Mark Rendell

Leg Briefs: Nov. 4-5 – Assembly calls for inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women

And pieces of the health board amalgamation plan could be in place before next year's election

The call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women received official backing from the NWT legislature on Tuesday.

A motion calling for the inquiry, as well as a national roundtable to “identify concrete outcomes that will prevent further violence against Aboriginal women and girls” received unanimous support from MLAs, with the exception of Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen who abstained.

“We need an inquiry that drills down and is honest about the problem,” said Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins, who tabled the motion.

The motion cited six unsolved cases of missing or murdered women in the NWT, as well as the RCMP’s finding that 47 of the 50 women murdered in the NWT between 1980 and 2012 were Aboriginal.

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakaleya, who seconded the motion, spoke passionately about a family member who went missing and his aunt who was murdered – neither case has been solved.

“How did we get to the point that 1,017 Aboriginal women were murdered in our country and 164 and counting are still missing? Is our justice system broken? Are we not important to the police? No, not really. It’s time to break the cycle of abuse, time to stop neglect and take action,” he said.

A number of MLAs expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of a national inquiry; it will likely cost a lot of money, they said, and we should be focusing our energy on solutions rather than more research.

Groenewegen, however, was the only person to abstain from the motion. People are demanding the inquiry to better understand what’s going on, she said, but “the problems and the challenges and the social issues are well quantified.”

“If we have extra money for an issue like this, let’s not spend it on a national inquiry. Let’s spend it on the front line with people who are affecting change … we need safe homes; we need shelters; we need mentorship programs.”

Health Board Amalgamation Preview Coming

MLAs will get their first look at a major overhaul of the NWT health system in the winter session, Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy told MLAs on Wednesday.

New legislation, enabling the amalgamation of eight regional boards into one territorial health board, isn’t slated to “go live” until April 2016. But the first round of public consultation came to a close on Oct. 31 and Abernethy is hopeful amendments to the Hospital Insurance and Health and Social Services Administration Act will be passed before next year’s elections.

As it stands, there are eight health boards in the NWT, each with its own clinical standards and responsibility for purchasing medical equipment.

This “makes it incredibly difficult to have one system that guarantees all of our citizens have the same level and access to care,” said Abernethy.

The plan is to replace the regional boards with “wellness councils” that will send delegates to the central health board to “continue to provide advice on local and regional program delivery.”

Abernethy was careful to stress that dismantling the regional boards will not lead to job loss or forced relocation of healthcare workers.

“We need to keep them where they can make the biggest difference for our residents – on the frontlines in our communities,” he said, adding that people will be working in “virtual teams” across the territory.

He was unclear about whether the move would result in savings to the health system, though he mentioned potential savings from increased economies of scale when purchasing medical equipment.

“I’ve been very careful not to say this will save us a significant amount of money. This is about improving services and results for people in the NWT and removing barriers to care that exist,” he said.