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DISSENTING OPINION OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF CANADA

New Democrats wish to acknowledge the remarkable scope of the study conducted in the third session of the 40th Parliament on Violence Against Aboriginal Women. The subsequent interim report, “A Call into The Night: An Overview of Violence Against Aboriginal Women,” was composed based on testimony given by over 150 witnesses. The Committee understood the need for a proactive report and, as such, carried out a thorough compilation of testimony from a broad survey of Aboriginal women, consulting not only the national Aboriginal organizations and government departments, but also travelling into First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities where they conducted a first-hand fact finding mission. The testimony heard gave many specific and urgent recommendations to the federal government.

The interim report’s stated purpose of the study was to gain “a better understanding of the extent and nature of the violence; examining the root causes of the violence, and; recommending solutions in consultation and with the full cooperation of Aboriginal women.” The interim report explores the breadth and prevalence of violence that Aboriginal women experience which has glaringly been omitted from this report.

In comparison to the thoroughness of the interim report, New Democrats are disappointed with the contents of this final report: the recommendations are vague and fail to set out clear government action in response to violence against Aboriginal women. Urgent action is needed to address the crisis Aboriginal, Inuit and Métis women are facing. The committee’s final report neither thoroughly nor accurately reflects the voices of the women who were heard throughout the study, nor does it adequately incorporate the solutions they offered during their testimonies. New Democrats were also disappointed that a motion was passed to limit the scope of the final report. Finally, New Democrats note with concern that the final report takes the unusual step of including information that was not heard during committee hearings.

New Democrats are calling for the development of a coordinated federal response to violence against Aboriginal women — one that is led by Aboriginal women along with their communities and organizations. Such as response should include sustained, multi-year funding sufficient to include action on the following recommendations which are absent from the current report. Following these recommendations will uphold the promises made by the members of the previous Committee to honour the testimony they collected from Aboriginal women and take concrete actions against the ongoing violence with which they live.

COORDINATED APPROACH

New Democrats recommend that the Government of Canada, in collaboration with Aboriginal, Inuit and Métis women’s organizations, provincial and territorial governments, address violence against Aboriginal women through coordinated, strategic interventions on a number of fronts, including but not limited to: poverty, child welfare, education, housing, missing and murdered Aboriginal women, the justice system, healing of communities, families and individuals, empowering Aboriginal women, and dealing with the impacts of systemic racism. During the committee hearings on January 18, 2011, Lisa Yellow-Quill cited the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples: “change of this magnitude cannot be achieved by piecemeal reform of existing programs and services — however helpful any one of these reforms might be. It will take an act of national intention — a major symbolic statement of intent, accompanied by the laws necessary to turn intention into action”. There are multiple underlying causes of violence against Aboriginal women. It is impossible to address the violence that Aboriginal women experience without addressing wider gender inequalities and systemic discrimination that Aboriginal people continue to face generation after generation.

FUNDING FOR PROGRAMS AND SERVICES

New Democrats recommend that the Government of Canada designate stable funding for programs and non-governmental Aboriginal organizations across the service spectrum. This recommendation is glaringly absent from the tabled report. The interim report was clear in that witnesses identified the lack of multi-year and core funding as a barrier to providing consistency of services. Existing community programs already in the social services, health care, education, job training and counseling sectors are working to provide opportunities for families and individuals to receive support and encourage empowerment. A need for recurring and adequate funding for such programs, projects and services was identified throughout the study.

HOUSING

New Democrats recommend that the Government of Canada implement a coordinated, collaborative, national housing strategy to combat violence against aboriginal women. The Committee heard that the unmet housing needs of Aboriginal women are correlated to a greater risk of violence. A national housing strategy is necessary if Canada is to seriously address the reality of violence against Aboriginal women. Housing needs vary greatly, and New Democrats believe the government must commit to a coordinated, collaborative housing strategy, across the housing continuum. Lack of adequate housing is both a root cause and a direct result of violence against aboriginal women. Women fleeing violence require safe, culturally appropriate shelters as well as affordable, accessible secondary housing options. Housing security for low income families and individuals mitigates the circumstances which place women at risk of violence. Housing options must be made available on and off reservations, in both urban and rural settings. An assessment of Aboriginal women’s shelters is needed alongside a funded commitment to implement improvements. Adequate, sustained and multi-year funding to expand access to shelter and transition houses to support women fleeing violence is also needed. On-reserve shelters are underfunded in comparison to non-Aboriginal shelters. For example, Quebec Native Women note in a 2007 press release: “to provide professional services and the same number of beds, the non-Aboriginal shelters in Quebec each receive close to $487,000 per year from the provincial government. The shelters in the Aboriginal communities each receive just $150,000, through funding provided by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada”. With regard to shelters, the interim report stated that “The uncertainty of funding, its project basis, and the short term nature of some funding programs all contribute to limit the services that can be provided to women seeking to leave violent situations.”

EDUCATION

New Democrats recommend that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada — in collaboration and consultation with Aboriginal communities and organizations — undertake a strategic plan to improve the quality and standardization of on-reserve primary and secondary schools. The committee repeatedly heard that education was a key to ending violence against Aboriginal women. Cindy Blackstock, on February 15, 2011 told the committee that the “Auditor General, as early as a decade ago, was raising concerns about the inequality in funding for elementary and secondary education on reserves and also calling attention to the condition of the schools themselves and the many communities where there are no schools”. While the tabled report makes reference to the fact that quality education would strengthen Aboriginal communities and promote autonomy and choice in the lives of women, it fails to recommend that the on-reserve education crisis be addressed by the government. Across the country primary and secondary schools on reserves receive substantially less funding than their provincial counterparts — we continue to call on the government to end the 2% cap on federal transfers to Aboriginal communities, and to address the education deficit that has grown since the cap in was imposed in 1996. Their levels of standardization and curriculum implementation are lower, and often the buildings themselves that are used as schools are inadequate. It is the federal government’s responsibility to fund schools on reserves. New Democrats believe that it is essential that the government identify the education crisis and implement a strategy to address it without delay.

SUPPORT FOR FAMILIES AND VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE

New Democrats recommend that Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada — in collaboration with the provinces, territories Aboriginal organizations, and other federal government departments — support the families and victims of violence against Aboriginal women, which should include funding for: searches, legal services, court assistance, victim services, loss and grief counseling and cultural healing services. Many witnesses told the committee that there was a need for victim services and support for families. In order to safeguard justice and healing for the victims and survivors of violent crimes, the government could play a role in ensuring ongoing support for families and victims, including legal support, and support for travel to legal proceedings. In addition, better programs are needed to address healing inside families and communities. Sustained counseling for men and women and children are necessary to deal with the aftermath of violence. Currently in Canada, very few opportunities for counseling and psychiatric services are provided on reserves, and these services are not guaranteed to an Aboriginal person who leaves the reserve.

DATA COLLECTION

New Democrats recommend that Statistics Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — in collaboration with the Native Women’s Association — work to reform data collection techniques to identify victims of violence by gender and specifically if, applicable as Aboriginal. Amnesty International has noted “that the government of Canada’s statistics and data collection strategies in regards to violence against aboriginal women and girls is unreliable because police do not have a consistent standard for identifying whether the victims of violent crimes are Aboriginal”. Reform is necessary in the way data is collected about violence against Aboriginal women in order to identify the scale and nature of the problem. Created by the Native Women’s Association in 2005, Sisters in Spirit led the way in research on missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Sisters and Spirit worked with the RCMP, provincial and municipal police forces, and families of victims to pull together, for the first time, a national database in missing and murdered Aboriginal women which brought to light the tragic extent of the systemic violence suffered by Aboriginal women across Canada.

LAW ENFORCEMENT & JUSTICE SYSTEM

New Democrats recommend that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Department of Justice Canada ensure that its employees receive cultural sensitivity training — that has been specialized training, developed in collaboration with Aboriginal organizations, on how to handle cases of violence against Aboriginal women. We further recommend that Aboriginal police forces receive specialized training on how to proceed with missing persons, domestic violence and violence in all its forms. The June 2011 interim study illustrated that the criminal justice system is currently failing to properly protect women from violence and this is compounding the disproportionate violence experienced by Aboriginal women. Throughout the country, witnesses expressed frustration and told of experiences of racism, negligence and poor conduct on the part of the RCMP, provincial and municipal police, lawyers and judges who handled cases of violence against Aboriginal women. This must be addressed through genuine community collaboration and programs geared at sensitizing law enforcement agencies and justice system professionals in how to deal effectively and respectfully with cases of violence against Aboriginal women. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police must work to implement the resolution that was passed during their 2006 annual conference that calls for a national protocol on dealing with missing and murdered aboriginal women.

CEDAW

New Democrats recommend that the Government of Canada take immediate steps to implement CEDAW recommendations on violence against Aboriginal women. According to a report published by the Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA): “Three decades have passed since Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). One year ago, the United Nations found that the Government of Canada had failed to comply with its human rights commitments under CEDAW and identified two areas in which human rights violations were so pressing that they required immediate action: 1) Canada’s persistent failure to provide adequate social assistance to women and girls living in poverty; 2) The endemic violence against Aboriginal women and girls.” Since then Canada has not taken adequate steps to implement CEDAW’s urgent recommendations. A letter sent from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to Canada’s UN representative on August 25, 2010 continued to reiterate its “grave concern with respect to the situation of missing and murdered aboriginal women, the failure of the police to protect these women and girls from violence and to investigate promptly and thoroughly when they are missing or murdered, and the lack of punishment of perpetrators.” The response from Canada of February 10, 2011 promised that Canada was acting to address the situation, in part through the “forthcoming report and recommendations of the Canadian Parliament’s House of Commons Standing Committee on the status of women, based on its study on violence against Aboriginal women that is expected in Spring of 2011, and response of the Government of Canada on those recommendations.” New Democrats believe that the current report tabled in the house, does not include any directives for the government to implement actions or strategies whatsoever.

RACISM

New Democrats wish to acknowledge that the lasting effects of racism perpetrated against the first peoples of Canada are among the root causes of the violence that afflicts Aboriginal women. As it was put by Marilyn George, from the Ending Violence Association of British Columbia, “Violence in aboriginal women’s lives is pervasive, and it is compounded by violence and systemic and institutionalized racism as well as the effects of historical violence, such as residential schools, the Indian Act, and other legacies of colonization.” Active measures to combat racism against Aboriginal peoples are needed in order to break the cycle of violence and support community healing.

New Democrats further recommend that Canada implement without delay the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada is a signatory to this Declaration which offers a framework of reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and the government. The Declaration’s framework must be applied to the elimination of violence against Aboriginal women. The UN Declaration commits Canada to recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples to be active partners in all programs and policies which affect them in accordance to section 19 and 23.

The New Democrats believe restoring justice to Aboriginal peoples requires a federal obligation to work nation-to-nation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. New Democrats will continue to work alongside Aboriginal communities as they reclaim autonomy and health in the wake of Canada’s history of discriminatory policies and residential schools.

MATRIMONIAL REAL PROPERTY

New Democrats are concerned with the sudden inclusion of Matrimonial Real Property (MRP) as a sub category of the report. The study heard very little testimony regarding MRP, and nothing directly referring to Bill S-2, which is currently being debated. MRP legislation does not deal with violence against women and should not be presented in this study. In other studies conducted on MRP legislation, witnesses from the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations, among others, noted the legislation would be impossible to implement due to preconditions of poverty, lack of access to legal services, general lack of housing options and insufficient reserve land bases for Aboriginal women seeking to claim MRP. Violence against aboriginal women is by no means restricted to reserve land and MRP legislation will not have any effect on women living off reserves. Furthermore, New Democrats believe it is premature for the report to include conclusions related to S-2 when it has yet to be passed in the House of Commons.

ACCOUNTABILITY

New Democrats recommend that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, in collaboration with other government departments and agencies, report annually to parliament on the effectiveness of federal government programs in reducing violence against Aboriginal women and request from time to time that this report be evaluated by the Auditor General. The current report lists programs funded by the federal government; however, testimony was heard throughout the study reporting that women are not getting all the support necessary in order to prevent violence in their communities. In contrast the majority of testimony supports the assertion that the government programs already in place are not doing enough to address the crisis of violence against Aboriginal women. New Democrats would therefore recommend that benchmarks for success be set on an annual basis and that all government funded programs and services be assessed accordingly.

CONCLUSION

The final report as tabled has a stated mandate to exclude testimony that deals with the “aftermath of violence”. Testimony that was included in the interim report clearly identified needs and requirements that fall outside the imposed scope of the final report. The December 2011 report fails to include recommendations on important issues such as services for victims, the housing crisis, shelter reform, and addressing poverty experienced by Aboriginal women. In addition, it does not include a commitment to implement the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights. New Democrats recognize that, in order to break the cycle of violence affecting Aboriginal women, action is needed now. This is the reason New Democrats are calling for a thorough, collaborative and culturally appropriate national strategy to proactively address the reality of violence against Aboriginal women in its entirety.

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