Mr. Speaker, I most certainly appreciate this opportunity to participate in this debate. While listening to what has gone on so far, I must say I am a little breathless and shocked that a member of the governing party would not understand that women do not want to leave their homes. Sometimes they are driven out. Statistically, we know that on average women leave an abusive situation 17 times before they finally feel that they have the support and the security to make that a permanent situation.
There are many things to consider. One of those things is the economic security of the woman's children. What on earth is she going to do without a home and a livelihood? What on earth is she going to do without the support of even that abusive man? For many women their children come first and they tolerate the beatings, the physical abuse, the rape, and the psychological and emotional torment. It is not until he turns on her children, when now it is not only her enduring all of this, but it is her children, that for most women it becomes time to leave.
To say that women should not be driven out of their homes or we should be supporting them staying in their homes, of course we support them staying in their homes, but not in a situation where they and their children are subject to not only beatings and mistreatment but to the possibility of murder and death. We have seen that over and over again. Women and children have been found dead because they have lived in a situation of violence that they have not been able to escape.
Now the government is telling us that we should tolerate that and that somehow or other women and first nations women, in particular, should be subject to this because, my goodness, the government has given enough and done enough. If the government has done enough, why does this situation continue? Why does it continue day after day, week after week, year after year? Have we learned anything?
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states in article 21:
Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing,--
I underscore the word “housing”. It goes on:
--sanitation, health and social security.
It is a disgrace, that goes beyond comprehension, that Canada, a nation that was so long a leader at the United Nations in support of the rights of first nations and indigenous peoples, was among those four nations that voted against this declaration. Canada even went further and actively lobbied the other countries to vote against this historic declaration. Fortunately, Australia, after the election of a progressive labour government, changed its vote and voted with the other 44 countries that believed in the importance of this UN declaration.
Here we are alone. There are three countries out there, with Canada apparently leading the pack, denying the rights of indigenous peoples. We have seen those rights denied over and over again, in the past, in the present, and apparently this is going to continue into the future.
I would like to cite what happened in this Parliament in budget 2006. The government cancelled the court challenges program. In addition, the government slashed funding to Status of Women Canada. My colleague from the Bloc has alluded to the fact that Status of Women Canada was a victim of the government's spending cuts, of its austerity program.
We know where that largesse went. We know where all of that saved money went. It went directly to the oil patch. It went to the corporations that needed it the least. It undermined the work of Status of Women Canada and the work of women's organizations across this country.
We would not want them to be doing the work that they had always done in terms of research, advocacy and lobbying. We would not want women to have a voice for all the women across this country, including first nations women.
I come back to the court challenges program and the fact that it was intended to support language rights and equality rights. We grew and developed as a nation after the introduction of the court challenges program to embrace equality rights.
One of our sisters, Sharon McIvor, was using the court challenges program in order to write a historic wrong. Because she had married a non-status Indian, her children no longer had status. Her children no longer had the protection and support of being part of the community of first nations. She went to court in British Columbia, fought against that and won, but now she needs to take that fight to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Lo and behold, she cannot. The funding is gone. The court challenges program is gone. This is an absolutely essential and key part of re-asserting the rights of indigenous people, including women and their children, to status as first nations people. The government saw fit to end that and continues to refuse to listen to all of the groups across Canada who have been very clear about how integral the court challenges program was, not just to what goes on in this country but to our reputation around the world.
We were known as a leader in terms of language and equality rights. Now we are nowhere. In fact, in so many areas our reputation internationally is going right down the drain in terms of the environment, support for people, and the way we conduct business in this country.
The government has said very clearly to the people of this nation, “The jobs that you do don't matter because we don't care about manufacturing”. It has said very clearly, “We don't care about the kind of stress that families feel while trying to make ends meet”, as we watch the gap between those who have and those who have not increase and grow. The government has been very clear about what it will not do. Housing to first nations women is most certainly among the things the government is not prepared to do.
I want to come back to the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people. Canada's position in refusing to support the declaration is absolutely contrary to the wishes of aboriginal and human rights organizations and even some government officials. Even officials within the bureaucracy stated their opposition, but the government in power now refused to listen.
As the current debate on Bill C-47 has illustrated, first nations, Inuit and Métis women have no place to go when they become victims of violence in their own homes. There is a lack of shelters and transitional houses, especially in remote communities, leaving women to suffer in isolation, and putting them and their children at risk of further violence and even death, violence that escalates as time goes on and, as I said previously, violence that can lead to death.
In forcing women to abandon their communities because there is no housing, we are cutting them off from all that sustains them: from family, their culture, and the support systems that the community provides. Their children lose touch with their heritage and who they are. How is this different from what we did to children when we sent them off to residential schools? We know what happened to those children. We know how they were physically abused and became the subject of forced labour. We know they were often raped, prevented from using their own language, and when they returned to their homes and families, there was no connection.
They could not speak the language. They had been raised in an alien situation and they were not able to reconnect with community. That lack of reconnection has led to all kinds of social ills in first nations communities. The violence that women endure is just one of those ills. Drug abuse and alcoholism that is prevalent is just one of the outcomes of those residential school days.
The 2004 background document on aboriginal women and housing by the Native Women's Association of Canada states:
...Aboriginal women facing violence have limited to non-existent housing choices when they leave violent relationships or relationships break down for reasons not related to violence. Many women are forced to choose between staying in (or returning) to a violent home environment or leaving the reserve. Even where women’s shelter programs are available, ‘second stage housing’ which is vital in the transition from emergency shelter to secure, independent, self-sufficient living, may not be available due to program funding cuts or highly restrictive eligibility criteria.
I am reminded of what we endured in Ontario with a Conservative government, not unlike the present federal Conservative government. The Harris years were marked with the same kinds of cutbacks, the same kind of refusal to acknowledge what women face when they are in violent home situations. The Harris government cut second stage funding and programming in shelters and the end result was that women, in some cases, were being driven to the street.
I worked with some of those women because eight years after the end of the Harris government years, we still feel the repercussions. We still feel the dilemmas. We still feel the effects of those funding cuts and women and children still suffer. Families still suffer. It is a legacy that goes on and on. I suppose it will be the legacy that we will experience when the present Conservative government is gone.
The report from NWAC goes on to state:
At the same time, while other sectors address root causes and propose solutions to the high prevalence of violence against Aboriginal women in the home, women’s shelter programs need to be better funded to provide for more new shelters and capital upkeep and maintenance of existing shelters.
The current funding, as has been so clearly stated, simply does not stack up to what is needed. The report goes on to state:
Aboriginal women’s vulnerability to becoming a single parent and/or the victim of spousal violence needs to be anticipated, accounted for, addressed and accommodated to achieve positive, equitable outcomes in all existing and new housing policies and programs. Priority wait listing and placement of women who are victims of violence must be further fostered and followed in housing practice by all levels of government and authorities involved in housing
An older report from NWAC on second stage housing for native women states:
Counselling and second stage housing are required for battered women and children. However, there must be more services directed at the batterer such as residential treatment programs which both reform the batterer yet allow the victims to remain in the matrimonial home....
That comes into the discussion in regard to what the parliamentary secretary was talking about in terms of matrimonial real property. Yes, women should be allowed to stay in their homes and, yes, there should be programming. What on earth is wrong with taking the advice of the Native Women's Association of Canada and ensuring that the batterers have the support and counselling they need to perhaps change and perhaps continue to live in a more positive environment with their children?
The report goes on to state:
As it stands now, most non-aboriginal shelters are located in urban areas which means the woman must leave her community, frequently travelling a great distance, to find help. Moreover, the aboriginal victim of family violence may even experience racism and further victimization at the shelter....
As good as it is to have these shelters, there is a disconnect between what a woman experiences in a community as part of her understanding and reality and what is available in the city where first nations people are in a minority. Certainly in the outside community, if she cannot find shelter in a women's shelter, there are often experiences of racism and further victimization.
We are also finding that women and children are not leaving abusive situations because other than the shelter they have no place to go. The homes of relatives are already full.
In 1991-92, 88% of all women reporting to the shelter had been there at least once in the past year. We are seeing a return of women because there is nowhere for them to go. They must go back to shelters, even if the shelters are not an ideal situation. The government is repeating the sins of the past by refusing to acknowledge these realities.
However, few shelters are able to address the needs of special groups, such as natives, immigrant women or the physically challenged. When native women go to non-aboriginal shelters, often the other women and the service personnel cannot fully identify with the racism and social ills that they have experienced. Native women do not open up to social workers or employees because they feel perhaps a bit alienated. Their experiences are unique and different.
Without adequate outreach and critically necessary follow-up services that are culturally appropriate and a vital function of second stage shelters, emergency shelters can become a revolving door, a place where true safety and support is not felt. These offer little more than a temporary way station for battered women who use this service only during times of intense crisis and who, because of the lack of adequate follow-up services, return to the violent home with no other option but to endure what has previously existed.
In a 1999 report by the Saskatchewan Women's Health Secretariat, entitled, “Profile of Aboriginal Women in Saskatchewan”, it illustrates the important linkages between health and housing. We have not talked very much about health, but I would like to read from the report because it is important that we understand the connection between housing and health. The report states that housing conditions are a major contributing factor to physical well-being and mental health. It also states that crowded housing conditions can also result in increased incidences of abuse.
Last spring, the Status of Women committee heard the same thing from the Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada who talked about conditions in the far north that were unacceptable by any standard.
What basically happens is that airtight little boxes are dropped into communities and families move in. Sometimes several families move in and as many as 20 to 22 people move into these tiny little boxes. They have no privacy, no proper ventilation and no sense of home. It is understandable that this kind of crowding can lead to violence and substance abuse and can compel children to give up.
The stats are there that children raised in these circumstances often do not thrive. They do not do well at school because they do not have the space they need nor the support systems they need.
Furthermore, a report by the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women states:
Because of chronic housing shortages, existing units are overcrowded, sometimes housing two or three families together.
In 1999, Saskatchewan reported that over 70% of aboriginal households on reserve were below housing standards, and we know that. We do not need to go to Saskatchewan. We know that in our own communities. I have, as a previous MPP, firsthand knowledge of that in the community that I used to serve.
I will finish by reminding the House about the hundreds of thousands of aboriginal women who have disappeared, never to be found or who have been found murdered. In a 30 year period, over 40 women alone have disappeared along the highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert. This highway has been renamed the Highway of Tears.
One has to wonder how many of those victims were the victims of Robert Pickton in Vancouver's eastside, who included first nations women who were fleeing a situation where they were the victims of violence, fleeing a situation where they had no hope of adequate housing or no hope for the future.
We know that the first nations population, women in particular, experience violence three and a half times more often than non-aboriginal women and that close to 35% of aboriginal women have been the targets of violence. We cannot tolerate this any more because it is intolerable. We know from our own communities that first nations women are in need of extra and special support. Unfortunately, the government has not provided it. There are solutions, we have heard them, but we need to listen to those solutions.