rogers.

They have already passed through nine major communities, and will finish on June 22 in Prince Rupert.

The route will wind along the 720-kilometre long section of highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert, known notoriously as the Highway of Tears for the 18 confirmed women who have gone missing while hitchhiking along the stretch.

Various Indian bands, labour unions, and First Nations have donated almost $9,000 to the group, according to Don Bain, executive director of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

Donations have included $2,000 from the Okanagan Nation Alliance, $1,000 from the Shushwap Nation, and $1,000 from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC). Chief Shane Gottfriedsen of the Kamloops Indian band has donated $500 to the cause and is challenging all bands across the province to match the contribution.

The Walk 4 Justice started in 2008 when women walked from Vancouver to Ottawa to raise awareness about the missing women crisis.

Over the past 10 years, over 3,000 women and children have been reported missing in Canada -- over 80 per cent of whom are aboriginal, according to spokesperson Laurie Rogers.

Last year the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued a statement expressing concern about Canada’s high level of Aboriginal missing women.

“Hundreds of cases involving aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past two decades have neither been fully investigated nor attracted priority attention, with the perpetrators remaining unpunished,” the report said. It also suggested that cuts to social assistance in some provinces have negatively impacted these statistics.

Groups supporting the Walk 4 Justice include the First Nations Summit, Assembly of First Nations, Public Service Alliance Canada, Amnesty International, and BC Government Employees Union, among others who are demanding change in the government’s attitude toward missing women and children.

“It needs to stop,” said Rogers. “The government needs to step up and start doing something. They’re not taking this seriously.”

The UBCIC has set up a corporate bank account where donations can be made to support the effort, and will be absorbing any additional administrative costs to ensure 100 per cent of the money goes to the Walk 4 Justice fund.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee

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