Thank you, madame la présidente.
Good morning, everybody.
Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
On behalf of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, I would first like to thank the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for inviting us to make a presentation during these hearings on violence against Aboriginal women.
It is our hope that your government will consider the realities of First Nations and that the points I will be making can become the basis for a real partnership—one where Canadian government officials treat First Nations' political leaders as equals, with a view to developing policies and implementing the appropriate measures.
I would like to quickly present a demographic profile of the First Nations in Quebec and Labrador. Although the population of Quebec is aging, the reality among First Nations is completely different, as they are experiencing strong demographic growth and have the youngest population compared to Canada's overall population, the average age in the Aboriginal population being 24.7 years of age, compared to 37.7 for Quebec. The First Nations represent approximately 1% of Quebec's population, with 70,946 members living in more than 40 communities and distributed among 10 distinctive nations. The population and its geographic location vary considerably from one nation to the next and from one community to the next. They are scattered across regions to which access is limited, as well as in remote, rural and urban areas.
I would like to provide you with a brief overview of the current situation. The socio-economic status of the Aboriginal people, and particularly Aboriginal women, is one of the consequences of colonization. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the Aboriginal nations were sovereign and independent. At the time, they already had their own customs, languages, systems of law and government, as well as their culture. Women were held in high esteem because they gave life and passed on the traditions. Following contact with the Europeans and the colonization process, the traditional systems underlying Aboriginal society were compromised. Legislation, and particularly the Indian Act, caused them to lose their independence, as that statute set the rules to be followed from then on with respect to almost every aspect of their lives. That legislation has had grave consequences for Aboriginal women, considerably weakening their traditional role within society, within their own society.
In order to have a better appreciation of violence against Aboriginal women, it is also necessary to look at the socio-economic context in which they are evolving, something that has a direct impact on that issue. I will not take time to provide the statistics.
Mr. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, mentions in his report, following a visit to Canada, that he would put Canada in 63rd place among the nations of the world as regards the social conditions of Aboriginal people in this country. Their socio-economic conditions, major changes to their traditional way of life, the effect of Indian residential schools and the use of alcohol and other harmful substances are the main factors behind the violence directed at Aboriginal women.
Let's talk about that violence. Aboriginal women who are victims of violence are often living in poverty, are often younger and have less education. A number of statistics show that Aboriginal women are more affected by violence than non-Aboriginal women.
Economic conditions are one of the early signs of violence. In a situation where there is violence, there is often isolation as well. I would like to read you a quote: “The psychological after-effects of violence are many: disruption, frustration, confusion, anger, sadness, a sense of helplessness and loss of self-esteem.” That is taken from a summary by Karen Myers published in 1995.
According to Health Canada, Aboriginal women are five times more likely to require medical care following acts of violence. The lack of resources available to victims is such that they must leave the community and settle in urban areas to receive the care and support they need in order to heal. Furthermore, Aboriginal women who are victims of violence also face other obstacles, such as racism, discrimination, isolation, and linguistic, cultural and geographic barriers.
At this point, I would like to address the causes and disastrous consequences associated with violence and sexual abuse in the communities. The immediate environment is a huge risk factor that must not be overlooked. There is the overcrowding in our communities, to which can be added problems of poverty and inadequate educational attainment, and when combined with alcohol and drug use, you have an explosive mix that can result in violence of all kinds against women in our communities. When I say “violence of all kinds”, I am referring to psychological violence, verbal violence, physical violence and sexual violence.
There are no services available in our communities and no resources are specifically dedicated to dealing with the problem of violence and sexual abuse. Furthermore, communities are remote and travel is difficult. The fact that communities are not equipped at the local level has consequences in terms of the number of complaints. The lack of awareness of local services, combined with the problems of violence and sexual abuse, all contribute to fewer complaints from women who are victims of violence and sexual abuse.
The complexities of the legal system and language problems, taken together with the concept of confidentiality in the communities, also have disastrous repercussions. The lack of response protocols and adequate training programs on how to deal with violence and sexual abuse are also factors in preventing women from using community services.
It is also important to consider that someone who has grown up in a violent environment and has witnessed violence may consider it to be normal and inevitable, and that person will have a strong tendency to reproduce that behaviour throughout his life—hence the need to pay particular attention to our children and provide them with the necessary protection.
In closing, as you can see, the phenomenon of violence against Aboriginal women must not be taken lightly. The paucity of human resources in the communities, combined with a trivialization of this issue, mean that women often end up coping with the violence and sexual abuse on their own.
What is needed is a package of coordinated programs and measures providing for continuity of services, in order to counter and reduce violence and sexual abuse against women in the communities. The program on violence has never met the communities' expectations. Monies invested in prevention are still inadequate, considering the huge need in the communities. A violence prevention program alone cannot satisfy the communities' need for assistance.
Finally, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador recommends the following: develop specialized resources to deal with sexual violence; invest in a specific anti-violence training program, in order to equip the communities with the needed specialized resources; invest additional money in order to ensure, not only prevention, but the development of a continuum of services to cope with violence against women; foster partnerships with provincial authorities as regards the justice system, resources geared to the communities and memoranda of understanding; and, finally, develop a program aimed at preventing violence against young children.
Thank you for your kind attention.