Good morning, my name is Renée Brassard. I teach at the School of Social Work, but I am a criminologist by training.
Today my comments will be quite brief, because some of the points I intended to address have already been made by the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador. I have jotted down a few comments and will limit myself to those. I have also tabled a summary of recommendations with the committee and you will see what I had in mind in so doing.
It is a well-known fact that violence against Aboriginal women in both Canada and Quebec is one of the direct consequences of colonialism and a history punctuated by government policies that have resulted in cultural erosion, the ongoing breakdown of family and other relationships, and poverty and underdevelopment which persists to this day.
I would like to draw the attention of committee members to the fact that, over the last two decades, several Canadian commissions of inquiry, expert reports and studies have all reiterated the fact that Aboriginal women constitute the segment of the population most affected by violence in Canada. It is also acknowledged that violence against Aboriginal women is an endemic problem. So, this is not something that is receding. Quite the contrary, it is a persistent problem which is growing worse.
That violence can take several different forms, as you so aptly pointed out, Madam Chair. The forms of violence faced by Aboriginal women are many: physical, sexual, psychological, systemic, institutional, legislative—as we see at present with the discussions on Bill C-3—communal, and also spiritual. By “communal” violence, I mean abuse of authority against Aboriginal women in communities all across Canada, whereas spiritual violence refers to the loss of traditional values and the destruction of individual cultural or religious beliefs.
The current state of knowledge regarding violence against Aboriginal women in Canada is such that we now know that different factors that are still in play conspire to keep Aboriginal women in Canada in these sad circumstances and allow the violence that afflicts them to be perpetuated. What I wanted to specifically address are the main factors which encourage or allow the violent situations facing Aboriginal women in Canada to occur and recur. Of these factors, I would like to mention these in particular: a lack of political will at the federal, provincial and local levels; the lack of autonomy of Aboriginal communities in terms of directing their own development; a system of economic and legislative dependency which keeps the Aboriginal communities in a state of underdevelopment and gives rise to social inequality and multiple forms of discrimination; limited access to power by Aboriginal women; the presence—obviously—of a vicious cycle of violence because of the relational proximity within the communities, complete silence on this issue and an attitude of resignation in relation to the violence; and, finally, inadequate social responses, which have been recognized over and over again in a variety of reports as being ineffective and culturally inappropriate.
When I refer to social responses to violence against Aboriginal women, I am obviously referring to piecemeal interventions, a lack of resources for Aboriginal men—we tend to prefer incarcerating Aboriginal men, rather than helping them to heal and be rehabilitated—and, Madam Chair, the criminalization and overrepresentation of Aboriginals in our prison institutions. I'm sure you also know that Canada is one of the countries that jails more Aboriginal people than any other country in the world, compared to societies such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
If we want to stop violence against Aboriginal women in Canada, it is necessary to acknowledge the valuable potential solutions and recommendations that can be found in the major studies carried out in Canada in the last two decades, and which are underused even now. The report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People, which does suggest potential solutions, should also be revisited.
Furthermore, I think it is important to point out that this work, which was often carried out under the auspices of several Aboriginal organizations in Canada, has the merit of having given a voice to many Aboriginal women, as well as many different Aboriginal groups in Canada with respect to violence against women, children, men and a whole people. As a means of guiding the committee's work, I have gathered together here a number of recommendations which warrant your attention.
In closing, in light of these facts, we urge the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women to take full advantage of whatever flexibility it has to ensure that these recommendations are actually implemented, in order to foster the well-being of women, men and all Aboriginal communities in Canada.