National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls—InquiryPublished on 16 June 2015 Hansard and Statements by Senator Lillian Eva Dyck
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to my inquiry into the National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls and the Government of Canada’s Action Plan to Address Family Violence and Violent Crimes Against Aboriginal Women and Girls.
Our previous three speakers have talked about human rights issues. In fact, this, too, is a human rights issue quite simply because, according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 15, equality rights, “every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.”
Now, of course, we know about the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women who do not receive the equal protection of law, so it’s a human rights issue.
A historic roundtable of provincial, territorial and Aboriginal leaders, two federal ministers and family members of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls was held on February 27. In May 2014, the RCMP documented that nearly 1,200 Aboriginal women and girls have been murdered or gone missing since 1980. Aboriginal females are three times more likely to be murdered and four times more likely to disappear than other Canadian women.
Incredulously, though almost all provincial and territorial leaders have called for a national commission of inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, the Prime Minister has said repeatedly that his government would not do so. After the historic roundtable meeting, Ministers Leitch and Valcourt held a separate press conference to reiterate that their action plan released last September was all that was needed.
After the roundtable, Minister Leitch stated:
No single community, no individual, no organization or government can end violence against Aboriginal women and girls alone. We all have a shared responsibility . . . and the federal government is committed to doing its part.
Honourable senators, while the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women is indeed a shared responsibility, by holding a separate news conference and by not committing to funding any new initiatives, it appears that the federal ministers have essentially off-loaded their primary responsibility onto the provincial, territorial and Aboriginal leaders.
Honourable senators, after the roundtable, Minister Leitch said the federal government would not undertake a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. The ministers think their national action plan is sufficient, but how good is their national action plan? Sadly, it is too narrow in its focus and most of the actions are too late — after the victim has been murdered or made missing.
Worse yet, the national action plan is fixated on the as yet unsubstantiated premise that Aboriginal men are the main perpetrators. This significantly limits the effectiveness of the national plan in preventing the disappearance and murder of Aboriginal women and girls.
Honourable senators, let’s examine the Conservative government’s national action plan. There are four major budgetary items totalling $25 million over five years: $8.6 million over five years for community safety plans; $2.5 million over five years for projects to break intergenerational cycles of violence; $5 million over five years for anti-violence programs; and $7.5 million over five years for victim services.
The national action plan budget is about $5 million per year and, while the federal ministers may imply that this is substantial, it is a small amount of money compared to the $100 million per year spent by Aboriginal Affairs fighting First Nations on various matters in the courts, and the more than $100 million spent on Canada’s Economic Action Plan ads since 2009.
It was just reported that Aboriginal Affairs didn’t even spend its entire budget for the last five years — $1 billion was unspent. That’s correct, $1 billion: $200 million per year was unspent for the last five years. Can you imagine what we could have done with that billion dollars?
Let’s review the four components of the Conservative action plan. When we examine these programs and their effectiveness to address what we know about the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls, we find that the national action plan falls significantly short.
It should be noted that the Conservative government officials have repeatedly said that enough research has been done on missing and murdered women and that it’s time to take concrete actions to ameliorate this tragedy. Having said that, you would expect that the government members responsible for this issue would have read the 40 reports that they refer to and you would expect that they would have thoroughly reviewed the research findings from the RCMP and the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Clearly, that has not been the case.
Honourable senators, the Conservative government has developed a national action plan that is based on their assumption that most Aboriginal women and girls are murdered or made missing by the actions of the Aboriginal men living on First Nations reserves.
Minister Valcourt, at a private meeting with Treaty 7 and 8 chiefs stated that Aboriginal men were responsible for 70 per cent of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women cases. At first the RCMP stated that they would not verify the minister’s statement because they don’t do race-based analyses. However, RCMP Commissioner Paulson later stated that the 70 per cent statistic was correct and that another report with statistics would be released in May.
I’ve been waiting for these numbers to include in my speech, but the RCMP have not yet released any new information. As of today, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network said the RCMP will release an update tomorrow, but there will be no such numbers on the racial identity of the perpetrators.
Now, to get back to the plan: First, $8.6 million over five years has been promised for the development of community safety plans on reserves across Canada. While this sounds great, it’s not a new initiative. The Aboriginal Community Safety Planning program was launched in 2010. Surely this Conservative government could have initiated something new. After all, they had 40 reports and more than 700 recommendations to aid their planning. The safety planning program is flawed because it focuses only on First Nation reserves. It does not address the safety issues for the majority of Aboriginal women who live in urban or rural areas. The Metis and the Inuit don’t live on reserves, and neither do the majority of First Nations people.
Honourable senators, policing is also included under the community safety plan. The First Nations Policing Program received funding for $612.4 million over five years in 2013. Again, while this may sound good, First Nation policing is underfunded. Gosh, where could that $1 billion been helpful here?
In 2014, for example, the Nishnawbe Aski and Anishinabek police services in Ontario and the band constable program in Manitoba all faced critical funding shortages. In the case of Manitoba, the federal government unilaterally withdrew their band constable funding program. Fortunately, the provincial government stepped up and provided funds — at twice the federal level.
Colleagues, surely if the Conservative government was serious about making Aboriginal communities safe, they would have provided sufficient funding for policing on reserves, especially in Manitoba which, like Saskatchewan, is an area where Aboriginal women and girls have the greatest risk of being murdered or made missing.
If the Conservative government officials think that the main problem is violence occurring on First Nation reserves, why did they cut the resources for on-reserve police in one of the most unsafe areas of the country? It just doesn’t make sense.
Honourable senators, now let’s examine the second item in the government’s action plan: $2.5 million over five years to break intergenerational cycles of violence stemming from abuse in the Indian residential schools. Included under this second item of the national action plan are the Family Violence Prevention Programs. While this is a good initiative, its main focus again is reserve communities. As I said before, Inuit, Metis and First Nation families who live off reserve are neglected.
It’s important to note that the intergenerational violence that occurs on reserves stems from the deliberate actions and policies of the government aimed at Aboriginal people. The residential schools system, the Indian Act and the political marginalization of Aboriginal people in Canada are all factors that created an intergenerational cycle of abuse and violence on Indian reserves. The present Government of Canada should not forget that this cycle of violence was created by federal governments of the past.
Four months ago, Minister Valcourt stated that Aboriginal men were responsible for 70 per cent of the murders of Aboriginal women. His statement angered the chiefs to whom he was speaking. Valcourt’s statement was outrageous. It ignored the root causes of the high rates of family violence, the intergenerational legacy of abuse and violence, and the devaluation of women learned at Indian residential schools. How can he blame Aboriginal boys and men for violent behaviours without taking into account that federal government legislation and policies created the residential schools and gave Aboriginal women fewer rights than Aboriginal men?
How can Minister Valcourt say that First Nation men have a lack of respect towards women on reserves without acknowledging that this is part of the cultural norm for all Canadians? He should know that that teaching was part of the assimilationist agenda imposed on Aboriginals through the Indian residential schools which eradicated the traditional respect that Aboriginal women received before colonization.
Just two weeks ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held their final public event here in Ottawa. Their work has made it abundantly clear that there is a link between Indian residential schools, intergenerational trauma and family violence, and missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. What is of prime importance is that the commissioners also made it clear that non-Aboriginal Canadians have learned to devalue and denigrate Aboriginals.
Colleagues, the third item under the Conservative national action plan is $5 million over five years for anti-violence programs. While a new awareness program to denounce violence against Aboriginal women is to be developed in conjunction with the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the emphasis once again is on family violence and Aboriginal boys and men on reserve. While this is an important aspect, Aboriginals know that an awareness campaign to educate Canadian society at large on ending violence against Aboriginal women and girls is also needed. Furthermore, as noted earlier, the Truth and Reconciliation report makes it crystal clear that non-Aboriginal communities have also been taught to devalue Aboriginal women.
Colleagues, the fourth item under the national action plan is $7.5 million over five years for the Family Violence Prevention Program, which provides services for women, children and families on reserve who are victims of family violence. This program also funds 41 women’s shelters on reserve.
According to an APTN news article, however, money provided for new family violence protection programs is not new money but was money taken from the budget for on-reserve women’s shelters. While more money is available for new programming, there is less money available for shelters. Clearly this makes little sense as the two actions are contradictory. The national action plan is, in effect, increasing the risk of violence against Aboriginal women by decreasing funding earmarked for shelters.
Honourable senators, it is clear that the four measures contained in the national action plan are inadequate.
The premise that it is Aboriginal men living on reserve who are responsible for the murder or disappearance of Aboriginal women and girls was first mentioned by suspended Senator Brazeau in 2010, during our study of the matrimonial property rights act. Unfortunately, Minister Valcourt has followed Senator Brazeau’s thinking.
Minister Valcourt has said:
Obviously, there’s a lack of respect for women and girls on reserves . . . if the guys grow up believing that women have no rights, that is how they are treated.
He, of all people, must surely know that the reason why Aboriginal women have fewer rights on reserves was because of the Indian Act. The minister is blaming Aboriginal men for disrespecting Aboriginal women, when he should be blaming the treaty-era White men in 1876 who developed the Indian Act, which granted fewer rights to Indian women than to men.
Contrary to what Brazeau and Valcourt have claimed, the Native Women’s Association of Canada reported that most Aboriginal woman and girls are most likely to be murdered or to be disappeared off reserve. According to their 2010 research report, only 7 per cent go missing from a reserve and only 13 per cent are murdered on a reserve. Seventy per cent of Aboriginal women and girls disappeared from an urban area and 60 per cent were murdered in an urban area.
Furthermore, the Native Women’s Association of Canada data show that Aboriginal women and girls are three times more likely to be murdered by a stranger. It is obvious that the Harper government has ignored these findings and thus has made a serious mistake by focusing their actions on family violence on Indian reserves.
Honourable senators, perhaps the most damming indictment of the Conservative’s national action plan is that it ignores the role of non-Aboriginals in the murders and disappearance of Aboriginal women and girls. Most everyone knows that non-Aboriginal men have murdered Aboriginal women. There are many well-known cases, such as the serial killers Willie Pickton and John Crawford.
The 2010 NWAC research report What Their Stories Tell Us: Research findings from the Sisters in Spirit initiative clearly documents that both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men murder Aboriginal women. Their data show that at least 23 per cent of the murderers were non-Aboriginal; 36 per cent were Aboriginal; and 41 per cent were of unknown race. It’s very difficult to determine the race with any degree of certainty. That’s why there’s such a high percentage there.
On March 20, however, Minister Valcourt claimed that 70 per cent of the murderers of Aboriginal females were indigenous, according to unreleased RCMP data. He indicated that this data would be reported to the public. Initially, the RCMP said they don’t collect this type of data and won’t be releasing any data on the racial identity. Then, as noted earlier, Commissioner Paulson said the numbers would be released last month, but so far nothing has been released. Today, APTN is saying the RCMP will release a report tomorrow, but the update report will not include information on the ethnicity of the perpetrators. We’re back to square one. The credibility of Minister Valcourt and the veracity of his statement are thus very questionable.
Honourable senators, the actions taken by the government to prevent the murder or disappearance of Aboriginal women and girls should have been better thought out and based on all the available facts. While there are some good individual programs in the action plan, it is clear that it is an action plan to tackle intergenerational family violence on reserves, but it is not an action plan on missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. While family violence may be part of the root causes, there are other root causes and factors that lead to the greater risk of Aboriginal women to be made missing or murdered. The federal government has not designed an action plan to specifically address missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. Even the words “missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls” are not in the title of their action plan.
Honourable senators, the only way to get an effective national action plan to prevent Aboriginal women and girls from going missing or being murdered is to launch an independent commission of inquiry. An independent commission of inquiry would not be unduly influenced by preconceived ideas about Aboriginal women and men and at least an independent commission would recognize that non-Aboriginal men play a significant role in the murder and disappearance of Aboriginal women and girls. We could access all available data, including any that the RCMP may have but will not release.
Colleagues, over the last two years, there has been a steadily increasing public awareness about the large numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. An Angus Reid poll conducted last October showed that three-quarters of Canadians are in favour of a national inquiry. Just two weeks ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners also recommended a public inquiry.
Recommendation 41 of their summary states:
We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Aboriginal organizations, to appoint a public inquiry into the causes of, and remedies for, the disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls. The inquiry’s mandate would include:
i. Investigation into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
ii. Links to the intergenerational legacy of residential schools.
Honourable senators, seven years ago, in June 2008, Prime Minister Harper apologized for the imposition of the Indian residential schools and the harms done to generations of people, and yet today he still refuses to call a commission of inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Colleagues, that is just not right. It is just not right. Something must be done.