House of Commons Hansard #144 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

International Trade
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Committee on International Trade in relation to Canada's trade policy. Pursuant to Standing Order 109, a government response is requested.

Canadian Sustainability Act
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-437, An Act to develop and implement a National Sustainable Development Strategy, create a Green Fund to assist in its implementation and adopt specific goals with respect to sustainable development in Canada, and to make consequential amendments to another Act.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be seconded in the introduction of Bill C-437, the new national sustainability act, by the member for Hamilton Mountain, who is a long time environmentalist and is very active in the environmental movement. I am happy that she is supporting me in this endeavour.

The proposed national sustainability act draws on the work of Dr. David Suzuki and the Suzuki Foundation. He put together, working in close collaboration with environmentalists who work for his foundation, what is essentially a blueprint for how with a national sustainability strategy we can have an overall environmental component to all governmental policies.

This bill for a national sustainability act talks about comprehensive national sustainability goals, measurable targets and the preparation of a single, integrated national sustainable development strategy. It would include the appointment of a cabinet committee on sustainable development and also would ensure and bolster the work of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. This bill for a national sustainability act essentially takes us light years forward in having environmental policy as part and parcel of all of governmental plans.

It is not surprising that this bill comes from the NDP. The NDP has shown environmental leadership through our leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth and, as a result, this is another component to the overall thrust of the NDP to put the environment first and foremost in this Parliament.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Canadian Forces
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition signed by 4,179 Prince Edward Islanders concerned about events relating to friendly fire incidents in Afghanistan. Because of the nature of these unfortunate incidents, the integrity, professionalism and reputation of members of the Canadian Forces have been called into question.

Therefore, the petitioners call upon the minister and the Prime Minister to take immediate action to ensure that members of our Canadian Forces be given the full respect they deserve, that they are not treated as common criminals, and that all efforts be made by the Canadian government to protect the reputation, livelihood and mental health of those individuals when such incidents occur.

Literacy
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table two petitions today on behalf of my constituents of Hamilton Mountain. The first petition is especially timely, as I had the opportunity on Saturday to participate in the regional spelling bee organized by the Afro-Canadian Caribbean Association in my hometown of Hamilton.

The petitioners are in support of a bill I had the privilege of seconding last year, Bill C-276, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act (literacy materials), which was brought forward by my good friend the NDP finance critic and member for Winnipeg North. The petitioners share our belief that literacy is a necessity and therefore must not be subject to taxes.

In our knowledge-based economy, the bar is constantly being raised higher on the basis of skills needed to access decent jobs, to function in daily tasks, and to participate in social and political life. Despite our technical sophistication, nearly 50% of Canadians still have difficulty working with words and numbers. It is in everyone's interest to raise Canadian literacy rates. For many Canadians, the added cost of the GST can be a real impediment. There are far too many barriers to literacy already.

The petitioners point out that removing the GST on books and audiovisual materials for literacy training in fact complements existing tax relief given to organizations that conduct literacy work. They call on Parliament to immediately pass Bill C-276.

Excise Tax Act
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition deals with another bill that I had the privilege of seconding last year, Bill C-275. The petitioners share my belief that taxes on feminine hygiene products are discriminatory. Charging GST on feminine hygiene products clearly affects women only. It unfairly disadvantages women financially solely because of our reproductive role.

The petitioners know that this would benefit all Canadian women at some point in their lives and would be of particular value to women with lower incomes. If a proper, gender-based analysis had been done when the GST was introduced, this discriminatory aspect of the tax would never have been implemented. The petitioners urge Parliament to remove the tampon tax by giving speedy passage to Bill C-275.

Seniors
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions for the Government of Canada regarding seniors. The signatories wish to remind their government that the unification of seniors with their families through immigration is a core aspect of forming strong and vibrant families and communities. Newcomer seniors currently suffer discriminatory eligibility criteria within Canada's income security program. For example, there is a one year residency for some, while others have a 10 year requirement. Canada's old age security, guaranteed income supplement and social assistance programs are age, capacity and needs-based programs, not individual contribution-based income security plans.

The petitioners call upon the government to amend the Old Age Security Act, regulations and policies to eliminate the 10 year residency requirement for OAS and GIS; waive the enforcement of sponsorship obligations through government cost recovery schemes as a condition of financial support of genuine immigration breakdown involving a senior; establish a nominal public transit charge for all seniors in Canada, like the $45 per year charge for B.C. seniors; and provide government funding to support more ethno-specific affordable housing for seniors who need and desire it. I support this petition.

Seniors
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member knows that whether she supports a petition or not is irrelevant and that she is not supposed to indicate that in the course of presentation of petitions. I would urge her to comply with the rules the next time she does this.

The hon. member for Vegreville-Wainwright.

Age of Consent
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to present, on behalf of the good people of Lloydminster, a petition which states that the protection of children from sexual predators must be a top priority of the government. They note that studies show that 14 year olds and 15 year olds are the most vulnerable to exploitation, including recruitment from pimps.

The petitioners call on Parliament to enact through the Criminal Code an act to protect these vulnerable members of our society, and they ask that this Parliament raise the age of sexual consent from 14 years to 16 years of age to help protect our most vulnerable.

Child Care
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with pride that I present a petition in some numbers from the people of the great city of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The petitioners call on the government to rectify the drastic and increasing shortage of child care spaces in this country. The petitioners draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is a critical shortage of affordable quality child care spaces in Canada and that parents cannot work or pursue educational opportunities without child care. This is a strong petition that communities across our great land have been receiving, particularly the northwest.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential Schools
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

moved:

That this House apologize to the survivors of Indian Residential Schools for the trauma they suffered as a result of policies intended to assimilate First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, causing the loss of aboriginal culture, heritage and language, while also leaving a sad legacy of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to stand today before this House to put forward a motion to offer an apology to the survivors of the Indian residential schools. It is my sincere hope that this motion asking Parliament to offer an apology to these survivors helps to facilitate the healing process, which has taken much too long to complete.

In her book, Long Shadows: Truth, Lies and History, Canadian author Erna Paris examines the manipulation of history, using examples from all over the world, and how countries shape historical memory in the aftermath of tragic events. She argues that decisions made by those in power cast long shadows into the future and that countries must confront these painful historical episodes in order to resolve them and heal as a nation.

The process of reconciliation and justice is necessary to heal, but it can be difficult for a country to confront these painful episodes of the past. It is often easier to purposely forget unpleasant or distressing things, sweep them under the rug, so to speak, and move on.

Whether the sorrow involves a group or a nation, a national collective amnesia is often seen as the simplest solution; however, this does not work. Time and again, history has provided us with examples of nations trying to reinvent themselves after such dark and tragic periods in their history.

Canada is learning this lesson firsthand. Injustices of the past do indeed cast long shadows and always have a way of humbling a nation.

I applaud and deeply respect the survivors who persisted in telling their stories and reminding Canada of its long shadow.

Many positive steps have been taken in recent years to help reconcile the Government of Canada's past actions regarding the residential schools. However, a full apology is still missing.

A critical aspect of facilitating the healing process is to admit that a wrong was done and to apologize. Without an apology, healing is never completely achieved.

I stand here on behalf of my people, who suffered unspeakable abuses because of federal government sanctioned residential schools.

I stand here for my community, Pelican Narrows, Saskatchewan, and all first nations communities in Canada.

I stand here for the Métis and the Inuit, nations proud of their cultures, heritage and languages, nations whose suffering concerning residential schooling has often been ignored or overlooked.

I stand here for the countless parents who stood by watching powerlessly while some stranger, aided by the force of an unjust law, took away their children, took away their heart and soul, and took away their future.

Once taken away by strangers, separated from their own brothers and sisters, they would be made into strangers themselves, strangers to their parents and strangers to their own culture and their own language. Many of these children would eventually become strangers to their own identity.

I stand here for numerous victims whose stories will never be told, whose remains are scattered across our land in unmarked graves, scars on the land and even larger scars on our nation's psyche.

Many died in those schools because of illness and mistreatment. Many of the survivors witnessed scores of their contemporaries never making it home from these institutions. The survivors' lives have been marked by the tragic and unpleasant living memories of not only their own abuse, but also of the images of children who died. According to some reports, students in the early to middle part of the last century often had to help bury their classmates, their friends and their relatives.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, children buried children.

Above all else I stand for the children, now our elders, who have been denied their culture, their parents and the innocence of childhood, children who were made to feel inferior mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, children who were degraded and forced to live in unsanitary conditions that were criticized even for that period in time.

This motion, which fills me with pride to present today, also strikes a chord deep within me. It speaks to my people, who are again struggling to reassert their voice and reaffirm a heritage and a culture that have withstood terrible attacks, but I am also deeply proud of how strong first nations, Métis and Inuit people are. There is a strength and a resilience that will ensure they prosper far into the future.

It is not only the ties to my culture that make this motion so significant. It is that my own family has withstood this attack, an attack on our unity, our values and our identity as a family.

At the heart of this issue are people: regular people, average people and everyday people. We can call them whatever we want. They were parents who were forced to lose their children and their children were forced to go to these schools. They were parents who were not informed of the fate or the status of their children for weeks or months at a time.

This motion is for them, the strongest words I can offer. We offer these words to console them for their incredible loss, but to also offer them hope for a future based on truth and reconciliation as we seek to overcome the past.

With this apology, we hope to offer another necessary step at healing the collective intergenerational trauma that has lingered to this day. This is the legacy of the residential school era, but do Canadians truly understand? I think Canadians want to understand.

We have to ask ourselves if, as a country, we told the truth to Canadians. It is a tragic story. It is not pleasant and it is difficult to hear, but hear the truth we must, and it must begin with this government. We must confront these painful episodes of the past with the highest level of respect and honour.

According to an article in The Globe and Mail in July of last year by John Ibbitson, the Prime Minister delivered a speech in the United Kingdom in which he lauded British legacies of common law, parliamentary democracy and an open economy, declaring that “much of what Canada is today we can trace to our origins as a colony of the British Empire”.

It is unfashionable, the Prime Minister acknowledged, to speak of colonial legacies as anything other than oppressive. He said, “But in the Canadian context, the actions of the British Empire were largely benign and occasionally brilliant”. British magnanimity, he argued, ensured the survival of the French culture and British approaches to the aboriginal population, “while far from perfect, were some of the fairest and most generous of the period”.

I am not sure how the francophone community feels about the statement of British policies protecting the French culture, but I know for a fact that aboriginal people would not be too impressed with his assessment of past colonial practices as fair and generous.

The policy of the federal government at the time was to assimilate and to have Canada rid itself of its Indian problem. In 1914, a department official who was later put in charge of Canadian Indian policy, a man named Duncan Campbell Scott, stated in a report that it was quite within the mark to say that 50% of the children did not live to benefit from their education. Students died in massive numbers, due in large part to tuberculosis. I do not think this was seen as fair and generous then or now by aboriginal people or by Canadians.

To me it appears as though there is a disconnect between the version of history put forth by a Prime Minister to a foreign audience that British approaches to the aboriginal population were some of the fairest and most generous of the period. This greatly diverges from the version of history put forth by the testimonials of the survivors, federal government departmental officials from the time, and the extensive work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, among others.

This disconnect is precisely what Erna Paris wrote about. That is how the past is managed by those in power today to suit present day needs. I have to ask whose perception and whose needs the Prime Minister's statements suit. I can say that they are not tailored to suit the truth.

In some quarters and in some places, there is an unresolved struggle for the truth, a struggle concerning who gets to decide what actually happened in the past and who gets to decide how the tales are told. There has been recent exposure in the media about the lack of records of the fallen children from the residential schools and how countless forgotten victims are buried in unmarked graves. The loss of their stories is a loss of our history, and further weakens our ability to reconcile these past injustices.

The federal government has woven a version of past events which fits the perception it wants Canadians and the world to see. The government wants, as Erna Paris stated, to shape the historical memory of this period to minimize what actually occurred.

It is within this context that this government unequivocally stated that an apology is not necessary, suggesting that the settlement is enough. I ask myself, “Why the double standard?”

Suggestions have been made that, “Aboriginal people should get over it” and “What else do they want?” These statements are another form of abuse. I hope that these statements come from misunderstanding and not from a more sinister place.

I have seen and I have heard of survivors who received the advance payment. They simply turn it over to their adult children, saying that they were sorry for screwing up their lives, that they should have been stronger while in the residential schools, and that they should have been better parents. They blame themselves. They were children.

What is so difficult to understand? Simply, an apology would represent the manifestation of listening and hearing the truth, and understanding the hurt caused. An apology would say that Canada cares, that Canadians care, and that we are sorry.

But there are supposed barriers to this apology. Let me address some concerns I have heard regarding whether an apology to residential school survivors is necessary.

First, some would argue that the churches were the ones to blame and that government was an impassionate observer, simply an entity that provided funds.

Yes, the churches had a culpable role, but the Government of Canada cannot deny its role in the residential schools era. The Government of Canada acted as both the funding entity for the system and the provider of the overall policy guidelines that attempted to educate and colonize a people against their will.

Worse still, government inspectors and officials knew for decades about the inhumane conditions at these schools, including disease, overcrowding, hunger, disrepair, yet little was done to rectify the situation, and for many it was too late.

Second, I have heard that some people believe an apology had already been given. This is not the case.

It is true that the former Liberal government issued a statement of reconciliation in 1998. This was an important milestone, an important acknowledgement of the abuses that had been suffered and marked the beginning of the process that led to the Indian residential school settlement. However, it was not an apology.

The third reason not to offer an apology, which was offered to me when I asked, was that it was a legal issue. However, the minister has now stated he is not refusing to apologize because of any legal issue.

Finally, I have heard that since an apology was not part of the Indian residential school agreement, it should not be given. This is a rather absurd argument to make, for many reasons.

First, it has been recognized that in 2005 the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations had agreed that there should be an apology. The deputy prime minister at the time stated:

--there is a need for an apology that will provide a broader recognition of the Indian Residential Schools legacy and its effect upon First Nation communities [once the agreement was finalized].

With the Conservatives becoming government, it fell to them to honour this commitment by the Government of Canada to issue an official apology.

First nations, Métis and Inuit people have since, collectively and individually, called for this apology. The Conservatives have refused to uphold this duty and have denied that there is even a need for an apology. The Indian Affairs Minister went so far as to say that since the goal of the schools was to educate aboriginal children there is no need to apologize.

Again, we have an example of how this government is trying to reshape historical memory to suit the needs of those who are in power at the expense of all. Not only is this remark ignorant to the realities of the residential school era, it also demeans and disrespects those who survived, and those who did not.

I hope the minister finds his comment to be personally regrettable, as it is simply not true. I hope he respectfully withdraws his remarks and reconsiders the need for an apology.

The residential school agreement was the right thing to do. The minister and the government can take all the credit in the world for it, it does not matter to me. It was simply the right thing to do.

First nations, Métis and Inuit people sacrificed much to establish this country that we are all very proud of and call home. Canada is a country that attempts to be the most humane and generous in the world. People come to this great land to experience Canada's compassion and are proud to become new Canadians. It is ironic that the compassion that this country is known for, compassion first extended by the original peoples of this land, will not be extended to them by this government.

It is simply about this: an apology to residential school survivors for the calculated, intentional government policy of the day that specifically targeted children in order to undermine forever first nations, Métis and Inuit languages, traditions, beliefs, spirituality, family and community ties, in effect, to paraphrase a senior government official of the day, to rid Canada of its Indian problem.

Now I know that many of the examples I have given and the language I have chosen sound harsh and some would suggest that I crossed the line. Perhaps I did. However, historical records have not been all that accurate in documenting this aspect of Canadian history. Also, I am shocked that the federal government would want to reshape historical memory minimizing the impacts of the residential school era.

If it were not for the survivors demanding to be heard, if it were not for the groundbreaking work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, if it were not for the outstanding work of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, many of these harsh truths would remain swept under the rug.

The reasons for an apology are clear. The Government of Canada cannot deny its role in establishing and sanctioning the residential schools. Until an apology is made, this dark period in time will continue to cast a long shadow that we cannot run away from.

I humbly ask all members of this House to support my motion apologizing to the survivors and calling upon the government to move forward with an apology to all residential school survivors past and present. Let us remove the long shadows of injustice.

I hope the government will join me in offering this apology. I extend it to the Conservatives as an offer of partnership and respect. In the Cree language there is a phrase that I want to repeat.

[Member spoke in Cree]

[English]

Roughly translated this talks about respect between peoples, respect of our pasts, respect of our histories, respect in a deeper meaning than we probably even understand right now. This is what the survivors are asking for, respect for the experiences they went through and an apology.

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential Schools
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are not proud of our history in our dealings with the first nations community. It is something we in the House have indicated that we do not condone. I hope we have learned from our history so that these things never happen in the future.

There is a first nation community within my constituency. I meet with band members when I have the opportunity. I was on the regional treaty advisory committee for several years. Chief Robert Louie and some of the other band members are very progressive in the Okanagan. They are some of the most progressive bands in Canada. I applaud their initiatives for providing safe drinking water, clean and affordable shelter, education and economic opportunities and, something we all hope to foster, development within the first nations as they continue to be a big part of our future, as they have been in our history.

I listened to the member opposite this morning and there was indeed an apology issued. I would like to read for the House the aboriginal first nations National Chief Phil Fontaine's acceptance of the 1998 statement of reconciliation:

It took [the government] some courage to take this historic step, to break with the past and to apologize for the historic wrongs and injustices committed against our people. It is therefore a great honour for me, on behalf of the First Nations, to accept the apology of the government and the people of Canada.

Last week in my office in Ottawa I had a meeting with Richard Jock and some of the other members of the AFN. We continue to work on fostering relationships with our first nations community.

I would also like to point out to the House that since then, many churches, the institutions that actually ran the schools, have made formal apologies and have gone to the brink of bankruptcy to pay compensation.

In December 2006 Phil Fontaine commented on the residential schools settlement agreement. That agreement was concluded by this government under the excellent leadership of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Phil Fontaine said:

We have in this agreement recognition that harm was done to our people and that those who harmed our people are prepared to accept their responsibility.

These comments allude to the fact that our government is very sensitive to this issue and is getting the job done. The Liberals did not get the job done on the residential schools settlement. They also seem to be denying something they did. In 1998 Jane Stewart, then minister of Indian affairs, issued a statement of reconciliation titled “Learning from the Past”, in which she declared:

To those of you who suffered this tragedy at residential schools, we are deeply sorry.

That sounds a lot like an apology to me. I ask the member opposite, does that not sound like an apology to him?

Opposition Motion--Indian Residential Schools
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, publicly and officially the Government of Canada issued a statement of regret. Parliament and the Prime Minister of this country have never formally said, “I am sorry”. The Assembly of First Nations is meeting in Winnipeg today, as I understand it. It is calling on the government to formally apologize to the residential schools survivors.

It is easy to blame the churches. As I mentioned in my speech, the churches had a culpable role, but very clearly it was the federal government which drove the policy. It was federal government policy that put forward the concept that these people be civilized against their will.

To this day this House, the Prime Minister and the government have not formally said that they are sorry.