Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Motion No. 421, tabled by the member for Winnipeg Centre.
As the hon. member has reminded us, the events that led to the tragic death of Mr. Dudley George in September 1995 remain a very fresh and painful memory for many Canadians. As members will be aware, Mr. George was killed in an incident involving the Ontario Provincial Police during an occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park by aboriginal supporters of the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation's assertions of aboriginal land treaty rights.
It is important in my view to remember that the responsibility for these matters is of provincial jurisdiction. As such, it is really the province of Ontario that must take responsibility for ensuring that justice is served in the wake of this terrible tragedy.
To this end, it is well known that Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, the SIU, was brought in to conduct a formal investigation immediately following the incident. On the basis of this review, the SIU called for criminal charges to be laid against the OPP officer alleged to have fired the fatal shot. As hon. members know, the case has made its way through the court system. The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the conviction of the officer on charges of criminal negligence in the use of a firearm.
In addition, I understand that an outcome is expected shortly on discreditable conduct charges against the officer under the Ontario police act. Furthermore, as hon. members may know, the wrongful death suit filed by the George family against officials of the government of Ontario is ongoing at this time.
It clearly would be inappropriate for the federal government to call for a public inquiry. There is no question that the path to justice and healing for the George family and their community has been long and difficult, but they have not walked this path alone. The loss of a loved one in such violent circumstances is an unforgettable, life changing event for family, for friends and for the community as a whole.
The shocking events at Ipperwash Provincial Park in September 1995 affirmed for all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, the urgent need to find better ways and better solutions to settle differences, through dialogue rather than confrontation, through respectful, open negotiation rather than dispute.
We saw this powerful learning applied early in the aftermath of the crisis in the strong collaborative efforts of the Anishinabek police service and the OPP to curb any further escalation of tensions and to maintain peace and order. That was a great example of this kind of collaboration.
Together with the province of Ontario and the Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation, the Department of the Solicitor General remains an active partner in the ongoing tripartite arrangement that supports the Anishinabek police service. On a personal level, I have been greatly impressed and encouraged by the positive role this police service continues to play in support of community healing, stability and well-being.
Strong and safe communities are an essential part of the fabric of our society. The Department of the Solicitor General has pledged its full support to broad based partnership efforts with first nations leaders and individuals to bring about the kind of policing arrangements that are needed to sustain safe, vital and healthy aboriginal communities.
To meet this shared goal, the Department of the Solicitor General continues to strengthen its collaboration with the provinces and first nations peoples through the first nations policing program, the FNPP, to build community policing arrangements that are professional, effective, sustainable and accountable to the communities they are sworn to serve. The FNPP offers many success stories in improved government-first nations relations. Just as important, the FNPP responds to the needs and aspirations of first nations and Inuit communities across Canada to assume greater responsibility for public safety and well-being in their communities.
They clearly want to play a key role in making this change happen. Recent surveys undertaken in aboriginal communities across Canada confirm that first nations like most Canadians are most concerned about making progress on the issues which are central to a good quality of life: health care, education, social and economic well-being.
The overall picture shows that first nations like most Canadians are optimistic about the future of themselves, their children and communities. Almost three of four aboriginal people who took part in the survey agreed that providing them with the tools for effective governance would improve living conditions in their communities.
Six years have passed since Ipperwash. During this time the federal government has played a strong partnership role in ensuring that the pressing issues which gave rise to the events at Ipperwash would be addressed and resolved. Officials of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development continue to make good progress with Kettle Point and Stoney Point first nations. They are negotiating to resolve some of the deep rooted land claims and other issues that lie at the heart of this crisis.
The Speech from the Throne reaffirmed the government's commitment to tackle the most pressing issues facing aboriginal people on a priority basis. The Government of Canada is committed to an agenda for action that would improve the quality of life and self-sufficiency of aboriginal people.
This means working with a range of partners to ensure that aboriginal communities would have the ability to acquire the appropriate institution, resources and expertise they need to deal effectively with the complex social and economic challenges they face now and will face in the future.
It is a tragic reality that far too many aboriginal people are finding themselves in conflict with the law. We are committed as a government to taking the necessary measures to significantly reduce the percentage of aboriginal people entering the criminal justice system so that within a generation it would no longer be higher than the Canadian average.
The motion before us seeks to revisit the troubling events of 1995 through a federal call for a public inquiry. Given the clear jurisdictional responsibilities of the province of Ontario and continuing litigation, the government does not support such an action. We have seen real progress in rebuilding trust in the relationship between governments and first nations on many fronts, and I believe this would continue in a very effective way.
Strengthened partnerships are the basis for our government's efforts to bring about real and lasting change in community policing and public safety. They are the basis for broader initiatives aimed at improving the quality of life of aboriginal communities, initiatives tied to land claims, housing, education, governance, and economic and social development.
These efforts would help first nations to establish community governance practices that would be sensitive and reflective of their unique history, values, traditions, and cultural and spiritual beliefs. They would help to ensure that more of the impetus for positive change would be generated by first nations themselves.
The Government of Canada is determined to do its part and would continue to do so to help realize these aspirations and the shared goal of a brighter future for aboriginal people in Canada. It is progress that we would continue to make in helping to sustain safe and secure first nations communities which would confirm beyond a doubt that the lessons we have all learned from the tragic death of Mr. George would never be forgotten.
The commitment of the government would be to ensure that in working in partnership with our first nations we would do the right thing in this important area. That is precisely what we on this side of the House in the Government of Canada would continue to do.