Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.)
|| That the House recognize that a disproportionate number of Indigenous women and girls have suffered violence, gone missing, or been murdered over the past three decades; and that the government has a responsibility to provide justice for the victims, healing for the families, and to work with partners to put an end to the violence; and that a special committee be appointed, with the mandate to conduct hearings on the critical matter of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and to propose solutions to address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women across the country; that the committee consist of twelve members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair is from the government party; that in addition to the Chair, there be one Vice-Chair from each of the opposition parties; that the committee have all of the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada, subject to the usual authorization from the House; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Whip of each party depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party’s members of the committee no later than March 28, 2013; that the quorum of the special committee be seven members for any proceedings, provided that at least a member of the opposition and of the government party be present; that membership substitutions be permitted to be made from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2); and that the committee report its recommendations to the House no later than February 14, 2014.
She said: Mr. Speaker, it is with a great deal of emotion that we address today the motion of the Liberal Party to strike a special parliamentary committee with the mandate to conduct hearings on the critical issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada.
It is not a coincidence that families of Sisters in Spirit and Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society have chosen February 14 to come here to Parliament Hill to plead their case. Cindy's Have a Heart rally is at the Centennial Flame this morning, and today at noon the families of Sisters in Spirit will meet at the Langevin Block and march to Parliament Hill on their day of justice.
Today, the UN is part of a campaign called One Billion Rising. It is the largest day of action on the issue of violence against women and girls. It is a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Unfortunately, we in Canada are not just supporting a movement about violence against women and girls in post-conflict zones or in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, it is here at home that we have to deal with this systemic violence against indigenous women and girls in Canada.
Tragically, more than 600 aboriginal women and girls have disappeared or been murdered in Canada since 1970. Moreover, aboriginal women in Canada experience rates of violence more than three times that of non-aboriginal women. Young aboriginal women are five times more likely to die of violence.
However, it is important that the rallies today make it clear that this is not just about appalling unfairness and injustice. It is about missing daughters, mothers, aunties, cousins, nieces, real people who have now left a real hole in the hearts of their families and their friends. It is so overwhelming to see the pictures of the missing and murdered women clutched by their bereaved family members, who have been clear with us in meeting after meeting that they will never heal, but they need support on their healing journey. They want justice. They want prevention. They want the violence to stop. They know it needs a systemic solution.
I have heard the stories from Prince George to downtown Winnipeg. I slipped into the back of the hearing room at the Oppal inquiry in Vancouver on the Pickton murders to hear from the families and I can tell members, we are not doing enough.
From 30 years ago when Helen Betty Osborne, who was clearly killed because she was an aboriginal woman, we have continued in this country to not do enough. Look at the names on the Sisters in Spirit website of Lorna Blacksmith, Daleen Kay Bosse, Claudette Osborne, Pamela Holopainen, Hilary Bonnell. Yesterday in the Human Rights Watch poignant paper, we saw the Highway of Tears sign with the names of Tamara and Cecilia and Delphine, and the people who are no longer with us because of this systemic violence.
The sign at these rallies that always touches me the most is, “To the world, she was one person. To us she was the world”. It means that we cannot deal with this in only the horrific statistics. We have to deal with this as a very human problem of human families and communities. It is also the systemic problem of the effects of residential schools, of colonization. The fact is that we have to address this head-on. We need the 96% of Canadians who are not from an aboriginal background to understand and work with us in this serious injustice.
We need a public and national inquiry. There is no question that our motion today is not to say that this will be instead of a public inquiry. We want a national inquiry, but the government has been so reticent to actually do what is necessary, to deal head-on and analyze the root causes, to seek justice and to prevent and end the violence. We are asking, in the absence of a public inquiry, that our motion today would establish a special committee that would be able to hear evidence and propose recommendations to address the root causes of violence against indigenous women across the country, to seek justice and to identify a real action plan to stop the violence.
These were things that were asked of the Government of Canada yesterday in the Human Rights Watch report. The issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls must never be just an issue for first nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada. It is a matter of critical importance to all Canadians. This is, quite simply, a source of national and international embarrassment.
Canada has been regularly criticized by organizations like Amnesty International, in 2004 and 2011, and the United Nations, in 2008, for neglecting to investigate and address the issues of violence against aboriginal women and girls.
This is not a partisan issue. The motion is not about politics.
All of the parties need to rally together and join forces to do everything they can to provide justice for the victims, provide healing for the families and put an end to this epidemic.
Many members of Parliament, on all sides, have expressed a desire to deal with the issue. The Conservative member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo has said:
||—I have to share a sense of shame to know that my province and my country are identified as one of the worst in terms of missing aboriginal women and children. No one can feel anything but shame over those circumstances.
In March, 2010, then Conservative Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Chuck Strahl, stated that the government “will take...action to address the disturbing number of unsolved cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal women”. As well, the current Minister of Justice committed:
|| We will work with provinces, territories, aboriginal people and other stakeholders for effective solutions. After all, we all have a stake in finding a solution....
However, it is time for the government to match its words with action. It is time for the all ministers of the Crown to put their resources together to ensure that a parliamentary committee is able to hear the witnesses it needs to hear and for each minister to commit to act on the recommendations of this special committee.
Recently, the Government of Manitoba hosted a meeting to discuss the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. All provincial, territorial and federal ministers of aboriginal affairs, justice and the status of women were invited. The federal ministers were the only ones who did not attend. Instead, they sent their bureaucrats. This is not good enough. If this had been happening to non-aboriginal Canadian women at the same rate, over 20,000 women would be murdered by now.
If hundreds of women and girls were disappearing or were being murdered in our communities and our ridings, it would be considered a crisis and people would demand immediate action.
It is as if two 747s fell out of the sky and nothing was done to figure out why.
I invite all members to join in solidarity with families of Sisters in Spirit at noon to mark this day of justice for families of Sisters in Spirit and to remember and honour the lives of missing and murdered women and girls. This deplorable pattern of violence and indifference experienced by aboriginal women and girls clearly requires a more comprehensive response from the government and Parliament.
I believe we can work together across party lines to confront this unabated violence. A non-partisan study was begun by Parliament in 2010 to gather information about the extent of the violence against aboriginal women, programs in place to address it, the root causes and what steps could be taken to break the cycle.
Although very important, the work of that committee failed to specifically address the problem of the missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.
Further, that work was, unfortunately, interrupted by the 2011 election and the mandate of the committee was subsequently shifted to the aftermath of the violence and to empowering women and girls. This appalling situation is, unfortunately, not a recent revelation. Now it is time to come together to provide justice for the victims and healing for the families and to put an end to this tragic injustice.
Back in 2004, Amnesty International released its Stolen Sisters report, which showed that indigenous women in Canada faced gender- and race-based discrimination and a heightened and unacceptable risk of violence. Among other recommendations, Amnesty International called on the government to ensure adequate funding for comprehensive national research on violence against indigenous women, including the creation of a national registry to collect and analyze statistical information from all jurisdictions. In 2005, in response to mounting evidence that hundreds of aboriginal women in Canada were going missing or had been murdered, the previous Liberal government invested $5 million, through the Native Women's Association and Sisters in Spirit, to create a national database of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Unfortunately, in 2010, the Conservatives cut the funding and mandated that any future funding for the Native Women's Association could not be used for Sisters in Spirit.
The information uncovered by this comprehensive research project was truly heartbreaking. NWAC had gathered information about 582 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Of these, 67% were murder cases; 20% were cases of missing women and girls; and 4% were cases of suspicious deaths, deaths regarded as natural or accidental by police but considered suspicious by family or community members.
NWAC's research indicates that between 2000 and 2008, aboriginal women and girls represented approximately 10% of all female homicides in Canada. However, aboriginal women make up only 3% of the female population. This is nothing short of shocking. Further, in terms of justice for the victims, it is important to point out that although the national clearance rate for homicides in Canada is 84%, according to the NWAC statistics, almost half of the homicides involving aboriginal women and girls remain unsolved. This requires a systemic approach. A complaints commission for the RCMP will not fix the systemic inability of our justice system to seek justice for these missing and murdered aboriginal women. Half the cases are unsolved. There is no explanation other than discrimination and a two-tiered justice system. We know how to fix this, and we have to fix it now.
In 2010, as the government cancelled the Sisters in Spirit funding, the Conservatives provided $10 million in funding for a series of initiatives that they argued were directed at missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. However, most of the money went to police initiatives that track missing persons in general, without any particular focus on the specific patterns of violence against indigenous women.
The Prime Minister's answers yesterday on a related matter in question period showed a true lack of compassion and a lack of understanding of the scope of this issue. How on earth can we fix the unbelievable difference between violence against aboriginal and non-aboriginal women without the capacity to track disaggregated data? As Claudette Dumont-Smith, the executive director of NWAC, said yesterday at the Human Rights Watch press conference, these programs may well be positive criminal justice initiatives. However, there are still important gaps in the available data that must be filled to ensure that the policy directed at this specific issue is based on sound information and facts rather than on ideology. Recent reports from the Oppal Missing Women Commission of Inquiry and from Human Rights Watch have made clear that there are serious shortcomings in our policing and justice systems, which too often have failed to protect indigenous women and girls, and this must change.
The Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police is one of the few law enforcement organizations to keep comprehensive statistics on missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. According to its website, in 2012 there were 30 missing women in Saskatchewan, and 17, or 57%, of these were aboriginal. Yet only 14% of the population of Saskatchewan is aboriginal. These sorts of data should be available for the entire country, but police in many jurisdictions do not even report whether the victims of crime are indigenous. This is why it was so disappointing that in 2010, the Conservative government cut the funding for the NWAC Sisters in Spirit database.
I want to repeat and address again the need for a full national public inquiry. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch's report, “Those Who Take Us Away”, was crystal clear. Among other things, it called on the Government of Canada to establish a national commission of inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls before the end of 2013 and to develop and implement a national action plan to address violence against indigenous women and girls, the structural roots of the violence, and the accountability and coordination of government bodies charged with preventing and responding to the violence.
Liberals first raised the need for a federal public inquiry and investigation of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in the House of Commons in May 2009 and subsequently called for a national public inquiry into the issue in 2010, 2011 and 2012. During the 2011 federal election campaign, Liberals committed to initiating a national task force to examine the systemic causes of this problem, with an emphasis on preventing its continuation in the future.
Our call today for a parliamentary committee in no way means that we are backing away from that commitment. On October 12, 2012, the national day of remembrance, I put my Motion No. 411 on the order paper. It calls on the government to take immediate action to deal with this systemic problem and to call a public inquiry. Liberals have joined the AFN, the Native Women's Association of Canada and all of Canadian society in calling for a national public inquiry on this issue.
Every time we make this request, the government refuses.
We need to work together to begin the process of collecting the necessary data and information and of finding solutions now.
This motion offers parliamentarians the opportunity to extend our support to those families that have been touched by the loss of a loved one to violence and to seek justice for all who have been touched by this continuing tragedy. The Conservatives claim that they stand up for victims of crime. Unfortunately, many people in Canada say, that is unless the victim of crime happens to be an aboriginal woman or girl. We are asking them to join us, to stand up for missing and murdered aboriginal women—the mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunties and cousins and the families who loved and cherished them—and support this motion.
Today the UN is calling, with its End Violence Against Women Campaign, for the V-Day pledge:
|| One Billion Rising is the beginning of the new world ignited by a new energy. It is not the end of a struggle but the escalation of it, so V-Day is asking those who are rising around the globe to take a simple pledge this Thursday, to do one thing in the next year to end violence against women. It can be a simple action, or a monumental one; it can be personal, or political, it can be quiet or loud, but these actions—taken together—will create change.
I encourage all members of the House to support this motion. It may be simple, but it will be loud and it will create change.
Ms. Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity today to discuss what is a very serious concern of the Government of Canada and certainly one of its priorities.
Despite comments from the opposition members, we have been doing a great deal on the front lines to try to address this very concerning issue.
As this House knows, this government is committed to community safety, not just for some Canadians but for all Canadians across the country. I will not go through the list of criminal law measures taken by this government at this time, but the list is long and quite impressive.
Today, I want to focus first on some of the human aspects of this tragedy. I agree with the first paragraph of the motion. This House should recognize, and I believe our government has recognized on many occasions, that aboriginal women and girls in Canada today still, unfortunately, face a significantly greater risk of violence and of suffering more serious and severe violence than other Canadians. A disturbingly high number of aboriginal women and girls have also gone missing or been murdered in Canada.
We have all heard the expressions of pain and suffering from family members who do not have answers for what has happened. This is something no Canadian should believe is someone else's problem.
The government has a responsibility to provide justice for the victims and for their families, and I believe our government has taken this responsibility very seriously, with important action. We must all speak out against this unacceptable violence toward sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts and nieces. Their lives matter, and their deaths must not be ignored.
This government has worked with many aboriginal organizations for many years now to address this complex issue. We have provided $5 million to the Sisters in Spirit initiative of the Native Women's Association of Canada. We did this through Status of Women Canada for the original research.
When that research showed a disturbingly high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women across Canada, we made a further commitment of $25 million in 2010 to take immediate action to improve the response of law enforcement and the justice system so they can better meet the needs of aboriginal women and their families. In budget 2010 and again in budget 2012, along with many other individual announcements, that commitment has continued with other related initiatives.
I am also pleased to agree with the second portion of this motion: to appoint a special committee to look at and propose solutions; although there are already a large number of studies, including one recently done by the House of Commons status of women committee, and much action has been taken by aboriginal communities together with this government to change this unacceptable situation.
The government welcomes this opportunity to review what has been done and to look for more solutions. A special committee appointed to study this complex and urgent issue could focus on practical solutions for the future, so that generations to come will no longer have to face the risks faced by those of the past and, unfortunately, still of today.
Our government has recognized the need to work closely with aboriginal organizations and communities and with provincial and territorial partners to develop more effective, appropriate and collaborative solutions and responses to help ensure the safety of women in Canada, and that is exactly what we have done. This takes concerted effort and lasting change, and this can be gained only community by community.
Canada's more than 600 first nations, as well as urban aboriginal communities, have different histories, needs and solutions. This is why the government has focused on funding community safety planning, as communities are in the best position to identify what change is needed and to establish priorities. It is my hope that a special committee can continue that work toward real and lasting change, community by community.
A special committee would provide a further means to build on what has already been done to address the broader underlying causes that contribute to the vulnerability to violence of aboriginal women and girls, in areas such as family violence prevention, economic security and prosperity, education, health, policing and urban living.
I would like to take a minute to review some of the highlights of other actions the Government of Canada is already taking to reduce the violence and the vulnerability to violence of aboriginal women and girls.
In 2010 the Government of Canada announced $25 million over five years for a seven-point strategy to improve responses of law enforcement and the justice system to cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls and to increase community safety.
My colleague, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, will expand on the work of the new National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains, but I want to assure the House that its staff includes an experienced aboriginal police officer linked to the RCMP's National Aboriginal Policing Services in order to ensure a continuing focus on the issue of missing aboriginal women and children.
The new national public website containing information on some 715 cases—those are cases of missing children, missing persons and unidentified remains—was launched in January 2013 and can be found at www.canadasmissing.ca. It provides the public with the opportunity to submit tips on specific cases. I understand that the first tip was received within hours of this site going live.
The new national centre will launch the first national police database specifically for missing persons and unidentified remains cases later this year. It is designed to provide Canadian police, medical examiners and chief coroners with comprehensive information on cases across jurisdictions.
In addition, the centre continues to work with the Canadian Police Information Centre and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to make numerous enhancements to the main Canadian police data system to capture more specific descriptions of missing persons and unidentified remains.
The new centre has worked within the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to gather best practices and to compile them into a single document for investigators. The centre is currently developing training for investigators and, with the Canadian Police College, last year piloted an advanced course for investigators of missing persons and unidentified remains.
As I mentioned, the government has emphasized the development of community safety plans by aboriginal communities to reduce violence and improve the safety of aboriginal women within their communities. Public Safety Canada, through its new aboriginal community safety development contribution program, is enabling communities to take greater responsibility for identifying their own needs and building on their existing assets, leading to an integrated safety response with existing federal, provincial and community partners.
In Canada, the provincial and territorial governments provide victim services, and many victim services are taking a proactive, responsive approach to adapt existing services and/or develop new services to respond to the unique needs of aboriginal victims of crime.
The Department of Justice works closely with the provincial and territorial governments to increase their capacity to support aboriginal victims of crime as well as the families of missing or murdered aboriginal women.
In 2010, the Government of Canada took concrete action by dedicating an $1 million annually to the victims' fund to help the provinces and territories adapt or develop culturally appropriate victim services for aboriginal victims of crime, and to enhance support for families of missing or murdered aboriginal women.
The Department of Justice has also provided a substantial amount of funding directly to community organizations as part of its overall efforts. Those efforts are designed to reduce violence and improve safety for aboriginal women and girls. Approximately $2 million has gone directly to about 30 organizations for activities aimed at reducing violence against aboriginal women. Aboriginal organizations can also apply for funding to support the development or distribution of awareness materials and activities that contribute to breaking intergenerational cycles of violence and abuse in aboriginal communities, which result in aboriginal women and children facing higher risks of violence.
As another response to the disturbing number of missing and murdered aboriginal women, Justice Canada worked with a number of aboriginal contractors, including the Aboriginal Research Institute, to prepare a compendium of promising practices to reduce violence and increase the safety of aboriginal women in Canada. That is now available online. The compendium presents key information on promising practices in aboriginal communities so that community groups can build on the experience of other aboriginal communities as they address similar challenges in their own communities.
Justice Canada also has a number of programs directed at reducing rates of victimization, crime and incarceration among aboriginal people, such as the aboriginal justice strategy, which works on a cost-shared basis with Canada's provincial and territorial governments and in partnership with aboriginal communities. The programs serve over 600 communities, helping the mainstream justice system to become more responsive and sensitive to the needs and culture of aboriginal communities. Over the last six years, the federal government has made a total investment of nearly $100 million.
Justice Canada has also worked with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to prepare mandatory Inuit awareness training for crown prosecutors in the Nunavut regional office and has worked to update a publication on family violence entitled, “Abuse Is Wrong In Any Culture: Inuit”, which is also now available online.
Since March 2010, Status of Women Canada has approved funding of over $2.3 million for the Native Women's Association of Canada, NWAC, to support the two phases of its current project, called Evidence to Action. Building on previous work, the project aims to reduce levels of violence experienced by aboriginal women and girls by strengthening the ability of communities, governments, educators and service providers to respond to issues that relate to the root causes of violence against aboriginal women and girls.
As I mentioned, the government is also working to address the broader underlying factors that contribute to the vulnerability of aboriginal women and girls to violence. We do this through partnerships with aboriginal organizations and communities on economic development, education, labour market participation, housing, health, family violence programming, policing and other relevant areas.
The Government of Canada believes that the remaining outstanding cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women must be a focus, as the families do deserve answers. The RCMP is working with other Canadian police services, provincial and territorial governments, aboriginal organizations and the public to investigate and resolve the outstanding cases of missing or murdered women.
In looking for answers on the outstanding cases, a number of police task forces and projects have been established in areas of the country where these disappearances and crimes are clustered. Those with information that might help in any way in resolving these crimes must share that information with police. Indeed, more needs to be done.
We must not lose sight of the commitment and accomplishments that the government, and aboriginal and non-aboriginal groups, communities and individuals have achieved, as we move together toward necessary and lasting change.
Finally, I want to highlight that in addition to collaborating with aboriginal groups and other stakeholders, the federal government continues to work in partnership with the provinces and territories to coordinate its response. Such a coordinated effort is needed to address this issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. The federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice approved an implementation plan at their November 2012 meeting for the final report of the missing women working group, and reiterated their commitment to continue to coordinate their efforts on this important issue.
At the request of the ministers, the federal, provincial, territorial working group on aboriginal justice is now working on a national justice framework to coordinate federal, provincial and territorial actions and response across the law enforcement and justice spectrum to address violence against aboriginal women and girls.
The government feels strongly that the emphasis must be on action, and it fully intends to continue working in partnership with aboriginal organizations and groups, and with provincial and territorial governments to do its part to develop more effective and appropriate solutions. These solutions are needed to prevent any further disappearances or deaths of aboriginal women and girls. The contribution of a special committee would be most valuable in identifying additional solutions to end the violence.
I welcome the opportunity for greater collaboration as we strive to achieve that goal.
Ms. Niki Ashton (Churchill, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Vancouver East.
Our message for Parliament today is that enough is enough; that no other woman, no other aboriginal woman, should go missing or be murdered in Canada.
Aboriginal women in this country, in 2013, are five to seven times more likely to die from violence than any other woman. What is wrong with this story? What is wrong with this picture? What are people doing wrong? Where is the federal government. Why is it not listening to the voices of the families of those who have lost their sisters, their daughters, their mothers, their friends; to the voices of aboriginal organizations such as the Native Women's Association, such as the Assembly of First Nations; to aboriginal leaders such as chiefs, grand chiefs, the National Chief; to civil society, organizations like Human Rights Watch from the United States that came out and spent time in northern British Columbia and sat down with women who were abused and sat down with families of women who were taken away? Why is the Conservative federal government unwilling to listen to all of these voices and unwilling to call a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women?
In Canada, aboriginal women are seven times more likely to die from violence than other women.
I will repeat that there are more than 600 cases of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada. The initiative of the Native Women's Association of Canada shows that 55% of these women disappeared in the last 10 years. Two-thirds of these cases were in western Canada. The majority of the women attacked were under 31 years old, and 80% of them left children behind.
The cases that have occurred in the last 10 years account for 10% of Canada's murdered women, and yet aboriginal women make up only 3% of Canada's female population.
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch, a renowned international organization, released a report concerning allegations of abuse of aboriginal women in British Columbia. Members of this organization interviewed women and their families about abuse or the loss of a female family member. They talked about the highway of tears, which is a national disgrace.
Whether it was on the Highway of Tears, in downtown Vancouver, Regina, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Quebec City or Saint John's, at the far reaches of our country, in communities like Manto Sipi Cree Nation, God's River, Pimicikamak First Nation, Norway House Cree Nation or Opaskwayak Cree Nation, in cities and towns like Thompson and The Pas or any other place that has a story to tell about aboriginal women taken from our homes, buildings, streets or forests, these women disappeared without justice for them or their families.
They disappeared without the most basic sentiment of justice. These women have disappeared and have been murdered without the answers we need to have to make this stop.
What are we all here to do other than to build a better today and tomorrow for the people of Canada?
What is the government here to do other than to answer the demands of families that have gone through the biggest tragedy of losing their loved one?
How many times does this have to take place before the federal government will act and call a national public inquiry?
We need a national inquiry, as many people say, so we can find the answers and look at the factors behind this national tragedy and the fact that aboriginal women go missing at a rate much higher than anyone else, because they are aboriginal. We need to look at the extreme marginalization and extreme poverty. I do not know how much time government members have spent in some of these communities from which women go missing or if they have sat down with the families of those who have been lost. I have sat down with the families of Lorna Blacksmith and Sunshine Wood and met the family of Helen Betty Osborne, women who were taken from their communities in northern Manitoba and are never coming back.
I and my colleagues and others have seen the pain first hand and heard the cry for justice. The question is why the federal government is unwilling to listen to these voices, to say yes to seeking that justice together, to finding the answers, committing to action and putting a stop to the third world living conditions and extreme poverty that aboriginal women in communities across this country face. Let us realize that we do not fund education properly. Look at the protests on Parliament Hill today. There are children protesting and appealing to their own federal government for equal education. What country are we in? This is Canada and it is unacceptable. Why are the first peoples of this land still living in abject poverty and paying the highest price by losing family members, the women and life-givers, of their nations?
Not only has the federal government failed to act until this point in calling for a national inquiry, but we have seen some of the most severe cuts in these last few years to funds that go directly to both finding the answers and alleviating the situations that aboriginal women in Canada face. The list is long, but I will mention a few. Most important is Sisters in Spirit, an organization that did nothing more than bring families together and that began the arduous task of finding data and connecting stories, whether they are from northern B.C., the Northwest Territories or the east coast, and putting those stories into numbers: 600-plus women, the average age 31 and many younger, more than 80% leaving children behind. That organization is gone.
The Native Women's Association, the primary national organization that advocates for aboriginal women, was cut. The First Nations Statistical Institute is gone. The National Aboriginal Health Organization is gone. The Prairie Women's Health Centre of Excellence and its sister organizations are gone. The basic funding for organizations at the local level is gone.
Our message to Parliament is that enough is enough; assez c'est assez. It is time to act. This is an issue of life and death, and it is up to us to take the leadership, up to the government to take the leadership and commit to bringing justice to these families, these women, these communities and our country. Only will it do that when it begins by committing to a national public inquiry and a commitment to action. We in the NDP stand in solidarity and are proud to do so. We will not rest until a national inquiry is called and no other aboriginal woman dies in Canada.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, first, I am very pleased to follow the NDP member for Churchill, after her very powerful and passionate speech on this issue. I know this is an issue that we all care very deeply about.
I want to begin my remarks by reflecting on a very important event that will take place today in the downtown east side at Main and Hastings. Today will be the 22nd annual women's memorial march that has taken place in that community.
I attended the first march in 1991 when I was still a city councillor. It was really the first time that the community came together in an outpouring and recognition of the terrible violence that was taking place in the community where aboriginal women were missing, or were murdered, or were presumed murdered or were sex workers.
I remember the march along Powell Street and we began next to a dumpster where earlier the body parts of a murdered woman had been found. I will not use her name because her family has asked that it not be used. As we walked down Powell Street, Dundas Street, down to Main and Hastings to the Carnegie Centre, there was a smudge ceremony and her family was there. It was the first time in the downtown east side that there was a public coming together in recognition of what was taking place in that community. Many women had been disappearing prior to that. It was at that point the community started calling for a public inquiry in B.C. into the missing and murdered women. We all knew and believed that a serial killer was likely responsible.
Here we are two decades later and much has happened. There have been criminal trials, the largest mass murder trial in Canada, the Pickton trial. We have had the Oppal Commission. We have had the United Nations begin its own inquiry into the status and the missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Today were are debating this motion, and it is an important step. It looks like the motion will be passed, which is good. However, I want to remember the women in the downtown east side and thank the organizers for what they are doing today, Marlene George, who is the chair of the committee, and many other women who have been involved in this issue. Even though they were grieving for the loss of family members, they refused to be silenced and placated.
What I have learned from this issue is it is probably the greatest tragedy that we have seen in the downtown east side and the community is still feeling the grief of what has taken place. However, I have also learned that the huge systemic issues that are involved are something we simply cannot ignore. I believe we all have a responsibility. Primarily governments have a responsibility, but whether it is municipal, provincial or federal, we all have a responsibility to come to terms with what has taken place. In coming to terms, we have to face the grievous injustices facing aboriginal people, especially women, and we have to respond in a way that acknowledges and understands the historic racism, inequality, poverty and discrimination that has resulted from a long history of colonialism in Canada.
Unless we can begin from that place of understanding, I worry and fear that we will not have learned what we need in order to move forward. That is one very important principle to me, the understanding of the root causes.
The second thing is to understand that society has failed these women at every level, whether it is judicial, political, cultural, no matter what way we look at it, society has failed these women.
These women were marginalized. I am speaking primarily about the downtown east side, but as we know, there are 600 women who are also missing and may be murdered across the country. These women became so marginalized, they became like non-people, and so their disappearances were never taken seriously. Now we have the reports and the analysis of what went wrong, and still there is some finger pointing: the RCMP, the Vancouver Police and other police forces in other parts of the country.
The second most important thing is to understand how everything failed. We expect our governments, our society, the programs we have and the values we have as Canadians to take care of people when they are hurting. Yet in this instance, especially in the downtown east side because most of the women were sex workers, they were just dismissed. It was not taken seriously when they disappeared and when their family members made complaints. We have a lot to learn.
I attended the Oppal commission when it released its report on December 17, not very long ago. Although there were many criticisms about the Oppal commission process, the inquiry and the fact that many community organizations did not have the legal standing and resources they needed to participate in the inquiry, nevertheless, that report is there. It compels all of us to ensure these recommendations are followed up.
When I spoke to Justice Oppal before the commission actually began its formal work, what I said to him and what I still believe today is that the most important aspect of his work was finding a way to ensure that whatever recommendations he came up with would not be forgotten, that they would not just sit somewhere. We have seen that with many reports, unfortunately. We could go back to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996. It was a three-volume document. Most of those recommendations have never been followed up.
I say today that if we have the unanimous will of the House, and it looks like we do and that is good, to set up a special committee, then we have to make a commitment to the community, to those families, that we will actually make it meaningful and that it will not be a special committee that does the routine stuff. It must actually be a process that will look at the other reports and recommendations.
We heard the parliamentary secretary say earlier that she believes the Oppal commission recommendations should be looked at as they pertain to the federal government. That is certainly very important, but we have to make a commitment to look at real outcomes in terms of the judicial system, in terms of poverty, income inequality, racism, discrimination, the standing of women in our society and particularly the standing of aboriginal women. That is something we have the power to do, individually and collectively and through our political parties.
I am glad the motion is being debated today. It is a step. As we have heard from the member for Churchill, we too believe there should be a national public inquiry, and we will not give up on that. I am sure people in the community will not let us forget that.
We have an immediate task, it appears, to set up this special committee. In the memory of the women in the downtown east side and to all of the activists, the family members and people who are there today at the Main and Hastings gathering at noon, and there will probably be more than 5,000 people, I want to say for myself and for my colleagues that we give that commitment. We will not let go of this issue. We will press for justice. We will work in a genuine and meaningful way and we will make sure that the community voices are heard, because they know the truth. They know what needs to be done. In a way, we have to give our leadership, but we also have to understand their leadership and work in co-operation to make sure those changes do come about.
Ms. Lise St-Denis (Saint-Maurice—Champlain, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on violence against aboriginal women on this Liberal opposition day.
For decades, we have been watching helplessly as far too many aboriginal women in Canada have been subjected to violence. Violence in all forms is perpetrated against these women who have little or no recourse to put a stop to these heinous crimes. Physical and psychological violence, disappearances, murders, rapes and assault are common occurrences for women in many communities in this country. We know these victims' faces, but we do not know what they go through every day. They are mothers, teenagers, seniors, young girls, women from all walks of life, who are victims of assault by violent men.
The perpetrators of these crimes may come from their communities or from institutional settings. They may also come from neighbouring communities—cities or towns in our provinces. They are brothers, fathers, friends, authority figures or perfect strangers. The victims also live in urban areas, where they end up falling prey to pimps and criminals of all kinds.
All of these horrors committed against aboriginal women are a disgrace to all of Canada, our justice system and our institutions.
Human Rights Watch is decrying the fact that police are responsible for some of this violence. The media is giving wide coverage to this topic and human rights organizations are speaking out about it.
But how can we really know the truth about these allegations? What can we do about this seemingly institutionalized violence? How can we understand the scope of this violence, which just keeps increasing despite the efforts of many aboriginal communities?
The number of victims is staggering in light of the proportion of the population they represent. Why are aboriginal women subject to repeated abuse while public authorities do nothing to intervene?
We all know that Canada is not free from violence against women. However, for women in our country's other communities, our streets, parks, towns and cities are relatively safe.
Every day, violence against aboriginal women underscores their economic and political impotence in a world where their pain goes unheeded. As of late, our debates in the House have focused on the aboriginal reality, because we see the fragility of certain communities as a historic injustice that continues unabated.
But these women, who are among the poorest of the poor, are even more alone. They are fighting for their lives, yet their plight is still on the periphery of our nation's worldly hurts. From west to east, first nations women are the social glue that hold these admirable, resilient people together. They are often the guardians of language and traditions. However, as in all world conflicts, they are the ones most often forgotten in treaties, conventions and armistices.
We have yet to integrate the history of first nations into our national history. Imagine what it is like for these women, who have been stripped of their rights by invaders. We are perpetuating the colonial cynicism about these women and girls, who leave elected representatives indifferent to their plight, to say the least.
If these women were from our communities, we would have acted with 10, 100, 1,000 times more urgency, but we feel they are far away and out of our reach. But our collective history is made up of these inequitable relationships that still exist today.
We should take a few moments to think about these battered women. Our thoughts must lead to actions, and those actions must repair the effects of past stigmas and give meaning to justice and equality.
Statistics on this type of violence have been compiled by many Canadian researchers, and it is important to recognize the enormous gap that separates aboriginal communities from other communities in Canada.
A 2009 study by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that aboriginal women were three times more likely to be victims of violence than non-aboriginal women in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, aboriginal women are also seven times more likely to be murdered than non-aboriginal women in Canada.
Clearly, these are the cases of violence that are reported to the police; however, it seems that, given the circumstances, many of these crimes are not reported. Many of these victims live in isolated areas, even within cities. The lack of social services and medical care in many communities seems to indicate that, through no fault of their own, victims of such violence are caught in the vicious circle of victimization, which inevitably leads to recurrent mental and physical health problems and poverty.
The same study shows that this problem often affects young aboriginal women, who are overrepresented in the 15 to 34 age group.
The violence against these women slowly came to light in the Canadian media as a result of the high number of unsolved cases of missing women from these communities.
Since the summer of 2012, the Assembly of First Nations and other groups have been calling for a national inquiry on missing and murdered aboriginal women. The Assembly of First Nations estimates that 600 aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada over the past two decades. There is a link to be made between the high number of disappearances and our decision-makers' disinterest in this regard.
Ignorance of the reality of these women continues as a result of the paternalistic system that the federal government uses in dealing with first nations. The endemic violence that these women are experiencing is no longer confined to remote communities; it concerns all of us. The violence against Métis, Inuit and first nations women goes hand in hand with the pervasive racism and sexism that continue to plague our relationship with first nations.
We could reference countless criminal investigations that would reveal another aspect of the public's indifference to the fate of these women, but we must work diligently to find the causes of and solutions to this violence by showing our support for a commission of inquiry that will no doubt expose our lack of expediency in administering justice for these aboriginal women.
Like the Native Women's Association of Canada, we believe that a national public inquiry and a committee, as my colleague has proposed, are crucial in order to document the disparities that exist in our justice system regarding these women. We are very concerned about the lack of judicial resources available for these abused women.
We are outraged that many criminal investigations have gone nowhere and that the list of missing women continues to grow, while we still have not been able to find any solutions.
These disappearances and all this violence will only get worse if we cannot come up with any ways to achieve social justice and defend the rights of these women. We must give aboriginal women the means to express their grievances in a public forum and provide them with legal and police services tailored specifically to them. The lack of lawyers, social workers and police officers trained to deal with the reality facing aboriginal women helps perpetuate this cycle of systemic violence.
We cannot help the cause of aboriginal women without providing them with the services they need to file complaints and, more importantly, without protecting them from potential abusers.
A public inquiry with no assurance of support from the political forces across the floor would be doomed to failure. Documenting the reality facing aboriginal women is one thing; following through with meaningful proposals on how to provide justice is another.
Ms. Candice Bergen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate very much this opportunity to rise in support of the motion before us today.
Canadians know that our government is committed to making sure that our streets and communities are safer places for everyone, and we have taken a number of specific steps to help protect aboriginal women from violence in particular. The murder and abduction of women in this country is completely unacceptable. We will continue to move forward with a vigorous criminal justice agenda to address these issues. These initiatives are numerous and multifaceted. I would like to speak briefly about some of them related to public safety, as well as some of the steps we have taken to enhance and strengthen the tools that law enforcement officials have to respond to cases of missing and murdered women.
Budget 2010 allocated significant funding to address the high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women. This will improve law enforcement and justice system responses to cases of missing and murdered women and also support victims. This commitment was in addition to significant investments we have made in a number of areas to address the root cause of violence among aboriginal girls and women in particular.
Budget 2010 allocated $5 million for aboriginal community safety action plans alone. Our government is certainly taking strong action in this area. Our government is also working with first nation, Métis, Inuit and urban aboriginal communities to enhance their capacity to utilize existing resources and to develop safety plans that respond to the unique situations in each one of the communities.
We have also allocated significant resources to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to ensure that concrete steps are in place to address the issue of missing aboriginal women. The RCMP has established the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains, including a dedicated officer linked to the National Aboriginal Policing Services branch. This centre is designed to assist all Canadian police agencies in dealing with missing persons cases.
Funding from our government has allowed the force to enhance the Canadian Police Information Centre in order to capture additional missing persons data, such as biological and cultural affinity. The RCMP is also now developing the very first national missing children, persons and unidentified remains database in order to provide law enforcement, medical examiners and chief coroners with enhanced analysis across jurisdictions. The RCMP National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains website at Canadasmissing.ca will allow members of the public to report tips for ongoing cases so that some level of closure may be found for families of victims.
These initiatives are on top of RCMP training that specifically advances an understanding of aboriginal issues within the force. Such training helps law enforcement personnel provide more culturally appropriate policing services, thereby contributing to safer and healthier aboriginal communities. In fact, just moments ago the RCMP released “Gender and Respect—The RCMP Action”, which includes specific measures to recruit more aboriginal members.
The RCMP investigates all cases of missing and murdered people in its jurisdiction, regardless of sex, ethnicity, background or lifestyle. Resources and investigational tools are assigned by the circumstances of each case and not by the victim's background, heritage or lifestyle. Missing persons complaints are given investigative priority by the RCMP and national policy and investigative procedures exist to ensure that every measure is taken to locate people who are missing and reported missing.
The RCMP works in collaboration with a number of partners to address the health and safety of aboriginal women, including other law enforcement agencies, provincial and territorial governments, as well as aboriginal and non-aboriginal agencies within the public. The RCMP is also leading task forces across the country dedicated to actively reviewing files of missing and murdered women, including aboriginal women. These task forces will spread across the country and work collaboratively to address this important issue by focusing on, among other things, information sharing, file management, file coordination and disclosure that can be shared with other investigative units. Additionally, RCMP criminal operations officers from each province and territory regularly meet face to face to discuss operational issues of national significance, including missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Over the past number of months, Canadians have heard some extremely disturbing reports about the conduct of just some RCMP officers. That is why our government has made it clear that we will work closely with the Commissioner of the RCMP to take action to restore pride and confidence in Canada's national police force. That is why we introduced the enhancing RCMP accountability act to strengthen the review and complaints body for the RCMP, establish a process for handling serious criminal issues involving RCMP officers, as well as streamline the management of RCMP human resources.
Disciplinary matters, even for relatively minor breaches of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, have become extremely drawn out and ineffective because all formal sanctions must currently go through a time- and resource-consuming three-person adjudication board, rather than being dealt with, in many cases, by front-line managers like other workplaces.
The legislation our government has introduced would also address these issues by providing front-line managers with the authority to impose a broad range of sanctions, ranging from remedial measures, such as training, to corrective actions, such as forfeited pay, without having to resort to a formal board process.
The discipline board process would also be much speedier and less adversarial. In addition, the new grievance scheme would result in a single grievance and appeal process to replace the host of different ones that exist today, and again, it would provide front-line managers with the opportunity to be involved in the resolution of a grievance early on and directly.
The end result would be that trained professionals would manage and assist in resolving cases, with the focus on early resolution, before a matter is brought before a decision-maker. Front-line managers would have the opportunity to focus on the early resolution of issues, with much-needed support.
The commissioner would be able to designate any person employed by the RCMP as a decision-maker, providing an opportunity to address workplace disputes in a timely fashion, and to draw on the expertise offered by all categories of employees in the RCMP.
Our government has made it a point of pride to always give police the tools they need to do their job. On that front, the new legislation proposed in Bill C-42 would provide the Commissioner of the RCMP with the authority that he currently lacks to make certain fundamental human resource decisions to effectively manage the organization. At the present time, the commissioner lacks the authority to establish and maintain processes for the demotion or discharge of members for administrative reasons, such as loss of security clearance or performance issues. Under the changes proposed by Bill C-42, the commissioner would be given new authority, including the power to demote and discharge members for reason other than conduct. He or she would also have the authority to establish a process for the investigation and resolution of disputes related to harassment in the workplace where the respondent is a member.
We certainly appreciate the report that was issued today by the chair of the commission, and the RCMP is looking forward to Bill C-42 being implemented so that it can also move forward with its constructive plan to end harassment within the workplace. As part of that, it is very important that members of Parliament pass Bill C-42 quickly so that the RCMP can move ahead and put processes in place to deal with some of these very disturbing matters.
Bill C-42 would empower the commissioner for the full exercise of these authorities. That is why it is so vital and why we call upon the NDP specifically to support Bill C-42.
The commissioner would also be given the authority to appoint most commissioned officers, thereby improving the timelines of succession planning.
All of these changes would help to further strengthen and modernize the RCMP, while increasing accountability and improving public perception and confidence in the force.
Another very important set of amendments in Bill C-42 would establish a new independent civilian review and complaints commission. The new commission would have significantly enhanced investigative powers compared to those of the existing body, and the authority to work hand in hand with other review bodies. The new commission would bring civilian review of the RCMP in line with other modern review bodies.
The existing civilian review body can and does investigate complaints about RCMP conduct, but it has no authority to compel witnesses to appear or to testify under oath when it does so, unless it holds a public hearing or inquiry. That needs to change. We need to give it more powers, and that is what we would do under Bill C-42.
At this time it does not have broad access to RCMP information, and that is a problem. It cannot share information or conduct joint investigations with other review bodies, and that is a problem. Bill C-42 would move to change that.
The changes our government is proposing in this bill would provide the new complaints body with broad access to relevant and necessary information that is relevant to an investigation. It would give the complaints body the authority to summon and enforce the appearance of persons and compel them to give evidence for all complaint investigations and policy reviews.
It would give the chair of the new body the authority to initiate police review of RCMP activities; and it would allow the complaints body to share information with other review bodies, as well as conduct joint complaint investigations where the complaint arises from integrated policy operations.
The changes our government is proposing would make it easier for the public to access the complaints process by allowing them to file a complaint either with the RCMP, a provincial police force review body, as well as the new civilian review and complaints body. Very importantly, the legislation would increase the transparency of investigation into serious incidents involving a member of the RCMP.
In cases where there is death or serious injury, the RCMP must refer the investigation to an existing provincial body responsible for investigating incidents involving police. Where no such body exists, the RCMP would be required to refer the investigation to another police force.
Only where neither of these options is available would the RCMP conduct the investigation. In these cases it would need to inform the new commission of the measures it has taken to ensure the impartiality of the investigation. These new rules also permit the appointment of an independent observer to assess the impartiality of these investigations when they are led by the RCMP or another police force.
All of these things would help to further transform the RCMP into a modern, efficient, transparent and accountable police force, a very important aspect of looking into the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women. I certainly urge the NDP to stop disagreeing and to work with us to reform the RCMP.
In addition to the other comprehensive steps our government has taken, a modern transparent and fully accountable national police force would go a long way to enhancing the safety of all Canadians. Again, I urge all members to support that bill because it goes a long way to helping find and rectify the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls.
There is no question that the friends, families and loved ones of these women have experienced and continue to experience great pain and great sorrow. They need and they deserve justice, as do all victims of violence.
Our government has always been committed to standing up for victims and to ensuring that all offenders are held to account for their actions. In fact, as the Prime Minister recently announced, we will be bringing forward a victims' bill of rights. This would enshrine in law the principle that we can no longer go down the failed Liberal road of putting the rights of convicted criminals ahead of victims'. That is why we have taken the steps we have.
Ours is a government of action. Action can and will achieve the results all of us want for aboriginal people, as well as for all Canadians. Our government is committed to moving forward together.
Ms. Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Kingston and the Islands.
I will begin by expressing my sincere condolences to the family and friends who have lost daughters, sisters, cousins, aunts and family. I cannot imagine the depth of their pain and I am profoundly sorry.
Despite their impossible suffering, they walk across Canada for justice. They come to the House of Commons, the people's House, and to the United Nations to ask for help. The chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations pass resolution after resolution demanding that the government establish a public inquiry into the disappearances and killings. Time and again, when they have appeared in front of the House, they have been left disappointed and wanting, and again, I must apologize.
Where is the outrage and the horror of each member of the House when we learn that 50% of the violent deaths of indigenous women and girls result in homicide charges compared with 76% for the general population? Where is the government that supposedly stands up for all victims' rights and ensures our communities and streets are safe? Where is the government's courage to act on the 2011 report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women, which acknowledged the concerns about inadequate police response to reports of missing women, the underfunding of services for indigenous women and the need to support families of missing and murdered women?
How can the government state that the number of murdered and vanished women is “disturbingly high” and yet repeatedly ignore calls for an inquiry, let alone refuse to take concrete steps to stop the killing? Why does the government refuse to give people who have lost a female relative or friend to violence a chance to tell their stories? Is it the government's fear that a public inquiry would raise questions about broader socio-economic problems in first nation communities and the extent to which those are the result of failed government policies, or perhaps it is the government's fear of revealing unpleasant truths about its own justice agenda?
Where is the compassion and the caring? Where is the fundamental human instinct to reach out to those who are hurting and try to reduce the hurt? Where is the attention to the many first nation women who are killed every year with guns and knives? Where is the Canada that 20 years ago, in 1993, backed the campaign that led to the recognition that women's rights were an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights? Where is the Canada that demands the end of the abomination that is violence against women and girls and works tirelessly to achieve this goal in all its communities?
At least 600 aboriginal women and girls have been murdered or gone missing over the past decades: Maisy, Shannon, Summer Star. We must know their names, their stories and the lives they touched. We must never reduce their contributions to their families and communities to mere statistics. We must honour their memories with real and meaningful action.
Today we call for the establishment of a special committee to conduct hearings and propose solutions to address the root causes of violence against indigenous women across the country.
In 2004 Amnesty International released a report entitled, “Stolen Sisters”, which documented the violence.
In 2005 the Canadian government announced $10 million to fund a national database on missing and murdered aboriginal women. About half the funds went to a project called Sisters in Spirit, run by the Native Women's Association of Canada, NWAC.
In 2006 the Conservative government was elected and in 2007 Canada was one of only four countries in the world to vote against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In 2008, out of sheer frustration by the government's inaction, aboriginal organizations, citizen groups and rights groups brought their concerns to the United Nations and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The committee then called upon Canada to urgently carry out thorough investigations of the cases to determine whether there was a racialized pattern to the disappearances and to take measures to address the problem.
In 2010 the funding for the Sisters in Spirit database was terminated and funds redirected.
By the time government funding for data collection on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls ended, NWAC had documented 582 cases nationally. If women and girls in the general Canadian population had gone missing or been murdered at the same rate, the organization estimates the country would have lost 18,000 Canadian women and girls since the late 1970s. It is impossible to imagine that such numbers would not have resulted in a hue and cry across the country, followed by immediate action by the government.
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch released the report, “Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada”. The report shows that the persistence of the violence indicates, at the very minimum, a need for a national public commission of inquiry.
Meghan Rhoad, a women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said:
|| The high rate of violence against indigenous women and girls has caused widespread alarm for many years...The eyes of the world are on Canada to see how many more victims it takes before the government addresses this issue in a comprehensive and coordinated way.
NWAC president Michèle Audette, who has been fighting for years for a public forum to examine the deaths and disappearances of indigenous women, said:
|| My dream, and the dream of NWAC, of course, is that it will change legislation, policy, programs...and it will give an overview of the root cause of this systemic discrimination and how come women are ending like this with no answers and no justice.
The Human Rights Watch report calls for: a national commission of inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls before the end of 2013; the development of the inquiry's terms of reference with leadership from affected communities, including the examination of the current and historical relationship between the police and indigenous women and girls, including incidents of serious police misconduct and the systemic socio-economic marginalization of indigenous women and girls that predispose them to high levels of violence; the development and implementation of a national action plan to address violence against indigenous women and girls with leadership from indigenous communities, that addresses the structural roots of the violence as well as the accountability and coordination of government bodies charged with preventing and responding to violence; the establishment of independent civilian investigations of reported incidents of serious police misconduct; and co-operation with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
The government must at last do the right thing. It must investigate the deaths of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and it must act to stop the killing. The government must stop denying the anguish, hurt, pain of the families and communities of the 600 lost souls. It must hear their stories and respond with caring, compassion and necessary support.
The neglect, contempt and tears must end. This means the government must not only investigate these horrific losses, but also implement real measures that would improve the quality of life for first nations.
The basics of life, such as adequate housing, child welfare, clean drinking water, education, are persistently and dramatically substandard. As Ms. Fraser said in her parting words to Parliament:
||—a disproportionate number of First Nations people still lack the most basic services that other Canadians take for granted....In a country as rich as Canada, this disparity is unacceptable.
Mr. Ted Hsu (Kingston and the Islands, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity today to speak to the motion. I will start with a review of some numbers and facts. It is very important to feel the force of these facts.
However, before I talk about numbers, I want to acknowledge that these numbers are made up of individual lives. My colleague from St. Paul's, who presented the motion, said something very important. She said that in this world, each victim may be just one woman, but to the family and loved ones of each of these victims, each woman means the world. We must remember the value of each person who lives on the margins of our society. It is with this in mind that I bring up some numbers.
The Native Women's Association of Canada estimates that 10% of female homicides are of native women, whereas they represent only 3% of the female population of Canada. Over 600 cases of missing or murdered aboriginal women and girls have been documented by NWAC. If we apply that rate to the general population, it would result in something like 20,000 murdered or missing women. We must wonder what the outcry would be if we had that statistic for the general population. Would people with the means, resources, education and time come to a place like this to talk to policy-makers and influence government? If this rate occurred in the general population, we wonder whether something would have been done already. That is one of the reasons we are here today.
Another thing that strikes me is that most of the cases involve young women and girls. I noted here that 17% of the cases involve women and girls 18 years of age or younger. The other reason we are here is that a lot of these cases are unresolved. Nationally, the average number of homicide cases cleared is something like 84%, whereas only half of cases involving aboriginal women and girls are solved.
I am happy to stand here today not only to speak to the motion but to respond to what the government members have said today. They support this motion, and I want to thank them for their support. I am very glad that this Liberal motion has won the support of Conservative members of Parliament. It is a sensible thing to do. I am appreciative of the all-party support and am therefore hopeful that good work comes out of the special committee that would be set up after the vote takes place in a couple of weeks.
We still believe that a public inquiry is necessary, but we look forward to the committee from this House of Commons travelling across the country to hear testimony from witnesses and to hear them tell us what the government needs to do.
We should also summarize some of the deficiencies that have been pointed out. We had a report this week from Human Rights Watch. It heard testimony from indigenous women and girls about deficiencies in our policing system that prevent the overwhelming number of good men and women, who work in the RCMP and other police forces to protect us, from adequately protecting aboriginal women and girls.
We also know that United Nations human rights bodies have criticized Canada for an inadequate government response. We had an announcement in December 2011 from the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women that it was going to open an inquiry into what was happening in Canada. In 2008, that committee called on the Canadian government to examine the reasons for the failure to adequately protect aboriginal women that has resulted in this unacceptable number of cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.
We have heard today about some of the measures the government has taken, such as the RCMP's National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains, which launched a national website at the end of January. That is a good thing, but that tool does not focus on the problem at issue today, which is missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.
My hon. colleague from Portage—Lisgar talked about all sorts of initiatives to improve essentially all the things that can be done after a crime has been committed. We have to think more about problems with the system. Maybe there are problems with the policing system that prevent the good men and women who work in our police forces from doing the best they can. Maybe it is poverty or racism or sexism. If we realize that poverty, racism or sexism have contributed to the murder, abduction or disappearance of an aboriginal woman or girl, do we go to the police and tell them that the real cause of the case is poverty? No, we do not. Poverty is not something for the police to take care of. That is something that must be addressed by policy-makers, legislators, and government. That is another reason we are here today. It is to establish the special committee. We need to study the root causes in addition to all the things we could do after a crime is committed.
I am glad that the first government member to rise today to speak to the motion acknowledged the importance of working on prevention. We have to ask if there is something in our system of policing that results in inadequate protection for aboriginal women and girls. We have to ask about the role of poverty, racism, sexism or a lack of awareness among the general population.
The motion today mentions a committee travelling across the country to consult with people. We must do our work in conjunction with aboriginal communities. We need leadership not only from the federal government but from indigenous communities across the country. We need to work together to develop and implement a national action plan on violence against indigenous women that would really address the structural roots and causes of violence. We also need accountability mechanisms to ensure that whatever plan we put in place is carried out and the results are measured.
Another reason for acting now is that there have been incomplete efforts. For example, the current government funds the Native Women's Association of Canada but says that it cannot use the money for Sisters in Spirit. The Sisters in Spirit project focused on violence against aboriginal women and girls. Committee work was started in this place in 2010 but it was interrupted by the 2011 election.
We are on the right path today. We are on the right path because the Liberal Party has won the government's support for the motion to set up a special committee. We are happy that we have been able to take at least this first step toward addressing the injustices and the inequities suffered by those living at the margins of our society. We are happy that we are going to be able to study and hear testimony about the root causes of the unacceptably high rates of violence against aboriginal women and girls. We look forward to the special committee travelling across our country to hear testimony.
Mr. Greg Rickford (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in my place today on behalf of the constituents of the great Kenora riding and to have the opportunity to speak to this motion brought forward by the hon. member for St. Paul's on the matter of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
This is a matter that should concern all members in the House. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and a member of Parliament for the great Kenora riding, which includes over 40 first nations communities, many of which I have had the opportunity to work in as a nurse, and thereafter in my capacity as legal counsel specializing in areas such as health and wellness, I can say that this is an important issue. It is one that affects me, personally, and my constituents very deeply.
The government has been taking significant, concrete steps to ensure that women, children and families on reserve have access to the services they need to protect their safety and security since 2006. The Prime Minister also reiterated our commitment to addressing problems of violence against women and girls in the June 3, 2011 Speech from the Throne. More importantly, we introduced legislation for the fourth time, in 2011, to provide fairer treatment of marital property on reserve upon the dissolution of a marriage so that women living on reserve would have the same matrimonial property rights held by all other women living in Canada.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the steps we have taken to support aboriginal women, girls and families through the programs and services delivered through the department, such as the family violence prevention program at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the first nation child and family services program, the first nation on-reserve housing program, economic security and prosperity, as well as education.
We know that many first nations communities continue to experience family violence that threatens the ability to safely raise a family.
Ensuring that shelter services and violence prevention programming are available to on-reserve communities is an important element of addressing these serious security concerns. That is why economic action plan 2012 invested significant funds to the ongoing delivery of these important services for aboriginal women and children.
We currently support a network of over 40 shelters serving aboriginal women and children living on reserve across Canada, including five new shelters in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. These shelters are funded through the family violence program. In addition to the 41 shelters, this program funds proposal-based family violence prevention projects, which I might add have had some measurable success in communities throughout the great Kenora riding. They include counselling, public awareness, education campaigns, workshops and community needs assessments. It also reimburses some provincial and territorial costs for services provided to women, children and families considered ordinarily resident on reserve, who are accessing shelters off reserve.
We believe that the best way to address the problem of violence for aboriginal women and children is through prevention. Prevention programs and services in first nation communities must be responsive to the specific needs of the first nation member at that time. We believe that our investments in these shelters and our prevention-based approach help contribute to the enhanced safety and security of on-reserve residents, particularly aboriginal women and children.
Aboriginal Affairs also works with first nations, the National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, the provinces and the territories, and other government departments, such as the Department of Justice and Status of Women Canada to coordinate family violence prevention programming. We will continue to support these programs and services because they make a real difference, a tangible difference, to the lives of aboriginal women and children who through unfortunate circumstances need them. We will continue to do this important work with our partners to ensure adequate support for the shelters and the workers providing these services.
Our government has also introduced a new, enhanced prevention-focused approach for the delivery of first nations child and family services. This new prevention-based approach will give more flexibility to the service providers to implement culturally appropriate prevention programs and protection services, such as kinship care, that are helping improve the safety and well-being of aboriginal children and their families.
These measures mean that government funding can now be used for kinship care, post-adoption subsidies and supports to better ensure permanent placements for children.
Not surprisingly, this new approach was immediately welcomed by child and family service providers, since it allows them to make programming choices for first nations children, youth and families living on reserve.
Through this approach, the Government of Canada works with ready and willing partners on a province-by-province basis. This approach is now being implemented to benefit first nations families and children on reserve across Canada.
Early indications from across the country show an increase in families accessing prevention-focused services. We have seen a rise in permanent placements of children and an increase in the use of kinship care. Clearly, these programs and investments are helping make life more safe and secure for women and children on reserve. We will continue to work in partnership with provinces to implement the enhanced prevention-focused approach to improve outcomes for first nation children and their families.
Finally, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of passing into law Bill S-2, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act, in order to protect the rights of women and children living on reserve. More than 25 years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a landmark ruling on two cases: Derrickson v. Derrickson and Paul v. Paul. In both cases, the court ruled that the legal protections provided in provincial family law for the rights relating to real property and real property interests of spouses do not apply to people living on reserve. Since the Indian Act was silent on this issue and there were no comparable federal laws, the result is a legislative gap.
As a result, in the event of a relationship breakdown or in the death of a spouse or common-law partner, people living on reserve currently have no basic legal rights and protections when it comes to the possession of the family home or any other matrimonial real property interests or rights. Spouses do not have an equal entitlement to occupy the family home until such time as they cease to be spouses and they do not have the option of applying to the courts for emergency protection orders in situations of domestic violence.
While laws are in place to protect Canadians who live off reserve, there is no equivalent for most Canadians who live on reserves in this country. Women and children living on first nation reserve lands are already among the most vulnerable of Canadians. They have been directly affected by this legislative gap and will continue to be until a legal regime is put in place to protect them.
The Supreme Court of Canada's ruling sparked a dialogue and an increased effort to identify, develop and implement an effective solution. Over the years, a number of respected institutions, both in Canada and abroad, completed studies and analyses of relevant issues. The overwhelming conclusion of these reports was that legislation is the only effective course of action.
Bill S-2 would provide rights to matrimonial real property on reserve, the family home and, more important, would ensure that people living on the reserve have the same rights and protections as other Canadians. All Canadians should expect fairness, equity and protection of their rights under the law when it comes to matrimonial real property, regardless of where they live in Canada. The bill would finally eliminate a long-standing legislative gap that discriminates against a specific group of Canadians and has led to the suffering of many women, men and families who live on reserve.
Our government believes that this legislation is long overdue. For more than 25 years, women living on-reserve have been without access to the same basic legal rights or protections that are currently available to all other Canadian women.
This is the fourth time that we have introduced this bill since we came to government in 2006. Our government first introduced the proposed legislation in 2008, and then subsequently in 2009 and again in 2010.
However, in each case, the opposition opposed this legislation and the bill died on the order paper.
Each delay in its passage results in the continued denial of protections and rights for individuals living on-reserve, particularly for aboriginal women and children.
If the opposition truly takes the protection and safety of aboriginal women and children seriously, the very first thing they should do is support our legislation to protect the rights of women and children on-reserve. It is absolutely shameful that the opposition continues to oppose Bill S-2 on matrimonial property rights.
I want to acknowledge that there have been some other efforts to address the issues around matrimonial real property. For example, the First Nations Land Management Act requires first nations to develop laws related to matrimonial rights and interests as part of their land codes. However, while these solutions have helped those now fully operational under the first nations land management regime, Bill S-2 would ensure that all people living on first nation reserve lands have access to matrimonial real property rights on reserve.
In 2006, our government announced a national consultation process to find a solution to this legislative gap. It was conducted in collaboration with first nation partners and in total 103 consultation sessions were held at 76 different sites across Canada. Hundreds of people participated and expressed a wide range of opinions. To prepare a report and make recommendations for a legislative solution, the government also engaged a ministerial representative to report back to the minister. There was clear consensus emerging from these consultations on key elements of a legislative solution. These elements have been part of all of the legislation introduced in Parliament.
The following elements are in this two-part solution, which is both practical and sensible. First, the bill would provide first nations with the ability to develop and implement their own laws to protect the matrimonial real property rights and interests of members in their community. These laws could be based on the community's customs and traditions. The content of the laws are entirely up to the members and the first nation government, and must be approved by a community ratification process. There is no oversight role considered for the federal government.
Second, a provisional federal regime would apply once the bill was in force until such time as a first nation develops its own law. I want to emphasize the point that these provisional rules only apply to a first nation unless or until it enacts its own matrimonial real property laws under the legislation. This would ensure that laws exists to protect the rights and interests of all Canadians regardless of where they live in Canada.
Parliamentary committees have also reviewed this bill and have considered the testimony of a long list of witnesses and proposed a series of improvements—
Mr. Greg Rickford:
Mr. Speaker, thank you for that ruling.
These are foundational pieces that raise consciousness around a host of structural elements to address the broader issue that is being debated here today. As someone who has spent a professional lifetime dealing with these kinds of matters directly or indirectly, I take the position that this piece of legislation, to which I have devoted a couple of minutes, relates to this issue more directly than perhaps the member opposite feels.
However, I will continue by saying this.
Bill S-2 is informed by many years of study, consultation and debate. It is clear that this bill has been strengthened by consultation to facilitate the development of first nation laws in this area.
I believe it is our duty to adopt Bill S-2 and finally put in place a legislative solution that is long overdue. I urge the opposition parties to support us in expediting its passage.
When speaking to the committee during its review of Bill S-2, Betty Ann Lavallée, National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal People, stated:
|| The bill is addressing the real human issue of an Aboriginal person, sometimes often taken for granted by other Canadians. A spouse within an Aboriginal relationship should not be denied or put out on the street alone and without any recourse because of a family or marital breakdown. That has been happening for far too long in Canada.
Given the legislative gap that exists, we do not want to be involved in a process that would make these particular folks we are discussing any more vulnerable than they may be. National Chief Lavallée recognized that Bill S-2 was ultimately about preventing abuse and discrimination, and violence against aboriginal women and children. Her words are informed by her knowledge and the often harsh realities of day-to-day life faced by some residents in first nation communities and across Canada.
I would like to highlight the testimony of two other witnesses at the Standing Committee on Human Rights, including Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a child advocate, who said:
||—the bill is a promising step to protect victims of domestic violence on-reserve and permits some form of asset division when relationships break down.
The following excerpt is from the testimony of Rolanda Manitowabi, a first nation woman living on reserve:
|| If this bill were in place, I think there would have been an option. If you are in a situation where there is domestic violence or abusive behaviour, you have no choices. When I was thrown out of my home, I had no place to go. That was my home. To this day, I continue to pay for that home. If this bill were in place, it would have given me an option or some place to go.
For more than 25 years, residents of most first nation communities have had to live with this legislative gap. For most Canadians, provincial laws exist to protect matrimonial real property rights and interests. Residents of most first nation communities, however, have no such protections. The family of an abusive spouse has no legal recourse if forced out of their family home. I believe Bill S-2 provides a solution.
That is a fundamental part of this debate and the actions that we will be taking in moving forward. We will continue to support and develop effective and appropriate solutions to end violence against aboriginal women and children. If the parties opposite also want to support aboriginal women and children, I hope they will stand with us and support measures like Bill S-2 so we can take those important steps against violence against aboriginal women.
Hon. Judy Sgro (York West, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I too am very pleased to rise today to speak to this. I acknowledge the previous speaker, who clearly understands the issues and whose heart is in the right place. He is determined to see that this committee gets established. As he is someone who has a clear understanding of these kinds of pressures, I hope that he would also be in that group and bring his expertise to bear, and that we truly can find some answers to these unfortunate and horrific issues that have been going on for such a long time.
A few weeks ago, I also stood on the front steps of Parliament in solidarity with hundreds of men and women who were calling on the government to take action on more than 600 cases involving missing or murdered aboriginal women and girls. Today, I want those people I met outside to know that my support and commitment that day continue on this issue and have only strengthened since we last met. I believe Sisters in Spirit is holding a rally again today to keep this issue going forward and hoping and praying that somehow we can actually get to the bottom of this and do the true investigation that is required. Possibly the success of this motion today, with the help of the government members and the official opposition, would ensure that it is a start and that it would eventually evolve, with the reason that we need a truly independent inquiry to find out exactly what has happened. Everything has to get started somewhere and if today's motion is the beginning, then let that be it.
I am here to add my voice to that of my colleague who has done an enormous amount of work on this issue, the Liberal member for St. Paul's who has sponsored this opposition day motion today for the Liberals.
We know that more than 600 native women have been murdered or have disappeared in the past few years and little has been done to solve these cases. That has to be of huge interest and concern to all of us. This number represents 10% of all homicides in Canada, despite the fact that the native population, native women in particular, accounts for just 3% of the Canadian population. Let us look at it another way. I hate to say this, but when we look at the background over the 30 years that this has been ongoing, we see that if this had been happening to non-native Canadian women at the same rate, more than 20,000 women would have been murdered by now. As parliamentarians, would we stand back and say it is unfortunate, too bad, but we cannot do anything about it? No, we would not. We would all be in an outrage, every one of us in here demanding action and more thorough investigations to get the answers to this. We would not just be asking for an inquiry. We would be doing far more.
This qualifies in my mind as an epidemic, and the response from the government, up until today, has been nothing short of shameful, which is why it is hopeful to hear such positive comments coming from the government in response to our motion today. The victims and families deserve better than to be forgotten. Most of us have met, in some of the rallies here on the Hill, the families of some of these victims. They have daughters just as we do, and they want answers. They cannot bring their daughters back, but they want to at least know that justice is done.
Earlier today, the parliamentary secretary took offence at the opposition MP saying that government had done nothing to respond to the crisis. She went on to say that the government has built a new database, launched school pilot projects and created a website to help us deal with this, and that is very positive. However, that is not dealing with the 600 women who have never had an answer and never had justice. Creating a website is not enough. Creating a database is for the future. We still need to do an inquiry or at least establish a committee today to see that we look into exactly what was happening. If it helps, there is a website, which is a start, but I do hope it goes further and that we move forward on these issues.
This is not a partisan issue. It is an issue that has been talked about for the 13-plus years that I have been in the House. It is an issue I believe we all care about, but no one seems to take any action to really look into the fact that 600 aboriginal women are missing or murdered, and little has been done to bring justice to them or to find out exactly what has happened.
It is not about politics. It is about mobilizing all of us to come together and to work with the appropriate authorities to do a thorough investigation so that we can provide justice and healing for all of these families and put an end to an epidemic, because it has not stopped. It continues along the Highway of Tears.
For the sake of clarity today, the Liberals are asking that a special committee be struck to look into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. We have asked for an inquiry many times. We have committed that, if we were the government, we would strike one. Nothing has happened. There has been no action from the government. We are hoping today that the striking of a special committee of all parties will actually start moving that whole issue forward.
We are simply looking for ways that the federal government can act to address the root cause of this intolerable violence, something that the Conservatives, including the Prime Minister and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, have said is a priority for the government. Let us practise what we preach and let us have the government start to move forward in that direction.
I fear most people in Canada do not fully appreciate the seriousness of the crimes, of 600 documented cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. I will give the breakdown: 67% of those 600 cases are clearly murder cases; 20% of the cases are of missing women and girls; the nature of 9% of the cases is unknown, and that is to say it is unclear whether the woman was murdered, is missing or died under suspicious circumstances; 55% of those cases involve women and girls under the age of 31, with 17% of the women and girls under the age of 18.
Many of these young women were 14 and 15 years old. Most of them disappeared in or around the Highway of Tears that was referred to earlier. It is a sad thing to have in any province a highway that is referred to as the Highway of Tears. It is a constant reminder of these missing aboriginal women and girls.
The national clearance rate for homicides in Canada is 84%, which means that there is an answer to 84% of those cases, so at least we know what happened. Yet almost half of the homicides that involve aboriginal women and girls remain unsolved. They are missing, presumed murdered. Nobody knows how, nobody knows at whose hands and how it happened. That is an unacceptable rate for our country. We have to be embarrassed about that.
The 84% rate for the national clearance should be the same rate for the aboriginals. It clearly shows a lack of respect and concern for many of the individual women and girls out there. It makes us wonder if anybody really cares, other than the parents, about these young women.
If hundreds of women and girls went missing or were murdered in our communities and our ridings, there would be outrage, and immediate action would be demanded. It is just completely unacceptable for anyone in this House to accept that this kind of inaction continues.
The time for real action is now, because this collective tragedy has already impacted on many of our communities. It has impacted on Canada's reputation. The United Nations has created a committee of its own to look into the issue of the missing aboriginal women and girls. It is pretty significant when the United Nations, not Canada, has to create a committee to look into something that our own country refuses to look into for our own citizens' sake.
Let us remember that Highway 16 is a very long and winding road that runs through dozens of small communities in western Canada. For example, the communities in and around Prince George on Highway 16 and Williams Lake on Highway 97 have all lost daughters in the past 20 years. I would expect that the Conservative member for Prince George—Peace River, as the MP representing these areas, would have a deep and personal interest in seeing action.
I am quite confident that member will be very supportive of this motion today, to start seeing some sort of action and bring closure for the families, but most importantly, to identify the people responsible for this so that the families can have closure and justice can be seen to be done. I would also hope to lead the charge to ensure that a committee is created and that the police have the resources required to finally resolve the cases.
We continue to hear from people in many small, isolated communities, which rely on the RCMP and others, that they require additional support because they do not have enough support to do things in these communities that are spread out over huge geographic areas that are difficult to patrol. They have tremendous difficulty doing that.
If that is the issue, then let us find ways to solve it. Those are the kinds of recommendations that would come out of an independent inquiry or parliamentary committee. Necessary recommendations would be made so that this issue can move forward and further cases can be prevented from emerging. This will continue until somebody stops it and it is not going to stop until we fully understand how 600 aboriginal women and girls could disappear or be murdered with no one knowing what happened to them. It is pretty insulting in a country like ours that brags so much about its crime agenda. Let us pay a little more attention to the victims.
Inasmuch as this debate is about creating a special committee to look into the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, it is also about so much more. Eradicating the problem of violence against aboriginal women and girls involves addressing the root causes of the violence, notably sexism, racism and poverty, causes that are very predominant in many communities. Aboriginal women and girls are far more likely than any other Canadian women or girls to experience violence and die as a result. This has to be addressed once and for all. It cannot continue on and on, with nobody asking what has happened.
The status of women committee did some fabulous work on a report looking into this prior to the 2011 election. It came up with some concrete recommendations based on the work it was able to do. It went out to various areas and interviewed many women and young girls about the kinds of challenges they were experiencing and what needed to be done. Unfortunately, after the election, that study did not continue because there was a different agenda at play for the committee.
In 2005 the Liberal government of the day invested $10 million through the Native Women's Association of Canada to identify those root causes. Things like trends and circumstances of violence that led to the disappearance and death of aboriginal women and girls were to be explored. That was the whole intent of that $10 million investment by the Liberals in 2005. As members here will know, part of that funding went to Sisters in Spirit, the organization that is conducting the rally on the Hill today, whose research initiative was responsible for tracking and collecting the names of over 600 missing and murdered women and girls. Without the work of Sisters in Spirit, we might not even know the full gravity of the number of young women and girls who went missing.
As members will also know, in 2010 the current government cut that funding and mandated that any future funding for the Native Women's Association could not be used for the Sisters in Spirit initiative. It was very shortsighted, but that was the decision made by the government and we have to deal with the percussions of that decision. All of this was despite the fact that the Oppal commission on missing women and Human Rights Watch make it very clear that there are serious shortcomings in our policing and justice systems, which too often have failed to protect native women and girls.
A report was released yesterday by Human Rights Watch. It is very concerning to read the recommendations in that report about the activity that appears to go on in British Columbia, with no one caring a whole lot and with women being raped and being too intimidated to file a report, too frightened to put their name forward because they are afraid of the repercussions.
These women talk about what has happened to people who have complained about how they have been treated when they have reached out and have asked for help. They continue to raise the kinds of issues that Parliament and the RCMP need to deal with, similar to what the Status of Women is doing.
Why is there so little interest? Despite knowing that there is a serious problem impacting hundreds of young women, why has the government dug in and until today refused to act proactively?
The global community is asking the same questions. Canada has been criticized by bodies like Amnesty International and even by the United Nations. As I mentioned earlier, in 2011 the United Nations established its own committee to look into this. Now we have the United Nations looking into an issue that is on our plate. It is expected for us to be dealing with it.
The United Nations is looking at why we have failed to investigate and address the violence against indigenous women and girls. It is pretty insulting for a country as proud as Canada.
Unfortunately, it took the tragic loss of Nicole Hoar in 2002 to finally bring the Highway of Tears debate to the national stage. How many other women are going to have to be murdered or go missing before we actually provide the resources needed to turn this issue around?
Nicole was a non-native who disappeared after setting out from Prince George. Her disappearance caused a huge media and public uproar and it finally drew a line in the sand. Why did all the other women who went missing and who were native not get any of that attention, not in Parliament nor the media?
People have to understand that when we talk about racism, it is still very much alive and present. I wish it had not taken her disappearance to prompt action, but today we have a chance to help ensure that others in the area do not meet the same fate.
Conservatives claim that they stand up for the victims of crime. Today they have an opportunity to show that. We are asking the Conservatives to join with us and to stand up for missing and murdered women. These people are our mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts and cousins and are the families that loved and cherished them and are looking for justice.
We owe it to all of them to honour their memory and to support the motion before us today.
Mrs. Susan Truppe (Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to participate in the debate on the motion before the House today, which addresses an issue that our government takes very seriously: violence against aboriginal women and girls. I will be supporting the motion.
Ending violence against aboriginal women and girls is and will remain a priority for this government. We know that all violence against women and girls takes an enormous toll, and not just on the individual woman or girl who is the victim. It also inflicts tremendous damage on their families, their communities and ultimately on our society and economy. It is up to each of us, those in public life and all Canadians, to remain ever mindful of how often women and girls, including aboriginal women and girls, are tragically denied the peace, safety and comfort of a day without violence or the threat of violence. They are the reason we are here to participate in this debate today.
Let me now share some of the concrete actions our government has taken to address the issue of violence against aboriginal women and girls. The Government of Canada's approach is a comprehensive one. In addition to the work being undertaken by Status of Women Canada, a range of measures are also under way by my colleagues at the Department of Justice, Department of Public Safety, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. These efforts involve initiatives that are intended to address the causes of violence against aboriginal women and girls. We are also focused on empowering aboriginal women and girls to increase the chance that they will be able to live violence-free lives.
I will now take a few moments to discuss the efforts of our Status of Women programs to address violence against women and girls, particularly aboriginal women and girls. Since 2007, the government has approved over $18 million in funding to Canadian organizations for projects that help aboriginal women and girls build economic security, gain leadership skills and address gender-based violence in their communities. We focus our efforts this way because we know that supporting the economic security and leadership skills of women and girls can help them lead a violence-free life. Of these funds, more than $11 million has been committed to projects that specifically address violence against aboriginal women and girls.
Let me describe several examples. The YWCA Agvvik Nunavut is responding to the needs of women who have assessed shelter services in Iqaluit by working with community agencies. The project will facilitate improvements in services for women who have left situations of violence.
Almost one year ago the Government of Canada announced support for new projects to address the issue of violence and economic security affecting women and girls living in rural and remote communities in Canada. We brought these two goals together because we believe that women's safety goes hand in hand with their economic security. Many of these projects involve community organizations that directly support the needs of aboriginal women and girls.
One of these projects is now under way with the La Loche Friendship Centre in Saskatchewan. This project addresses the issue of violence against aboriginal women and girls living in a number of northern Saskatchewan communities. By involving women, men, youth and elders the project will examine the current issues of domestic violence in the La Loche and Clearwater Dene Nation and lead to a community action plan to address violence faced by aboriginal women and girls. It is examining the existing situation and causes of domestic violence in these communities. Focus groups and other consultations with partners will be used to develop and implement a community action plan that addresses violence faced by aboriginal women and girls so that we may one day end such violence.
We have also provided support to the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association in Truro and the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women's Network in Stephenville.
Through Status of Women programs, we are funding projects in communities throughout Canada that focus on ending violence against women and girls, especially those in remote and aboriginal communities, improving the economic security and prosperity of women and girls, and encouraging them in leadership and decision-making roles.
Through these funds we are supporting projects such as Corporation Wapikoni Mobile, which is raising awareness of violence in remote aboriginal communities among young girls in Quebec. This project will help teenage girls in remote regions of Quebec, Côte-Nord, Abitibi and Mauricie. This program will help these girls raise awareness of violence as they grow into adulthood. Each session will target 20 girls and help raise awareness about violence against women and how to address and prevent it. These girls will grow to become a key part of their community's local support network for victims of violence and their families.
Status of Women Canada also recently launched a call for proposals, “Working Together: Engaging communities to end violence against women and girls”. These projects will address violence against women and girls, and more specifically, violence against aboriginal women and girls. These projects help promote equality for women and girls, and reduce violence against women and girls in Canada. Two key areas of this call were high-risk communities as well as engaging men and boys in preventing violence, which is something Status of Women is addressing directly for the very first time.
In all of these actions by our government, we are maintaining a clear focus on eliminating violence against women and girls, including violence against aboriginal women and girls. We do so not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is part of our broader commitment to achieving equality between women and men in Canada.
Speaking to women's issues in general, our government has taken significant steps to improve the economic security of women, which is an action that helps improve the lives of women in general. Over the past seven years, our Conservative government has taken significant action to help and empower women throughout Canada. We started by showing support for working women with the introduction of the universal child care benefit, which helps parents balance work and family life through direct financial support for child care. More recently, we have taken action to allow self-employed Canadians to gain access to maternity benefits and to improve access for military families to employment insurance, parental and sick benefits.
I am proud that our government has increased funding for women's programs here in Canada to its highest level ever, more than any other government. These include programs that help aboriginal women and children—