Speech from the Throne—Motion for Address in ReplyPublished on 9 December 2015 by Senator
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, I would also like to add a few words into the debate about the Speech from the Throne to open the first session of the Forty-second Parliament of Canada, “Making Real Change Happen,” which was delivered here in the chamber last week.
First of all, what really struck me about the audience was the number of young people who were here. They looked like they were young people who could have come from high schools throughout Ottawa and perhaps farther away. I thought it was wonderful to see the youth and know that this is a way to engage them in political action and about what goes on within Parliament.
Today, I would like to focus my remarks on the fourth item in the speech, the section dealing with diversity and Canada’s strength.
As an Aboriginal woman, as a visible minority, it’s really hard to put into words the reaction I felt and the reaction I know many of my friends and colleagues back home in Saskatchewan felt when the speech was delivered. It was like going from dark to light, the change in the attitude of this government towards the First Peoples, the indigenous peoples of Canada.
There are many promises there, and certainly we will do our best to ensure that those promises are kept, that they will appear in various policies and perhaps in various pieces of legislation.
What was very interesting in the Speech from the Throne is that it says:
. . . the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples, one based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
First Nation peoples have been asking the Government of Canada for this for many decades. It will be most interesting to see how this nation-to-nation relationship unfolds over the next few years. Of course, the bureaucrats within Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada will now have to change the way in which they interact with the various First Nation, Metis and Inuit leaders who come to visit with them and attempt to negotiate some changes.
There was also mention in the Speech from the Throne about how the government will work cooperatively to implement recommendations at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, how it will launch an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and how it will work with First Nations to ensure that every First Nations child will receive a quality education. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to hear those words.
First, with respect to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, of course we know that the final public meeting was held in Ottawa in June. When the commissioner, Justice Murray Sinclair, announced that the commission supported an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, the room erupted in applause, great emotion and tears of joy that that was going to happen. I’m pleased to note that that process is proceeding and that the minister announced the first phase yesterday.
I’m first going to talk about First Nation education, because of course we know that in order to advance in Canadian society, or any society in the world, having a good education is one of the best things you can do to escape from the cycle of poverty. It’s not the only thing, it’s not the magic bullet, but it’s certainly something that helps enormously along with other things. That commitment to education is extremely important.
As honourable senators know, I’ve been a senator for the last 10 years. During Question Period I asked numerous questions of our esteemed colleague Senator Carignan about First Nations education and unequal funding, and for many years that unequal funding was denied. Now it has been acknowledged by the new government that there is unequal funding and that the 2 per cent cap that we complained about for many years will be removed.
With respect to unequal education funding, across Canada on average on-reserve education funding is $7,000 per pupil, whereas the provincial average is $10,000. There’s a gap of about $3,000 per child across the country. That’s from kindergarten to Grade 12.
In my home province of Saskatchewan on-reserve students, each pupil will receive $6,400 for their education, whereas the provincial rate is $10,500. So that’s a gap of $4,100. That gap will be closed.
Of course, unless we have equal funding you cannot have the same quality of teachers and you cannot have the same resources. That will go a long way to improving high school graduation, along with changes to the curriculum to include the history of indigenous peoples and the language.
I also want to mention that we in the Senate have contributed to these findings. In December 2011, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples released our Senate report on First Nations education. Our second recommendation dealt with this issue of funding.
To quote from our report, we said:
. . . we believe that a new funding formula, negotiated by the parties and based on real cost drivers, must be developed to replace the current system of contribution agreements.
Then we had Recommendation 2, which basically stated that we should provide statutory authority funding to the minister to make payments for education; we should ensure that the payments are enshrined in regulations, authorized under a new education act and developed in consultation with First Nations; that the regulations would consider key cost drivers, such as demographics and remoteness; and that the formula for establishing payments include, among other things, language preservation and revitalization programs.
Now, I read this into the record because it isn’t sufficient to say we’re going to remove the 2 per cent cap. It’s more complicated than that. I hope that the government will take into account our report. It was an excellent report. As a committee I think we developed this report in probably the most non-partisan manner possible. That recommendation on funding is a very strong one and should not be forgotten by the new government — it’s more than removing the 2 per cent cap.
I’d like to turn your attention to the missing and murdered indigenous women and the inquiry. Since June of this year I have given four major speeches about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in my province of Saskatchewan. Most of the time I focused my remarks on the RCMP reports, the first of which came out in May 2014 and confirmed what the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Amnesty International said in 2004. They confirmed that we have a problem: Indigenous women and girls go missing and are murdered in much higher numbers than they should.
The RCMP essentially confirmed that and said that there are about 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women and girls across Canada and that indigenous women and girls are three times more likely to go missing and four times more likely to be murdered. Unfortunately, the RCMP report and the media, and the previous minister, made a mistake in focusing on family violence only. They focused on family violence as being the key cause for the murders and kidnapping and what have you of these indigenous women.
Over the summer I went through the RCMP’s statistics to show where they had gone wrong, and there were three big mistakes that the RCMP made. The problem with that was those mistakes informed the government action plan. So the action plan was based on a false or flawed interpretation of the RCMP report.
First, what the RCMP did in terms of big mistakes, they noted that the number of homicides for non-Aboriginal women had dropped, but for Aboriginal women it had remained steady over 30 some odd years. They noted that, but they didn’t see the significance. If the rate of homicides of non-Aboriginal women is dropping, then you have to question why there is a difference. Clearly what we’re doing now is not helping Aboriginal women, because the number of homicides has not dropped. So they basically ignored that finding.
Second, they didn’t assign much importance to their own data, which showed that Aboriginal women are more likely to be murdered by an acquaintance than are non-Aboriginal women. Following on that, if you’re a non-Aboriginal woman it’s more likely that your spouse will be the person who will kill you. Family violence was actually greater in the non-Aboriginal population, but somehow that was left by the wayside. Nobody was interested in that. So prevention efforts should be focused on acquaintances of Aboriginal women, and that’s not what the previous government’s action plan was doing.
Finally, their third mistake — I’m repeating it again — is they focused on family violence on reserves. We all know that the majority of Canada’s Aboriginal people do not live on reserves anymore; the majority live off reserve. We now know that family violence isn’t the main factor.
There were flaws in the interpretation of that report that informed the government action plan. Consequently, there will need to be changes to that government action plan.
Fortunately, in the last month or two, the media has caught on to these mistakes, and now we’re getting headlines such as in The Toronto Star — I think that’s what it is — just within the last few weeks, it says:
Nearly half of murdered indigenous women did not know or barely new killers, Star analysis shows
They’re now highlighting the fact that it isn’t just family violence and that there’s a high percentage of acquaintances. To quote one of their paragraphs:
In the seemingly ceaseless tragedy of murdered indigenous women, the country has been left with one crystal-clear impression: the overwhelming majority of these were in some sort of relationship with their killers.
This is not true.
It’s acquaintances, it’s strangers and it’s serial killers that account for nearly half of the murders. It isn’t only family violence.
These are very important things to take into consideration. That’s one of the reasons why we need an inquiry — to get good data so we know what’s actually happening.
Similarly, The Globe and Mail, within the last few weeks, also had a number of articles talking about serial killers. The serial killers are not indigenous men; they are non-Aboriginal men within the greater Canadian society.
Those were the comments that I wished to make. Over the last 10 years, I’ve asked many questions and, along with my colleague Senator Lovelace Nicholas, we’ve initiated inquiries about the missing and murdered indigenous women in the Senate Chamber. We have contributed a lot of knowledge, and I hope the current Liberal government will take advantage of the expertise that we have developed over the last 10 years, and certainly I am offering to do that.
We must remember that it’s been more than 10 years since Amnesty International first brought this problem to the attention of Canada with their Stolen Sisters report and the Native Women’s Association of Canada in 2010, with their report, What Their Stories Tell Us, the Sisters in Spirit work. In that, they clearly documented that it wasn’t family violence alone. There were other things that were going on. There were acquaintances and strangers who were also murdering indigenous women.
I am extremely happy that the Liberal government is now proceeding with a pre-inquiry, contacting the families, because the families, of course, are very important because they know what their experiences are. They can inform the inquiry as to what should be done in terms of prevention and how to improve policing and how to improve searches and all those kinds of things. Thank you.