House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Status of Women
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Status of Women
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

All those opposed will please say nay.

Status of Women
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Status of Women
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #111

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion lost.

Order. Before the vote on the motion, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians had the floor. There are 10 minutes for questions and comments on the parliamentary secretary's speech, so I therefore call for questions and comments.

The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's speech was very interesting. I would like to ask the hon. member a fairly simple question.

The Indian Act shackles aboriginal people. It impedes their ability to move forward with the economic development they require. The absence of the ability of people who live on reserve to own land is a major restriction in their ability to borrow money and engage in economic development.

Does the member believe that the Indian Act should be amended or scrapped?

Another question I would like to ask is based on the fine speech by my colleague from Manitoba. She gave a passionate speech about the horrible gaps that exist in health care for aboriginal people who live on reserve. They are betwixt and between a federal government that will not enable aboriginal communities to have the resources to provide the needed health care and provincial governments that are cash strapped and do not believe it is their mandate to provide that health care. We see the implications of this on the ground in that aboriginal people on reserves have the worst parameters in terms of health care in our nation by far.

I ask the member, what is his government going to do to bridge this gap and enable aboriginal people to get the health care they require? Right now they are in limbo.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite speaks to important reforms that need to happen in first nations communities across the country.

I wonder though why he sits in that party. That party has set aside so many initiatives and has voted against so many initiatives that would actually improve the system which unfortunately shackles, as he has said, first nations people on reserve.

Even today we are supposed to be debating extending matrimonial real property rights to first nations women, but his party brought forward a concurrence motion which actually delays that debate. It does not make any sense why someone who would want to extend benefits to first nations women on reserve would stand in the way of matrimonial real property. That is very difficult for me to understand.

Our government has taken a number of initiatives and will continue to, including today hopefully, once the Liberals get out of our way.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, last year the government announced some money for aboriginal women's shelters, for 35 existing shelters and 5 new ones. That is certainly not enough for most of us who are concerned about the situation regarding shelters and safe houses and given what we have already heard in the debate this morning of the number of communities where aboriginal women do not have access to shelters.

One strange aspect of the announcement was that northern aboriginal women were excluded from any of this funding. There was no funding for aboriginal women in the north.

Could the parliamentary secretary explain why the government ignored the needs of first nations and Inuit women in the north for new shelters and funding for existing shelters in that announcement last year?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, the question speaks to some important matters that our government has begun working on. The investment we made of nearly $56 million toward women's shelters that are on reserve throughout southern Canada has been very well received by the communities.

The member's question was in relation to the north. Of course the north is covered by important territories where our government has continued the process of devolving province-like powers to these entities. Our government tends to believe it is important that territories have the full wherewithal to deliver the services that are within provincial jurisdiction.

We have increased transfer payments to the territories. We are hopeful they will be able to continue their important work in delivering the services that they need to actually take part in for themselves.

The New Democratic Party has voted against all of our budget enhancements in terms of equalization to the territories. Perhaps the member could talk to his leader to change that perspective in the future.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in her speech, the mover of the concurrence motion raised important issues related to violence against women. Although the parliamentary secretary says that we are delaying, we have been debating Bill C-47, which deals with the matrimonial real property rights.

In relation to Bill C-47, Bev Jacobs, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said:

There is nothing in the legislation that addresses the systemic issues of violence many women face that lead to the dissolution of marriages nor is there any money available for implementation.

She goes on to suggest that we need non-legislative measures, not just legislative measures. The member yesterday in his speech on Bill C-47 argued against this and said that we should just pass the bill as is.

There are non-legislative issues related to housing, poverty, governance, access to justice and violence. Therefore, would the member not concede that there are non-legislative initiatives that should be taken to complement the legislative initiatives?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately this argument posed and continued to be suggested by the member opposite is one that is rooted in fallacy. It suggests that outside external issues will fix this very legislative measure, which is extending matrimonial real property benefits to first nations women.

I would be the first to suggest that there are many issues throughout our country, but for us to bring forward some omnibus super bill that would deal with everything is impossible,although the Liberal Party likes to suggest a massive panacea approach, which was its approach in the last election.

However, a substantive measure needs to be taken on this very specific issue. If we were to pass this, we would see it as a starting point to addressing the larger issues. That is the most important approach, and I do not buy into the fallacy he has brought forward as an argument.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit surprised by the parliamentary secretary's position. He definitely was not there yesterday—I know that he was busy here in the House—when the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and top bureaucrats from his department came before the committee.

Today we are talking about violence against women, poverty and many other things. One of the government's problems is that the increase in its spending is capped at two per cent a year, while the population is growing by six to seven per cent a year. That means that problems in aboriginal communities and on reserves are multiplying.

I hate the word “reserve”, but that is exactly what these places are becoming: sites where we stick aboriginals. It is a terrible situation.

Do not try to convince me that Bill C-47 will solve all of the problems, as was suggested here in the House yesterday. It is simply a band-aid solution.

Does the parliamentary secretary not feel it is time to review the two percent cap that has been imposed since 1996? The Liberals are no better with their maximum annual increase of two per cent. Is it not time to review and increase that two per cent cap, or even remove it, so that communities can take charge of their situation and receive a bit more money than usual?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member has been a very important part of our committee deliberations over the last almost three years now, wherein we have been able to bring some very progressive, important legislation forward in the House to get a number of things passed on behalf of aboriginal Canadians throughout our great nation.

He speaks to an era where, unfortunately, the previous government placed some considerable financial restrictions on first nations communities and maintained that throughout its entire tenure. That party and previous government liked to promote themselves as being the greatest friend of first nations and aboriginal people. I do not believe it to be the case. It is one of the reasons why I ran for a seat in the House.

One thing he forgets is that in our first budget we brought forward an additional $450 million on top of the previous amount allocated to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, which went above and beyond the 2% cap. Although there needs to be continued investment, there needs to be systemic reform. That is part of what we were debating today, which is a massive systemic reform extending matrimonial real property to first nations women on reserve.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in this House to discuss the motion introduced by my Liberal colleague. As we begin this sort of debate, I am very surprised to hear the members opposite talk about the need for reforms and say that it is the previous government's fault that the situation has not improved more. They remind me of grade school children in the schoolyard, saying, “My Dad can beat your Dad.” Things do not work that way.

The “new government”, as it referred to itself for so long, has now been in power for two and a half years, and it should stop saying that the former government did not do its job. It is time the “new government” did its job. I would be very happy to finally hear the “new government” say that it will do what is needed to make things better, especially for our first nations.

Women's shelters in aboriginal communities have been underfunded for some time now. This is not the first time we have had reports about this. Exhaustive research has been conducted into the situation in aboriginal communities and has shown why we need to change the situation for the better. Johnson Research and Development Co. even submitted a report on July 31, 2006 describing the situation. Company representatives visited aboriginal communities to find out first-hand what people who live in these communities and benefit from programs and services had to say about shelters, or the lack thereof, on their reserves.

The research found that most shelters were underfunded. Unlike shelters for battered women in Quebec, which now receive nearly $500,000 a year, shelters for battered women in aboriginal communities were always underfunded. Unfortunately, the only way to supplement their funding was to apply for project funding. This sounds good in theory, but it takes six months to plan a project and six months to get the funding, which disappears as soon as it is received. As well, there is no recurrent funding to address recurrent problems.

In some aboriginal women's shelters, in many cases, the bedding had not been changed in 10 years. This may seem trivial, but when a woman goes to a shelter, a woman who has been demeaned and beaten, and has little or no resources, it is nice to be able to comfort her by giving her a clean bed, where she can feel comfortable. That is important. The most basic facilities had not been changed or updated. Furthermore, nothing has been done to ensure security, due to lack of funding. Rather than allocating money to security or the alarm systems, the money must be used to pay the people who work in the shelters.

In some shelters, a single person works 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are not many people in this House who would do such a job for the wages paid. Some residences have even had to close for a while, in order to ensure that they would be able to provide services to the people who would need them later on.

Other shelters have had to stop offering individual, one-on-one counselling, because they did not have the resources or money necessary. So they decided to go with group counselling instead of individual counselling. However, when it comes to spousal abuse, if there is one thing that is crucial, it is counselling and prevention. Such an approach can help these women heal, become more autonomous, find their way and avoid potentially negative relationships.

Entire families have been decimated because shelters could not offer the support they needed. Yet in October 2006, when the economic forum was held in Mashteuiatsh, several of the Conservative ministers in attendance told the aboriginal community that aboriginal women were among their first priorities. Unfortunately, that promise did not materialize into money for aboriginal communities.

We realize that new money has been invested in shelters. Quebec has benefited from that, but it is not enough. They were lagging behind even then, and they were having problems. Yes, the shelters were very grateful to receive that money, but at the same time, they were wondering how they would manage to carry on. What do we have to do to convince the government that safety is a right? These women have the right to safe places where they can get away from the community whenever and for as long as they are not safe at home.

Some women and children have not sought services or help because no help was offered, because there was not enough help available, or because shelter workers no longer had enough energy to meet their needs. It is very difficult to find oneself in situations like that.

Money was transferred to aboriginal communities to keep the shelters operating. In Quebec, a new shelter opened. The government agreed to help with the acquisition of a new house to meet the needs of abused women in the community. But that was not enough. No matter what anyone says or does, we know that 54% of aboriginal women are more likely to be victims of abuse than women living outside of aboriginal communities. That is a very high number. We know that often, the violence these women experience is related to alcoholism or drug abuse. Some have even been strangled. This is not minor violence; this is serious.

The most important thing for these communities is to ensure that those who use the services provided by shelters for abused women are not stigmatized when they leave the shelter. If shelters cannot guarantee their safety, if they cannot apply the necessary rules, if they do not have enough staff to meet their needs, these women will not leave the shelters feeling independent and able to take care of themselves because they will not have been able to heal the damage done to them.

It really is a shame. For years we have been talking about helping aboriginal communities, but in reality we only ever come up with band-aid solutions, as my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue was saying earlier. And yet it is a right. These communities have the right to safety, well being, dignity and respect.

Some might say that, to those of us who live outside all that, who live in comfortable homes and surroundings, this is a quaint matter and nothing really to worry about. If we truly did worry about it, we would make the necessary changes to ensure a different life for aboriginal communities and to secure more resources and money for them to better manage their values and to better respond to their various needs.

We know that $56 million has been offered to aboriginal communities. That is not enough. Roughly one million people live on the various territories in Canada, including several people in Quebec. These people live in some 600 different communities that have different values, cultures and concepts. These people also have some very different needs.

For example, they have needs in education and needs for healthier housing and $56 million is not enough to meet all those needs.

Some people in these communities have been forced to leave their homes because they do not have potable water for drinking and preparing food. Again this week, inhabitants of entire communities had to leave their homes because dams were about to burst and possibly cause flooding. We have seen entire destitute communities being moved around without any concern for the changes involved in this type of situation.

We know how trying it can be to go through a fire or a tragedy in our families. It is difficult, but we have a network of people around us; we are equipped for it. However, when this happens in an isolated community that does not have the same resources we do, it is very different.

The bonds established among the members of aboriginal communities are also very important. When people are moved and one group is sent to one place and another group to a different place, those bonds are broken. These people will have to build trust once again and become accustomed to a new place, a new home. That is very difficult.

In addition, women may experience domestic violence or abuse in their daily lives. A woman may not go to a shelter every time she experiences abuse. She may think about it and consider it for a long time before going to a shelter. She knows that once she crosses the threshold of the shelter she will probably be stigmatized because her colleagues, friends and family—the whole world—will know she has gone there because she had problems with her spouse or with her children.

Life is not easy for people in aboriginal communities. I would like most of us to spend one or two weeks in an aboriginal community to experience and truly understand the life they lead and to understand the people based on their surroundings. The saying goes that you cannot understand someone's life unless you walk in their shoes. We cannot understand what life is like for aboriginal people without having lived in their community, without truly understanding what it is like to live in that community.

I have had such an opportunity. I lived in an aboriginal community in northern Ontario, where they live by hunting and fishing, for a few weeks. I saw and understood many things. I was particularly touched by the moral and human values that such communities pass on to their members and to total strangers. I arrived in their community as a stranger and yet they treated me with a great deal of respect.

There are calls for the government to take better care of aboriginal communities and do more for women's shelters in aboriginal communities by investing more money in recurring funding so that they do not need to ask for it every year. We are not asking the government to give handouts to aboriginal peoples. That is just common sense.

The government would have us believe that we need to invest $96 billion over 30 years in the army. If that is common sense, a few billion to help aboriginal communities should also be considered common sense. It is hard to succeed when one is living on crumbs.

These shelters are having to temporarily lay off or fire staff. Often there is a single staff member to welcome, advise and help those who come for assistance. There is no relief staff.

The first to be let go are those who are in charge of security. If someone tries to break into the shelter when the security staff has been let go, everyone inside the shelter can be in danger.

The next to go are the outreach workers and counsellors. That means that staff training and development are eliminated. Staff training is important too. When a person works in a battered women's shelter, it is important to have a good understanding of the problem and the challenges. Staff must have ongoing training to remain up to date.

We, as MPs, ask for ongoing training. We have ongoing training offered by the various parliamentary departments. We receive briefings on new bills or the government's new policies.

It is a bad sign when we cannot even offer training to shelter staff on the new policies created to supposedly help the women in these shelters and the shelters themselves.

They also have to cut services and staffing. As I was saying earlier, they have to switch from individual to group counselling and close shelters from time to time. When shelters close their doors, it becomes very difficult for women to believe that the shelters can help them. They can never be sure. They live in a state of constant worry: how can they be sure that they will not be turned away from the shelters because there is not enough money for them to stay there?

Food is also essential. Anyone looking at me can tell that I like to eat. Liking to eat and being in good shape and good health do not mean quite the same thing in aboriginal communities. People in those communities want to be in good shape and in good health, but it takes so much money and effort just to get food to the community that the only food available in the community is food that weighs next to nothing, like bags of chips, chocolate bars and all kinds of things that are bad for people's health, not things that are good for people's health, like juice, fruit and vegetables. That makes it very hard.

It is very difficult for people in these communities to organize themselves to have a good life when they know that a shelter for battered women within their communities cannot provide adequate services to suffering women. It is very difficult.

Therefore, I wish the government would understand—it is ready to rush through bills such as Bill C-47 and to quickly deal with other bills without doing the groundwork. That work consists of strengthening what already exists and providing the necessary resources to improve the situation in aboriginal communities. The right groundwork needs to be done.

A few years ago, Sisters in Spirit received $5 million to undertake studies and research. We know that this is ending soon and that Sisters in Spirit will no longer have access to this money. I hope that new funding will be available for this organization as well.

The fact that Status of Women Canada reduced its advocacy and research budgets was a huge setback for aboriginal women and communities. Not long ago, I received a letter from Ms. Gabriel saying how important these programs were, as well as how important the court challenges program was. She hopes that these programs will be reinstated.

I hope that the government, in its great wisdom, will see that it is time to stop talking about the former government and will invest the necessary funds so that communities can have the shelters they and the women need, shelters they could benefit from.