Mr. Speaker, the message from the official consultations on matrimonial real property was very clear. As the Native Women's Association stated:
There is nothing in the legislation that addresses the systemic issues of violence many women face that lead to the dissolution of marriages nor is there any money available for implementation. In the end, we end up with a more worthless piece of paper.
In June 2006, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women heard from Bev Jacobs from the Native Women's Association. She stated:
...legislative and non-legislative policies are required to alleviate the underlying issues of poverty and violence against women and children.
The government fails to see the real solutions. It refuses to sign on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, even though this House endorsed the declaration and demanded the Government of Canada sign on.
The government has failed to address the systemic discrimination that first nations, Inuit and Métis women face, and it has so far failed to issue an official unqualified apology for the survivors of the residential schools.
Reconciliation cannot happen until there is an acknowledgement from the Government of Canada that first nations peoples suffered and continue to suffer from the legacy of those horrific actions, which, in the words of survivors, included being beaten for speaking their language, being torn away from their families, living in isolation from their communities and traditions, and, because of their vulnerability, they often were victims of sexual molestation. In the worst cases, children died in unexplained circumstances and were buried in unmarked graves.
I have spent a great deal of time as an MPP and an MP working with first nations communities. Most recently, my work has taken me to My Sister's Place in London which serves many first nations women. One sister from the Six Nations community told the story of the residential schools. They called it the “Mush Pit” because it was a place where children were literally destroyed. She talked about one disabled child, a child who could not walk and needed crutches but there were no crutches. The child was left unable to get around. One day a woman went to the woods nearby to find a stick for her friend so she could at least manage to get around the school but she was beaten for doing that. She was beaten for interfering. The child was left defenceless and finally was thrown into the cellar underneath the stairwell. She was down there for many days. She cried, wailed and pleaded to be let out but then she just disappeared. There was no real explanation about the disappearance and, clearly, no concern. A child had disappeared and her family was told that she had run away. A child who could not even walk had run away and no one seemed to be all that concerned.
That is the legacy we live with. For those children who did return home, they were strangers to their parents and to the customs and traditions that are the strength of first nations communities. No wonder there is still so much despair. To our great shame, we have done so little to make up for the sins and abuses of the past.
The government had the opportunity in the past two years to correct a great wrong but instead ignored the advice of the extensive consultations and did not consult on the actual legislation that we see before us today.
I would like to read from the Native Women's Association of Canada peoples' report entitled, “Reclaiming Our Way of Being: Matrimonial Real Property Solutions”. I would like to read from this report because it is important for the voices of first nations women to be heard in this House. I do hope that parliamentarians are listening to those voices. The report states:
Violence is the single most important issue facing Aboriginal women today. NWAC knows that violence against Aboriginal women can take many forms, including violence in the home, violence in relationships, and violence on the streets. Statistics Canada has reported that Aboriginal women are more than three times more likely to be the victim of spousal violence than other women in Canada.
The report goes on to state:
There are many stories about abuse on the reserve, women are stuck in homes of misery.
The experience of violence affects not only the woman and her children, but also her family and her community. One woman described this cycle:
“Generations to generations; I am a survivor of a mother that had to run away, all the way to the city of Toronto, take her five kids and move there for domestic violence as she was scared for her life. She was chased out of her house and out of her community and I see that”.
Violence against Aboriginal women is compounded by the lack of understanding and utter indifference from community members, service providers and society in general.
Another survivor said:
Even if we get something big, wonderful, all encompassing beautiful document that’s going to help us forever, how do you enforce it, especially in the isolated communities? Hey, you’ve got a gun at your head and there’s no police around you, what do you do? You take off and you leave. So I mean the enforcement to me has to be well thought out and we have to have the cooperation of the justice systems in this.
When my marriage broke down I felt like I had no where to go and no one to guide me.
There should be some type of transitional houses on reserves… this would enable members to stay in their communities.
The report goes on to state:
Many participants talked about the lack of policing in First Nations communities. Women spoke of situations where they had asked law enforcement personnel for assistance, but were unable to get help.
Another survivor stated:
But the fact that we don’t have help, not only just with family law, but in a lot of areas on reserve, in reserve life there are no laws.
There is no authority right now, he can walk in and beat her up whenever he wants and that is how it is.