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House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in her speech, the mover of the concurrence motion raised important issues related to violence against women. Although the parliamentary secretary says that we are delaying, we have been debating Bill C-47, which deals with the matrimonial real property rights.

In relation to Bill C-47, Bev Jacobs, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said:

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.

She goes on to suggest that we need non-legislative measures, not just legislative measures. The member yesterday in his speech on Bill C-47 argued against this and said that we should just pass the bill as is.

There are non-legislative issues related to housing, poverty, governance, access to justice and violence. Therefore, would the member not concede that there are non-legislative initiatives that should be taken to complement the legislative initiatives?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately this argument posed and continued to be suggested by the member opposite is one that is rooted in fallacy. It suggests that outside external issues will fix this very legislative measure, which is extending matrimonial real property benefits to first nations women.

I would be the first to suggest that there are many issues throughout our country, but for us to bring forward some omnibus super bill that would deal with everything is impossible,although the Liberal Party likes to suggest a massive panacea approach, which was its approach in the last election.

However, a substantive measure needs to be taken on this very specific issue. If we were to pass this, we would see it as a starting point to addressing the larger issues. That is the most important approach, and I do not buy into the fallacy he has brought forward as an argument.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit surprised by the parliamentary secretary's position. He definitely was not there yesterday—I know that he was busy here in the House—when the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and top bureaucrats from his department came before the committee.

Today we are talking about violence against women, poverty and many other things. One of the government's problems is that the increase in its spending is capped at two per cent a year, while the population is growing by six to seven per cent a year. That means that problems in aboriginal communities and on reserves are multiplying.

I hate the word “reserve”, but that is exactly what these places are becoming: sites where we stick aboriginals. It is a terrible situation.

Do not try to convince me that Bill C-47 will solve all of the problems, as was suggested here in the House yesterday. It is simply a band-aid solution.

Does the parliamentary secretary not feel it is time to review the two percent cap that has been imposed since 1996? The Liberals are no better with their maximum annual increase of two per cent. Is it not time to review and increase that two per cent cap, or even remove it, so that communities can take charge of their situation and receive a bit more money than usual?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member has been a very important part of our committee deliberations over the last almost three years now, wherein we have been able to bring some very progressive, important legislation forward in the House to get a number of things passed on behalf of aboriginal Canadians throughout our great nation.

He speaks to an era where, unfortunately, the previous government placed some considerable financial restrictions on first nations communities and maintained that throughout its entire tenure. That party and previous government liked to promote themselves as being the greatest friend of first nations and aboriginal people. I do not believe it to be the case. It is one of the reasons why I ran for a seat in the House.

One thing he forgets is that in our first budget we brought forward an additional $450 million on top of the previous amount allocated to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, which went above and beyond the 2% cap. Although there needs to be continued investment, there needs to be systemic reform. That is part of what we were debating today, which is a massive systemic reform extending matrimonial real property to first nations women on reserve.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in this House to discuss the motion introduced by my Liberal colleague. As we begin this sort of debate, I am very surprised to hear the members opposite talk about the need for reforms and say that it is the previous government's fault that the situation has not improved more. They remind me of grade school children in the schoolyard, saying, “My Dad can beat your Dad.” Things do not work that way.

The “new government”, as it referred to itself for so long, has now been in power for two and a half years, and it should stop saying that the former government did not do its job. It is time the “new government” did its job. I would be very happy to finally hear the “new government” say that it will do what is needed to make things better, especially for our first nations.

Women's shelters in aboriginal communities have been underfunded for some time now. This is not the first time we have had reports about this. Exhaustive research has been conducted into the situation in aboriginal communities and has shown why we need to change the situation for the better. Johnson Research and Development Co. even submitted a report on July 31, 2006 describing the situation. Company representatives visited aboriginal communities to find out first-hand what people who live in these communities and benefit from programs and services had to say about shelters, or the lack thereof, on their reserves.

The research found that most shelters were underfunded. Unlike shelters for battered women in Quebec, which now receive nearly $500,000 a year, shelters for battered women in aboriginal communities were always underfunded. Unfortunately, the only way to supplement their funding was to apply for project funding. This sounds good in theory, but it takes six months to plan a project and six months to get the funding, which disappears as soon as it is received. As well, there is no recurrent funding to address recurrent problems.

In some aboriginal women's shelters, in many cases, the bedding had not been changed in 10 years. This may seem trivial, but when a woman goes to a shelter, a woman who has been demeaned and beaten, and has little or no resources, it is nice to be able to comfort her by giving her a clean bed, where she can feel comfortable. That is important. The most basic facilities had not been changed or updated. Furthermore, nothing has been done to ensure security, due to lack of funding. Rather than allocating money to security or the alarm systems, the money must be used to pay the people who work in the shelters.

In some shelters, a single person works 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are not many people in this House who would do such a job for the wages paid. Some residences have even had to close for a while, in order to ensure that they would be able to provide services to the people who would need them later on.

Other shelters have had to stop offering individual, one-on-one counselling, because they did not have the resources or money necessary. So they decided to go with group counselling instead of individual counselling. However, when it comes to spousal abuse, if there is one thing that is crucial, it is counselling and prevention. Such an approach can help these women heal, become more autonomous, find their way and avoid potentially negative relationships.

Entire families have been decimated because shelters could not offer the support they needed. Yet in October 2006, when the economic forum was held in Mashteuiatsh, several of the Conservative ministers in attendance told the aboriginal community that aboriginal women were among their first priorities. Unfortunately, that promise did not materialize into money for aboriginal communities.

We realize that new money has been invested in shelters. Quebec has benefited from that, but it is not enough. They were lagging behind even then, and they were having problems. Yes, the shelters were very grateful to receive that money, but at the same time, they were wondering how they would manage to carry on. What do we have to do to convince the government that safety is a right? These women have the right to safe places where they can get away from the community whenever and for as long as they are not safe at home.

Some women and children have not sought services or help because no help was offered, because there was not enough help available, or because shelter workers no longer had enough energy to meet their needs. It is very difficult to find oneself in situations like that.

Money was transferred to aboriginal communities to keep the shelters operating. In Quebec, a new shelter opened. The government agreed to help with the acquisition of a new house to meet the needs of abused women in the community. But that was not enough. No matter what anyone says or does, we know that 54% of aboriginal women are more likely to be victims of abuse than women living outside of aboriginal communities. That is a very high number. We know that often, the violence these women experience is related to alcoholism or drug abuse. Some have even been strangled. This is not minor violence; this is serious.

The most important thing for these communities is to ensure that those who use the services provided by shelters for abused women are not stigmatized when they leave the shelter. If shelters cannot guarantee their safety, if they cannot apply the necessary rules, if they do not have enough staff to meet their needs, these women will not leave the shelters feeling independent and able to take care of themselves because they will not have been able to heal the damage done to them.

It really is a shame. For years we have been talking about helping aboriginal communities, but in reality we only ever come up with band-aid solutions, as my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue was saying earlier. And yet it is a right. These communities have the right to safety, well being, dignity and respect.

Some might say that, to those of us who live outside all that, who live in comfortable homes and surroundings, this is a quaint matter and nothing really to worry about. If we truly did worry about it, we would make the necessary changes to ensure a different life for aboriginal communities and to secure more resources and money for them to better manage their values and to better respond to their various needs.

We know that $56 million has been offered to aboriginal communities. That is not enough. Roughly one million people live on the various territories in Canada, including several people in Quebec. These people live in some 600 different communities that have different values, cultures and concepts. These people also have some very different needs.

For example, they have needs in education and needs for healthier housing and $56 million is not enough to meet all those needs.

Some people in these communities have been forced to leave their homes because they do not have potable water for drinking and preparing food. Again this week, inhabitants of entire communities had to leave their homes because dams were about to burst and possibly cause flooding. We have seen entire destitute communities being moved around without any concern for the changes involved in this type of situation.

We know how trying it can be to go through a fire or a tragedy in our families. It is difficult, but we have a network of people around us; we are equipped for it. However, when this happens in an isolated community that does not have the same resources we do, it is very different.

The bonds established among the members of aboriginal communities are also very important. When people are moved and one group is sent to one place and another group to a different place, those bonds are broken. These people will have to build trust once again and become accustomed to a new place, a new home. That is very difficult.

In addition, women may experience domestic violence or abuse in their daily lives. A woman may not go to a shelter every time she experiences abuse. She may think about it and consider it for a long time before going to a shelter. She knows that once she crosses the threshold of the shelter she will probably be stigmatized because her colleagues, friends and family—the whole world—will know she has gone there because she had problems with her spouse or with her children.

Life is not easy for people in aboriginal communities. I would like most of us to spend one or two weeks in an aboriginal community to experience and truly understand the life they lead and to understand the people based on their surroundings. The saying goes that you cannot understand someone's life unless you walk in their shoes. We cannot understand what life is like for aboriginal people without having lived in their community, without truly understanding what it is like to live in that community.

I have had such an opportunity. I lived in an aboriginal community in northern Ontario, where they live by hunting and fishing, for a few weeks. I saw and understood many things. I was particularly touched by the moral and human values that such communities pass on to their members and to total strangers. I arrived in their community as a stranger and yet they treated me with a great deal of respect.

There are calls for the government to take better care of aboriginal communities and do more for women's shelters in aboriginal communities by investing more money in recurring funding so that they do not need to ask for it every year. We are not asking the government to give handouts to aboriginal peoples. That is just common sense.

The government would have us believe that we need to invest $96 billion over 30 years in the army. If that is common sense, a few billion to help aboriginal communities should also be considered common sense. It is hard to succeed when one is living on crumbs.

These shelters are having to temporarily lay off or fire staff. Often there is a single staff member to welcome, advise and help those who come for assistance. There is no relief staff.

The first to be let go are those who are in charge of security. If someone tries to break into the shelter when the security staff has been let go, everyone inside the shelter can be in danger.

The next to go are the outreach workers and counsellors. That means that staff training and development are eliminated. Staff training is important too. When a person works in a battered women's shelter, it is important to have a good understanding of the problem and the challenges. Staff must have ongoing training to remain up to date.

We, as MPs, ask for ongoing training. We have ongoing training offered by the various parliamentary departments. We receive briefings on new bills or the government's new policies.

It is a bad sign when we cannot even offer training to shelter staff on the new policies created to supposedly help the women in these shelters and the shelters themselves.

They also have to cut services and staffing. As I was saying earlier, they have to switch from individual to group counselling and close shelters from time to time. When shelters close their doors, it becomes very difficult for women to believe that the shelters can help them. They can never be sure. They live in a state of constant worry: how can they be sure that they will not be turned away from the shelters because there is not enough money for them to stay there?

Food is also essential. Anyone looking at me can tell that I like to eat. Liking to eat and being in good shape and good health do not mean quite the same thing in aboriginal communities. People in those communities want to be in good shape and in good health, but it takes so much money and effort just to get food to the community that the only food available in the community is food that weighs next to nothing, like bags of chips, chocolate bars and all kinds of things that are bad for people's health, not things that are good for people's health, like juice, fruit and vegetables. That makes it very hard.

It is very difficult for people in these communities to organize themselves to have a good life when they know that a shelter for battered women within their communities cannot provide adequate services to suffering women. It is very difficult.

Therefore, I wish the government would understand—it is ready to rush through bills such as Bill C-47 and to quickly deal with other bills without doing the groundwork. That work consists of strengthening what already exists and providing the necessary resources to improve the situation in aboriginal communities. The right groundwork needs to be done.

A few years ago, Sisters in Spirit received $5 million to undertake studies and research. We know that this is ending soon and that Sisters in Spirit will no longer have access to this money. I hope that new funding will be available for this organization as well.

The fact that Status of Women Canada reduced its advocacy and research budgets was a huge setback for aboriginal women and communities. Not long ago, I received a letter from Ms. Gabriel saying how important these programs were, as well as how important the court challenges program was. She hopes that these programs will be reinstated.

I hope that the government, in its great wisdom, will see that it is time to stop talking about the former government and will invest the necessary funds so that communities can have the shelters they and the women need, shelters they could benefit from.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the intervention by the member opposite. She often presents herself as an advocate for women's issues, so that would come to the root of my question, in part because today the Liberals have brought forward this concurrence motion that she is speaking to.

This concurrence motion is actually preventing us from dealing with the matter of matrimonial real property, so I find it difficult to understand the logic of this initiative in the sense that debate on this concurrence motion seeks to discuss women's shelters throughout our country and how we need to continue to be diligent in that area.

However, matrimonial real property will actually help keep women in their homes. Women on reserve are sometimes subject to the very unfair practice of being removed from their homes when marriages break down. The irony of the concurrence motion is quite astounding.

Does the member not agree that it is important to keep women in their homes and that in fact this is what the matrimonial real property debate was about? Does she not find this concurrence motion rather bizarre?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I recognize that my colleague may not agree with this motion. However, because I am defending the cause of women, of all women, I support this motion. In speaking of matrimonial property and land distribution, we are not just referring to the case of a woman who may be able to remain in her home. The issue is much broader than that.

As I was saying earlier, it is important to strengthen what we already have and what we know aboriginal women need rather than attempting to establish something they do not want and about which they were not consulted.

We know what they want with regard to shelters for battered women. They want them, they want to keep them and maintain them in good condition. They want to have the money to provide the services necessary for individual or group counselling. We know that. We know that is what they want. There are other things we do not know because of insufficient consultation with respect to the process and the other bill my colleague just spoke about.

However, I can assure you that we will be just as diligent with Bill C-47 as we have been with this motion. I am very pleased with this motion and the Bloc supports it wholeheartedly because it meets an essential need of aboriginal women. They have told us that and shown us the proof.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

Noon

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her participation in this debate, as her commitment to women's issues is well known. Not only is she an excellent speaker on issues pertaining to women's lives, but she speaks about particulars that we often do not address in the House, such as common sense and basic things like the dignity of human beings and the dignity that is integral to how people want to move forward in their lives. I really appreciate that.

I do have a question for her. She has just mentioned Bill C-47 on matrimonial real property. Something we heard very clearly was that in the end the government developed the legislation without input from aboriginal women and first nations women. In fact, I have heard from the Manitoba region that for the first nations family violence prevention program, the criteria also in the end were developed without participation by the first nations women who had been engaged in that process. They were told that would politicize the program.

I would like her to comment on this pattern we are seeing and on whether she thinks it impacts this issue in particular and women's issues across the board.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

Noon

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think my hon. colleague is right. We are seeing a movement, a tendency, a way of doing things that is somewhat paternalistic. Some people think they know better than others what those others need, what women need, what men need, what aboriginal nations need. The government knows because it is a father figure to everyone. “Father knows best”, as they say.

Personally, I see an attempt to muzzle women and take away the tools they need to exercise their rights and to conduct research. As for residences and shelters for aboriginal women, they are being given only the bare minimum they need to survive. People are not in a position to complain or revolt when they are struggling just to survive, because they are afraid of losing what little they have.

Furthermore, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages has already threatened women's groups. Moreover, one of the opposition leaders did not dare attend an event, because the organization had been threatened that its subsidies would be cut off.

This government is trying any way it can to stop any action that might allow people to take a stand, to say that this is not what they need, that this is what the government should give them, that this is their right, since their tax money is being used, since they pay their taxes and they want that money to serve their needs and not the government's needs or what the government decides for them, that it is not up to the government to decide what they need, that they are big enough—mature enough—to know what they need and that is what they want the government to give them.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

Noon

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I do have to take exception with a number of statements that this member has made.

In her previous intervention, I think in an answer to a question from the member for Churchill, or it might have been earlier, she did mention that she knew that women wanted women's shelters. That is something that she knew unequivocally. That may be the case. Is she also suggesting, as she said in her answer, that we are not sure if women want matrimonial property rights?

I just do not understand this. Why would women on reserve not want access to matrimonial real property rights? Why would a woman on reserve who is going through a marriage break-up not want to have at least the opportunity to stay in her home with her children? Is she suggesting that women would simply prefer to be removed from that home? Why would they want that? Why would a woman want to be removed from her home with her children? I do not understand that, so perhaps she could explain it further to me.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

Noon

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised that a member of this Parliament who knows so much about other areas does not seem to grasp this. Perhaps he does not understand women's problems because he is a man. Certainly, women who live in aboriginal communities want to remain in their homes.

Under the government's bill, women who want to stay in their homes would have to pay compensation to the spouse who leaves the home. However, in aboriginal communities, women with children are often the ones who look after the household, which is unpaid work. They are also the ones who care for the children and do the cooking, which is also unpaid work. Where are these people supposed to find the money to compensate their spouses who have to leave the family home?

Moreover, there is a serious housing shortage in aboriginal communities. If a woman who wants to stay in her home with her children kicks her husband out, where will he go? He will likely go into the community and try to come back into the family home, which can lead to assault and violence and force the woman to leave the home.

I take exception to the suggestion that I do not understand that women want to stay in their homes. They do want to stay in their homes, but not at any price. Proper parameters have to be put in place so that women can take advantage of them and not remain prisoners.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

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.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, these issues the member has spoken to today are important issues but I must continue to point back to what we were debating before this concurrence motion began. We were dealing with a bill to extend matrimonial real property rights to first nations women, which includes a provision that would allow for an emergency protection order, which would allow a court to order that a spouse or common-law partner be excluded from the family home on an urgent basis in the situation of family violence.

That is not something that occurs on reserve right now. I am sure the member is aware that the occupants of any home on reserve are at the behest and discretion of the chief and council. There is no opportunity to apply to a court to be able to continue living in a home if there is a violent situation. The bill we were discussing would extend that to first nations women.

Does the member feel that is a valid approach to moving forward? Does she think first nations women deserve that?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know how I can get through to the member that no woman on the face of this planet ever deserves to be beaten, raped or abused. Why he keeps coming back to this is a mystery to me.

The Native Women's Association of Canada and the AFN Women's Council have been very clear. While they welcomed the consultations that took place, headed by Wendy Grant-John, they made it very clear, not just to the minister responsible, but to us in the committee for the Status of Women, that they had to be part of the legislative process, that they had to be consulted in regard to both the legislation that came forward and the non-legislative solutions. These women have a very clear understanding of their reality.

I understand that reserves are communal in their nature and that, as such, there needs to be special consideration. NWAC and the AFN Women's Council brought forward solutions but they were very specific in stating that they had to be involved in the consultation around the legislation. That did not happen. We were warned that the government would come up with this canned legislation and that it had already been written before any consultations took place. Lo and behold, the concerns and the fears of NWAC and the AFN were verified by the government because it did precisely that. It came up with legislation that did not involve any consultation with NWAC or the AFN, and that simply is not good enough.

The Conservatives can stand in their place or spin for all I care, but it does not change the fact that first nations were not consulted when it came to the legislation. That is disrespectful, patriarchal and it underscores what we and first nations have been saying for so very long, which is that they are quite capable of determining their own future. They are quite capable of self-government. They are quite capable of overseeing what happens in their communities. They do not need this paternalistic kind of behaviour from the current government or any government.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for London—Fanshawe for participating in this debate.

I agree that there is a particular hypocrisy by the federal government which is quite dumbfounding sometimes. When the parliamentary secretary speaks in such a derogatory manner about chief and council it is quite stunning, because the government moved forward with specific claims legislation in which the government refused to implement a ratification process for community members, deeming chief and council with the supreme and sole responsibility to make decisions for the communities. It was a funny statement.

I would like to get back to the member's speech. I really appreciate that she mentioned the Sisters in Spirit. The Sisters in Spirit campaign is about the missing and murdered aboriginal women. There is an extraordinary number of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. The per capita rate if it were non-aboriginal Canadians would be about 180,000 murdered and missing women which would be completely unacceptable to Canadians.

Does the member think that the efforts by the government have been consistent on women's issues to what it claims in its matrimonial and real property legislation?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear that when it comes to issues surrounding first nations and women in particular, the government is not interested. The 2% cap that was placed on first nations funding is still in place and it is not adequate. We know that the cost of living, the cost of doing anything has risen significantly and that settlements outside of government in terms of funding and the need for increases is well beyond 2%. It is somewhere around 3.5% in many cases.

To say that the government is concerned and getting down to some serious work in terms of trying to change the reality that first nations women and communities face is clearly not the case.

I am glad that the member underscored the Sisters in Spirit. I wish I had had more time to talk about that. We know that the initial figure of 500 is clearly tragically much less than the reality.

In speaking with Bev Jacobs, the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, she said that the money that had been granted to Sisters in Spirit in order to do the investigation about the missing and murdered women showed that there were many more. The finding of the remains of Amber Redman and Tashina General in the last few weeks I think underscores the fact that there are crimes and atrocities that have been committed that we have no understanding or information about.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for London—Fanshawe for her intervention and her broad perspective on this debate around emergency shelters and safe houses for aboriginal women who are fleeing domestic violence.

It was great the way she pointed out the limited or non-existing housing options for many aboriginal women and indeed for many women in Canada when they are leaving domestic abuse. For aboriginal women the member pointed out that they could leave the reserve, they could face homelessness, or they could return to a dangerous domestic situation. She also pointed out that second stage housing, the stage after being in an emergency shelter, might not be available.

The member for London—Fanshawe has an important private member's bill on the order paper, the NDP's housing bill of rights. I wonder if she might talk about how that particular piece of proposed legislation would assist women in Canada with the kind of housing situations that they face. It is a very important piece of proposed legislation.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas for raising the housing bill of rights. As the NDP housing critic, he is going to do a remarkable job in making sure that the legislation is never far from the conscience of every member in the House. It is important.

There was a time in this country when we did have affordable housing. A program was in place and it served the needs of this country very well. It was an NDP caucus that moved on that in the early 1970s under the leadership of Ed Broadbent and David Lewis in terms of bringing it to the fore. For years Canada did exceptionally well. Canada was internationally renowned for its housing policy. I was a member of the provincial government in Ontario between 1990 and 1995 and we tried to replicate that kind of spirit of making sure that decent affordable housing was available. Unfortunately in 1996 it was lost. We need to have it again. Canada has a homeless rate unparalleled in the world.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the committee for its recommendations. Committee members have identified an important contributing factor in improving the quality of life of aboriginal women and children.

As parliamentarians and as citizens, we have an obligation to protect the vulnerable. We want children to live in homes free of violence, and we believe that people should raise families and live their lives in dignity and in safety.

Women's shelters fulfill a vital role by helping to safeguard the security of women, children and families in our communities. By investing in shelters for first nations women, we are acting on values that we all share.

Our government is committed to working with the first nations, the aboriginal organizations and all members of the House to ensure adequate services are provided for those who need them.

An October 2007 report by Statistics Canada describes serious issues related to family violence. Spousal, emotional or financial abuse among aboriginal women and men is twice the national rate.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, together with other partners, develops programs and services that address family violence in first nation communities and create a more secure environment for children on reserve. This includes both family violence prevention and protection services.

As part of this effort, the family violence prevention program supports a network of 35 shelters and community based prevention projects. These shelters serve about 265 first nations communities. About 1,900 women and 2,300 children turn to these services each year.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada provided $18.5 million to these shelters in fiscal year 2007-08, with $11.5 million for shelter services for first nation women and children on reserve. These funds are used to support an existing network of 35 first nation shelters and to reimburse provinces for related shelter services where they are not available to the community.

Our government recognizes that more work needs to be done, and we support the intent of the motion before the House today.

In fact, we are already taking action. Our government is helping first nations communities address the critical need for family violence prevention programs and services on reserve through a five year investment of almost $56 million. These funds are above and over the $6 million that was announced in 2006 as a one time allocation in the family violence prevention program to meet the immediate operational needs of the shelters.

We are increasing the funding available to existing shelters and we are providing funding to build five new shelters in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has been collaborating with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which helps build shelters through its shelter enhancement program, on the selection process for these five new shelters.

We need to invest in our future, a future where we see first nations women and their families enjoy a safe and secure home environment.

Today's debate is a welcome opportunity to discuss another important initiative that would help provide first nations people with the legal protection they require to live full and meaningful lives.

Our government has introduced legislation to ensure that people living on reserve have clear matrimonial real property rights. Bill C-47, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act, proposes to fill the legislative gap concerning on reserve matrimonial real property, or MRP. It would correct an intolerable situation that has existed far too long. Off reserve, if a relationship dissolves, spouses have access to laws that will guide them as they determine how they will divide their matrimonial real property, but this is not so for people living on reserves.

Even in the most difficult cases, such as those involving custody disputes, no court can order a change in possession of an on reserve family home. The courts cannot order the sale of a home, for instance, or prevent a spouse from selling or mortgaging a family home without the consent of the other spouse, regardless of the severe repercussions these actions might have.

The proposed legislation strikes a balance between individual and collective rights on reserves and respects the integrity of reserve lands. It also recognizes the importance of developing community-specific MRP laws. Providing spouses with clear matrimonial real property rights is a vital component of improved quality of life.

This is a prime example of the approach our government is taking to improving the quality of life for aboriginal people. The proposed legislation is advancing a real practical solution. It is an approach that we are successfully implementing in other areas as well, focusing on innovative, progressive measures that address the priorities of the first nations people and truly that make a real difference in their lives.

We are backing up our plans with real resources provided by budget 2008. For example, two years ago we implemented a plan of action for drinking water in first nations communities. At that time, 93 drinking water systems serving first nations communities were deemed high risk. Today, that number stands at 85 and continues to fall.

The progress we see is because of our government's commitment to work with first nations communities and deliver real results. We are supporting that commitment with a budget 2008 commitment of $330 million over two years to improve access to safe drinking water in first nation communities.

We are taking the same approach to improving child welfare services on reserve.

Several years ago the first nations government and the first nation child welfare agencies in Alberta came together. They wanted to find innovative ways for improving services for children who came into contact with the child welfare system. The starting point for all their actions was to focus on a long term stability for the child. They developed new methods for intervening early with families before they reached a crisis, so children did not have to be removed from their home. In 2007 we concluded a framework on child and family services with the province of Alberta and treaty first nations in Alberta.

We are working with several provinces to develop similar prevention based child and family services models in other parts of the country. Budget 2008 dedicates $43 million over two years towards the transition of child and family services on reserve.

Today's debate and motion put forward by the committee are all about ensuring the stability of aboriginal families so children can get a good start and succeed later in life.

Quality housing is a fundamental goal. An adequate home can provide the stability for children to help them succeed in school and set high goals for themselves. It is one of the foundations of prosperity.

Therefore, we have moved to address the lack of adequate housing in first nations communities. Budget 2007 committed $300 million to the first nations market housing fund. The program is expected to spur the construction of 25,000 new units over the next decade, giving first nations families and individuals a greater range of housing options, particularly home ownership and market rental units.

A home ownership approach to housing will increase access to financing for first nations, enabling more individuals to own or rent their own home on reserve. When young families plan for their future, they dream of a good home where they can invest savings, build equity and enjoy pride in their ownership and to get ahead. We look forward to working with first nation organizations to make it a success.

This is the kind of initiative, the kind of approach to first nations issues that gets tangible results and makes a difference in the lives of people. That is because we are putting the tools for progress into the hands of the first nations people themselves so they can address the priorities that matter to them in a way that fits their unique circumstances.

Economic development plays a strong role in building safe and stable communities. There will be no escape from poverty without an active economy, one that generates not just wealth, but generates purpose and a sense of progress toward a better future.

The government will continue to foster partnerships that help aboriginal people get the skills and training they need to take advantage of the job prospects in the north and across Canada.

The recent budget dedicates $70 million over the next two years to develop new measures to assist first nations, Inuit and Métis individuals and communities participate more fully in the economy and in all parts of Canada.

We also continue to explore new agreements under the aboriginal workforce participation initiative. The initiative helps employers recruit, retrain and promote aboriginal employees. It is a very successful, progressive initiative that makes enormous progress.

We will continue working with employers to identify and overcome barriers in the workplace that limit aboriginal employment opportunities. We will support career and business development projects for aboriginal youth.

The government is committed to making real progress in improving the quality of life in aboriginal communities. In fiscal year 2007-08 the government will spend $10.2 billion on aboriginal programs and services, a billion dollar increase over any previous federal budget.

However, just as important, we are committed to taking practical measures that make a difference. We will continue to work in partnership with aboriginal organizations to realize concrete results in a range of areas, including land claims, education, housing, child and family services, safe drinking water, economic opportunity and the extension of human rights protection to first nations on reserve.

I want to once again thank the committee for raising this very important issue. We will continue to work with our partners to strengthen women's shelters on reserve. We will continue to make steady progress in building strong communities where aboriginal people and families can succeed and prosper.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will give my colleague enough time to get the simultaneous interpretation because I have to explain a few things to her.

It seems as though my colleague lives in a wonderful world where everything is going well, where thanks to her government, everything is just fine for the aboriginal communities. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am the Bloc Québécois critic for Indian affairs and northern development and I have visited a number of aboriginal communities. If her wonderful world existed, we would know it and we would see it. There is a problem and I hope that the hon. parliamentary secretary will agree. The government's annual spending increase for all aboriginal communities has been capped at 2%.

What impact does this have? I have had it with all this talk about separate programs for water, housing and so forth. I have checked for myself and there will be less than $230 million for 2008-09 alone. My colleague should try to convince the person seated next to her, who could try to convince the minister, who could perhaps convince the Treasury Board and the Minister of Finance that we cannot keep this up. Aboriginal communities need 13%, and that is not our figure. Studies by her government show that the 2% ceiling needs to be eliminated because the aboriginal population is growing by 5% to 6% a year. The government can create as many programs as it wants, but they will not be enough.

Is my colleague willing to support aboriginal communities by approaching other colleagues in her government and asking them to remove the 2% ceiling imposed by the Liberals in 1996 and still maintained by the Conservatives?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the member was listening to my speech. Many programs cost a lot of money, but money is not everything. We know there have to be some other solutions to the challenges facing the aboriginal people. Today the debate has turned to women and the problems, issues and concerns they have. This is why I am surprised we are not debating Bill C-47, which talks about women and the rights they would have through this legislation.

We have invested in housing and continually invest in training and skills programs. I do not know if the member was not listening, but the investments have been increasing and most communities across Canada have benefited.

Most of all, I would like to see the debate go back to Bill C-47 to give rights to aboriginal women.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am also perplexed by the speech from the other side. It fails to take into account the overall picture that first nations face. It also fails to take into account a strong, comprehensive knowledge of the historical background to this whole situation.

I will not to get into a history lesson, as the member opposite can do that for herself, but there is a whole structure of colonization that has had an impact for many years. I understand what she is saying. I understand the goodwill in terms of saying, “We are doing this and we are doing that”, but addressing the root issues is a significant part of it.

An earlier mention was made that we were not debating Tsawwassen. The government could have put Tsawwassen on the order paper at any time and chose not to.

The comment and question I have for the member is this. She said, “We will put the tools into the hands of first nations people themselves”. I would like to add to this very issue the first nations family violence prevention program. Manitoba has a federal commitment. I will quote the First Nations Women's Council, which said, “The commitments to improve the INAC family violence prevention program in June 2006 have fallen short, to say the least. Women's leadership and women's recommendations for real life solutions have been ignored—

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will have to stop the hon. member there to allow the hon. parliamentary secretary a chance to respond.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, our government is helping first nations communities by addressing the critical need for family violence prevention programs and services on reserve through a five year investment of almost $56 million.

I am surprised the member across the way is not interested in giving aboriginal women rights through the legislation that we would like to see go forward. I am surprised the Liberal government never brought any sort of legislation to the House. She, of all members, would understand how important it is. I could see such legislation taking us forward.

I also sat on the Standing Committee on Status of Women. I heard some of the members today say that they thought it gave them some sort of edge on having knowledge of some of the needs. I heard many times at committee that aboriginal rights would be very welcome. We should be trying to move this through the House.

I am surprised the past Liberal government never introduced such legislation or made any attempts to help aboriginal women. This is a question Liberals should ask themselves. They have to live with the fact that they did not advanced the rights of women on reserve.

I would like to see the debate go back to the rights of aboriginal women.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the important work that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development continues to do in this area. She has a key role to play in extending many of the benefits that we are talking about today.

I would like to talk a bit more about what she alluded to in her last answer, which is, of course, that this very concurrence motion comes on a day when we were about to make history on so many fronts. We were about to send the matrimonial real property rights bill to committee. This bill is something that has not been done before and would extend to first nations families the benefits that we all take for granted off reserve. Women on reserve would be able to utilize these provisions to potentially retain their homes.

We also were going to be debating the Tsawwassen final agreement between Canada and the Tsawwassen First Nation, which already has been signed and which again is an historic piece of legislation that is being delayed by members across the way who have brought forward this concurrence motion.

I would ask my colleague to give some further commentary on why it is so important that we set aside all the partisanship and move forward now with these important provisions.