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  • Her favourite word is aboriginal.

NDP MP for Churchill (Manitoba)

Won her last election, in 2011, with 51.10% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Aboriginal Affairs February 26th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, Amnesty International's annual report highlights systemic violations of the rights of indigenous peoples in Canada. The report identified shameful behaviour from the federal government, including being the only country to take issue with outcomes from the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, and of course, refusing to take action on missing and murdered indigenous women.

Will the government pay attention to the international community and end the systemic violations against indigenous peoples in our country?

Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act February 25th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I listened to a good part of the member's speech in highlighting the current government's agenda when it comes to crime and, loosely, the concept of justice.

What we have seen, not just in this bill but also in a series of other bills in this area, is problematic doublespeak. The government claims to be committed to fighting child sexual offences. It seems committed to throwing people in jail. Yet, we know that over a five-year period, the RCMP withheld some $10 million in funds earmarked for its National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre. The cuts, made partly as an RCMP contribution to the government's deficit reduction action plan, have occurred even as the number of child exploitation tips from the public increases exponentially.

We are hearing from government members that they are taking tough action, and yet we know that the RCMP itself did not spend the money allocated, and instead returned it to government coffers so that the government could make it work, supposedly.

I would like to ask what this doublespeak is all about and why this took place.

Aboriginal Affairs February 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the reference to the kinds of commitments that have been made to our region. They are commitments people have fought for. In fact, I have been involved in advocating for many of these priorities, alongside chiefs, councils, leaders, and regional leaders. The reality is that there is so much more that needs to be done.

Recent reports documented by the Canadian Press indicate chronic underfunding and a systemic issue at hand. The reality is that, yes, important infrastructure investments are being made as a result of tireless advocacy, but much more needs to be done.

When we look at the disproportionate levels of poverty, it is clear, and I am sure that it is clear to many members of the government, that the status quo is not working.

The government member across referred to the minister's commitment. I will highlight the fact that over the last couple of days, in raising the issue of fire safety, I have been struggling to find the minister's commitment. In fact, I have seen much enthusiasm to try to blame first nations rather than to get to the table and make the difference that is required.

Aboriginal Affairs February 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to follow up on a series of questions I asked of the government some time ago, specifically the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, about the high and unacceptable rates of poverty faced by first nations in our country. I specifically highlighted the rates of poverty and the challenging life conditions existing in my home province of Manitoba.

I am honoured to represent 33 first nations. These are incredible communities. They are diverse, young, with much hope and energy, yet as the research that has come out in recent weeks shows, they face the greatest challenges when it comes to living conditions. Many people in these communities characterize their living conditions as third world.

This is Canada. It is 2015. We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet the first peoples of our country still live in conditions that most Canadians could not even imagine exist here. We are talking about homes that are mouldy and overcrowded. I have been in homes where 17 people are living in that one house. We are talking about lack of water and sewer services. Yes, in communities like Island Lake, progress has been made, but too many people still lack access to running water.

I have been in homes that have to resort to outhouses because of issues with plumbing and infrastructure, which simply do not exist. I have been in first nation schools that, as we know, are notoriously underfunded by this federal government, and were by previous Liberal governments as well. Teachers do not have enough money to buy books, and there are not enough resources to hire specialized teachers, and kids have to do with less, simply because they are from first nations.

These levels of inequality and poverty are unacceptable.

I want to point to the unprecedented conversation happening in Manitoba and in many other parts of the country about the levels of systemic discrimination that first nation and indigenous people face in our country. On so many measures, aboriginal people fall lower, or in some cases higher, than other Canadians. But in all cases they face greater challenges. We know this has everything to do with the federal government's approach to indigenous peoples, not just over the last few years, but over decades as well. It is under this Conservative government that we have seen deep cuts and real neglect in treating indigenous peoples with respect, with a nation-to-nation relationship framework, and understanding and working in partnership with indigenous communities to be able to address the significant challenges they face.

As a result, I rise in the House to refer to the levels of aboriginal poverty. Some 62% of aboriginal children in Manitoba live in poverty and 25% of aboriginal children across the country do so as well. I ask how this federal government does not see a problem. On behalf of the people I represent, and in conjunction with so many indigenous people across the country, I ask for federal action to deal with these unacceptable realities.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 February 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying that I am proud to be part of the only recognized party in the House that is firmly against Bill C-51. I heard from indigenous activists over the last few days that they are appreciative of the kind of solidarity that New Democrats are showing with them.

This bill is deeply flawed. I will quote the leader of my party in saying that it is “...dangerously vague, and likely ineffective”. All parliamentarians should take a second look, and I especially invite my colleagues in the other two parties to stand with indigenous Canadians, farmers, environmental activists, and everyday Canadians and vote this bill down.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 February 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I want to take a moment to caution the member across the aisle for deriding my commentary. If he had been listening closely, he would have heard that many of the words I spoke in the House are the words of some of the strongest activists in this country, the words of Pam Palmeter, Clayton Thomas-Muller, the representatives of the Yinka Dene Alliance, and Ellen Gabriel. These are people who are known to first nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. These are people who are known to Canadians. Therefore, I do not take it lightly when I share their words and beliefs.

As I have pointed out, these people have seen firsthand how far and inappropriate the reach of the government and its arms have been toward them, in some cases even personally. When they say that this bill spells nothing but trouble, he and the members of his government should know well that they know what they are talking about.

I will leave it at that, with the hope that the voices of indigenous peoples will not just be heard by the members of the government but also respected and acted on by their withdrawing this horrid bill.

Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 February 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House to join my colleagues in the NDP who have expressed our opposition to Bill C-51. We have signalled to Canadians that what is most important for us is standing up to fear and standing up for the ability to defend our rights.

I also stand in the House to share a perspective as the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP, to speak out on the potentially harmful and even devastating impact this piece of legislation would have on indigenous activists and communities.

Bill C-51 seeks to criminalize dissent. As we know, indigenous peoples—first nations, Métis, Inuit, or indigenous peoples in general—have often been at the forefront in fighting for what is important to them and, in many ways, what is important to all of us. These activists, these leaders, these members of their communities are not terrorists and do not pose a danger to the lives of anyone. These individuals have taken it upon themselves to stand to protect their inherent land rights, the welfare of their people, and the environmental integrity of this planet. These are the indigenous activists who work across this country seeking justice, and they are all deeply concerned by the threat posed by Bill C-51.

I should note at this point that I will be sharing my time with the member for Halifax.

The problem with this legislation is very simple. It lumps legitimate dissent together with terrorism. Indigenous peoples have a right to seek environmental and social justice through protest, communication, and activism. This bill would call that work criminal. It would call that work terrorism.

I have taken it upon myself to reach out to a number of indigenous community leaders across the country and have gathered some of their comments in this speech. Theirs is a perspective that must be heard, as we stand on the brink of passing into law a bill that would greatly curtail all of our rights and freedoms. The Conservative government is seeking to use its powers to control and censor the voices it does not want to hear.

Pam Palmater, the Mi'kmaq lawyer and Idle No More activist, gave me permission to share her thoughts. She said:

As treaty and territorial allies, First Nations and Canadians face a formidable foe and threat to our collective futures. Idle No More raised awareness about the break down in democracy in general and human and Aboriginal rights specifically. Hundreds of thousands of people across Canada rose up against Bill C-45—the large, unconstitutional omnibus bill pushed through Parliament without debate which threatened our lakes and rivers. This time, the threat is personal—any one of us could go to jail for thinking or voicing our opinions. All of the rights, freedoms and liberties upon which Canadian democracy rests will be suspended with Bill C-51. This bill creates what has been described as Harper's "Secret Police force" with terrifying expanded powers.

Ms. Palmater is not wrong. This 63-page omnibus bill includes measures that would give increased powers to CSIS not only to spy on citizens who it believes pose a threat but also give it the right to disrupt their activities whenever it deems necessary. CSIS may do this without a warrant or any checks or balances.

Under Bill C-51, no one will have oversight over the will and whims of Canada's spy agency. Without calling into question the ethics or integrity of those people who work at CSIS, I can say as a citizen that I am uncomfortable in principle and in practice with any one government body having this kind of unchecked control.

Upon until now CSIS has been an intelligence gathering agency. This bill would give it powers to act as a quasi law enforcement agency. The Prime Minister is in actuality creating a special secret police force in Canada, and these secret police will be able to surveil and target anyone they want.

Indigenous and environmental activists are afraid about what that could mean when they organize to protest a pipeline, when they communicate among themselves to reclaim territory that is theirs, and when they speak out in defence against the government in any way, which is their right to do.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, a renowned activist, wrote to me today about the work he does:

Our movements are about justice. To criminalize Indigenous dissent, then, is to repress Indigenous rights in Canada, and our responsibilities to protect the land. We are transparent, open, base-driven movements that take a non-violent, peaceful direct action approach.... The state is criminalizing Indigenous peoples who are acting within their right to exercise jurisdiction over their lands. This is an abuse of democracy. It is clearly about providing a right-of-way for the mining and energy sector.

On the front lines of much environmental activism are the first nations of the northwest coast in British Columbia. Many nations have made it their responsibility to oppose the Enbridge pipeline and other projects they see as grave threats to their lands, their fish, and their sovereignty. These people have already been targeted and insulted by the government. They have been called dangerous radicals by the Minister of Natural Resources.

Are these the dangerous people that CSIS will exert its new powers over? Will these people be spied on, arrested, and detained for unacceptable lengths of time with no clear charges? Art Sterrit, the director of Coastal First Nations, is afraid they will be. He wrote to me this morning and said:

The pipelines and oil tankers that this legislation apparently seeks to build under the guise of fighting terrorism, strike real terror in the hearts of our communities.

An oil spill in our coastal waters would be a terrorist attack. It would kill our livelihoods and wipe out our culture. How can [the Prime Minister's] government talk about threats to Canada's territorial integrity while he threatens the territorial integrity of first nations in BC and across Canada with his government's support of risky and dangerous projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline? If passed, this legislation would be a major setback in building trusting relationships between First Nations and the Government of Canada.

As well, I spoke with Geraldine Fleure of the Yinka Dene Alliance. She said to me that she and her community already feel heavily targeted by the government for their anti-pipeline work. They are trying every day to create a safer, thriving community for their children. It's hard. They are challenged by poverty, but the fight to protect their lands and their waters is not one that they will ever give up. Bill C-51 will make it harder. It is another blow to their ability to provide a safer future for their children.

It is not enough for members of the House to rise and say to indigenous people that they do not have to worry about being treated as terrorists. First nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples have reason not to trust the government. For years, they have been targeted and harassed. No one knows this better than Ellen Gabriel of the Khanesatake Mohawk Nation in Oka. She writes:

During the 1990 Oka Crisis, Mohawk people on the front lines were attacked by police, shot at, denied their basic human rights and their right to privacy violated hundreds of times by the authorities under the direction of the Government of Canada and Quebec. Many Mohawks received notices by mail from authorities that they were being monitored and their phone lines tapped, and were not given much of an explanation except being provided with a photo copy of the criminal law code highlighting the reason their privacy was under attack: "suspected of criminal and terrorist activities...threat to public security". This continues today and has always been the case for Indigenous peoples who resist colonial laws and dispossession from their lands.

Too much is at stake with this bill for all Canadians, but it is crucial that those who will be disproportionally affected will have their chance to be heard in the House. It is crucial that those fighting for justice, for dignity for their communities, and for all of us be heard.

Aboriginal Affairs February 19th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the safety of first nations is at stake. First nations like Makwa Sahgaiehcan were left with no fire protection services, which cost the lives of two children. First nations and Canadians across this country have been moved by this tragedy and want action from the federal government. However, instead of stepping up, the minister chooses to blame everyone else.

This cannot happen again. What will the minister do to ensure that this kind of tragedy not only does not happen but that first nations will have the kind of services and equipment they need and deserve in their communities?

Aboriginal Affairs February 18th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, the minister may already know that people living on a first nation in Canada are 10 times more likely to die in a house fire than in any other community in our country. This has everything to do with the lack of federal funding to first nations when it comes to fire and emergency services.

The family deserves better. First nations across the country deserve better. When will the federal government stand up and show some leadership so that tragedies like the one that happened in Makwa Sahgaiehcan do not happen again?

Aboriginal Affairs February 18th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, today we are mourning the loss of two children from the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation in Saskatchewan who lost their lives in a devastating house fire.

Their bodies were carried out of their burning home by their father when the RCMP finally arrived. There was no fire response. No one responded to the emergency call in a community with no fire services.

My question to the minister is simple. How could this happen?