Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in this House, as always, representing the people of Timmins—James Bay on Bill C-9, an act respecting the election and term of office of chiefs and councillors of certain first nations and the composition of council of those first nations.
This is yet another bill that is being brought forward to tinker with the highly problematic Indian Act. It comes at a time where the breach in relationship between the Government of Canada, the Crown, and first nations across this country is at a very stark moment in our Canadian history, where government seems to believe that it can move back toward a colonial relationship with the first peoples of this country and that it is in the power of the minister to make decisions that really belong in communities.
There are elements in the bill about tinkering with the problems of the elections act, which we have seen. There are elements in the bill about trying to alleviate some of the problems we have seen with the Indian Act, but the fundamental problem is the breach of trust in relationship that is not being done with the communities.
Once again, it is Ottawa, the Department of Indian Affairs, imposing upon the people themselves how situations are going to be resolved, rather than recognizing that in the 21st century it is not acceptable to treat an entire section of our Canadian population, basically, as a hostage people under a bureaucracy.
As we speak, in my communities we are now in probably the 15th state of emergency that I have seen in the James Bay region, due to chronic infrastructure and failed government plans for basic health and safety and housing. We have 70 people who were burnt out of a construction trailer.
For the people back home to understand what this is, this is not living quarters. This is a bunkhouse that was brought in on an emergency basis after a 2008 infrastructure collapse in Attawapiskat, where the sewage system failed.
Now, most people in Canada have no concept of how a municipal infrastructure like sewage would fail, but in each one of my communities on James Bay, I have seen the complete collapse of sewage or water from underfunding, from poorly planned projects: Fort Albany, a complete collapse of infrastructure in the winter of 2009; Kashechewan, in 2005-06, an entire evacuation of 2,000 people; Attawapiskat, in 2008 and again in 2011.
In 2008, when the sewage backed up and destroyed numerous houses in Attawapiskat, the community called upon the federal government for help. Here is what the federal government did. It just said, “You're on your own”.
We talk about the financial problems in these communities. It was the communities themselves that were forced to evacuate 80 people to accommodations in Cochrane and pay for hotels for months on end at the expense of the band, which put the band seriously in debt.
We just had a report from the Auditor General on the complete failure of basic safety protocols from the federal government, that the government sets aside $19 million to deal with emergencies across Canada, whether they be fire, flood or other needs for evacuation, when what it spent in 2009-10 was $286 million; $180 million of that went on response and recovery, but only $4 million went toward prevention and mitigation.
That means that it had to take money from building schools, it had to take money from safe water, it had to take money from building houses to deal with whatever the emergency was at the time.
I want to put this in context. There is not a single non-native community in this country to which, if there were a fire, the government would turn around and say, ”Well, guess what? There are no more schools in your district for the next five years”. It would say, “We're not building you a hospital. You know why? Because you people ended up getting flooded out”.
We saw the incredible response in High River and Calgary, from across Canada. The federal government and the provincial government helped the residents there.
However, when our communities are flooded out, we see the derision and the abuse from the trolls all over the main media sites blaming the people, laughing at the people for being the victims of a natural disaster, and we see the government choosing to ignore them.
This destabilizes band councils in their ability to deal with the developments in our communities because they are always having to try to find money to deal with the fundamental problem, which is the failed infrastructure.
While we are talking in the House about this government-imposed bill that has not been done with proper consultations, I want to also speak about the deep sense of broken trust that exists with first nations communities and this government—in particular, the abuse of the aboriginal residential school apology.
It was the proudest moment of my life as a parliamentarian to stand in the House and see the Government of Canada acknowledge what had been done in the residential schools. Since that proud day, I have seen systematic attack on the survivors of these institutions by the federal government—in particular, the victims who survived St. Anne's residential school. In the long histories of abuse and degradation that happened in the residential schools, St. Anne's stands out as a particularly dark and brutal story.
In 1992, the Ontario Provincial Police launched an investigation into the abuse that went on at St. Anne's. It was probably the largest police investigation into child torture and abuse of its kind outside of Mount Cashel. More than 900 witness statements were gathered. Thousands of pages of documents were subpoenaed and obtained from the Catholic Church in Montreal and Moose Factory. The OPP did an extraordinary job.
Survivors of St. Anne's finally came forward to be part of the independent assessment process, which the government had set up. It told the people who survived this brutal institution that, if they came forward and told their stories, it would work this out with them. The legal responsibility of the federal government at that time, laid out in the terms of agreement under the independent assessment process schedule D, appendix VIII and appendix X, was that the federal government would provide a narrative, a written record of all the known documentation of abuse that occurred at St. Anne's. The federal government, though, chose not to tell any of the survivors, or their legal teams or their adjudicators about the thousands of pages of police evidence that the federal government was aware of, thereby undermining and compromising the independent assessment process.
I wrote to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs about this breach, because this is serious. The obligation to disclose evidence is a fundamental principle of justice. The minister wrote on July 17: “Canada is, of course, aware of the Ontario Provincial Police investigations regarding St. Anne's Indian Residential School and the resulting...trials”. However, he said that it was not their job to obtain this evidence and it certainly was not their responsibility to tell the survivors.
He also claimed that the evidence was not even admissible. He said: “...statements made to the Ontario Provincial Police in the course of investigations...cannot...be used as evidence in the Independent Assessment Process. ...only the oral testimony of a witness is considered evidence”. He then referred me to page 10, paragraph 10, of the terms of agreement. I read that and it says nothing of the kind.
I have the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs putting on record something that is completely false, regarding the withholding of evidence about the abuse and torture of children. In fact, the terms of agreement of the independent assessment process says the exact opposite to what the minister is claiming. It says “...findings in previous criminal or civil trials...may be accepted...without further proof”. This is the key issue.
The poor survivors who chose to come forward. However, I know many in our communities in Fort Albany, Moose Factory, Attawapiskat and Peawanuck who have not participated in the independent assessment process because they could not bear the trauma of being challenged and having to go through the process again. Yet, the government knew. All the evidence was there, particularly evidence that the administrators of the school built an electric chair to electrocute children, for the kicks of staff. That was in the police affidavit. The survivors coming forward would have to tell this, only to be challenged by federal lawyers who would say that it is not true or not admissible. This is the real key of the breach of trust that shows the dark, dark heart of this government.
When the issue of the fact that it had suppressed evidence and compromised the truth and reconciliation process was brought out and exposed, the government admitted that it needed to deal with this at the Ontario Superior Court. Next Tuesday, December 17, this issue will be addressed at Ontario Superior Court.
What we have found out since the July 17 letter from the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs is that the federal government had this evidence all along.
The federal government went to Ontario court in 2003 and demanded access to all of the police evidence. The government was not doing that on behalf of the victims. It said that it was its right, as the defendant and the entity responsible for the abuse of these children, to access the thousands of pages of police testimony and the 900-some witness documents about the abuse that was perpetrated against the children.
In 2003, the federal government got that evidence. In his 2003 decision, Justice Trainor said that this evidence was to be used and should be used by future plaintiffs. However, the future plaintiffs were not told that. They were lied to in the legal process that they participated in. The evidence was suppressed.
This is a very serious breach of fiduciary and legal obligations. The federal government acts as the defendant in this case against the abuse of these children, but it also acts, under the obligation of the independent assessment process, to provide all the evidence so that it can be adjudicated by the legal teams. The government decided to suppress this evidence and say that it did not know where it was or have access to it. The government even tried to claim privacy right provisions to prevent the survivors from seeing it.
The people that I represent in our communities still live with the abuse that went on at St. Anne's. There is not a family I have met who is not still trying to put the pieces back together from the intergenerational damage that was done and the outright attempt to destroy the James Bay people through this horrific institution.
The federal government knew the extent of the abuse. It knew the number of perpetrators of the abuse. It sat on it and it told the survivors who came before a legal process that there was no evidence to back up their claims. When I go home to James Bay and to see the survivors in Fort Albany, I really do not know what to tell them about a government that could be that mercenary and cold-blooded.
When the Conservative government comes forward with its colonial attitude about first nations education and its spin and misinformation and attacks on the leadership in these communities, and its blame about it being a big waste on the taxpayers, the communities that I represent know that the Conservative government is one that has not shown any good faith toward them. They know that the Conservative government is one that has breached the fundamental promise that the Prime Minister made when he stood up and talked to the survivors about the residential schools.
That system was set up to destroy the Indian in the child. Under Duncan Scott, going back, it was meant to eradicate a people. The Conservative government is continuing on a process of treating the survivors, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren who suffered under this system, in a manner that is abusive and fails to show respect.
We could continue to talk about tinkering with the Indian Act. We could talk about long-term goals, but I have never heard any long-term goals from the government when it comes to first nations. Otherwise, we could say that something fundamentally wrong happened when the treaties were breached and the children were sent off to the residential schools. It is up to the House of the common people of Canada to repair that breach. We need to do it by moving away from the abusive, uninterested, arrogant, and incompetent attitude of this government when it comes to first nations communities, first nations governance, and first nations children.
Right now, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs has his first nations education act. I have never seen a man have to run so fast from legislation that he said was going to be a great benefit to all first nations children. He is having to run from it because the government has not consulted with the communities. It is again attempting to impose a model that no other community in this country would allow.
Education is about children. Education is child-centred. The government believes that it can bring in some edicts and change things, but the government does not understand that the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs is de facto the education minister of one of the largest school populations in this country.
He cannot even tell us how many schools are condemned. He cannot even tell us how many schools need building. He cannot tell us the per person cost of educating a child under his watch. That level of negligence is astounding, because we are talking about children.
The threat the government is making now on the first nation education act is that it is going to put a little money on the table, and either everyone plays ball or it will take the money away. It has the attitude that it can dangle a carrot in front of communities that have substandard education. There are communities in my riding like Attawapiskat where, after 13, 14, 15 years, they may finally get a school. In Kashechewan in my riding, grade school still does not exist. I can name communities across this country where the schools have been condemned for years.
The government is offering to put a little money on the table, and then people will either do what the government tells them to do or it will take the money away. One has to ask what kind of government would use children as bargaining chips. We used to hear the minister say that the government gives more money to first nation children than the provincial system, but of course he was laughed out of the room for that one, so now he is saying the government will provide a little money and people will come along or it will pull the whole project.
I asked what kind of government would use children as bargaining chips. I remember when the federal government imposed a third-party manager on the band in Attawapiskat in 2011-2012. It thought the community would fold, but the community did not fold, and they went to court. When they went to court, the government cut off all the funding to the community, including for education, and the community went two months without education dollars. That would be illegal in any other jurisdiction.
There have been many fights with municipal governments, but imagine a fight with the municipal government in Toronto if it were told the money is going to be cuff off to all the schools until it complies with its mayor. That would never happen, but that is what happened in Attawapiskat. The government imposed a third-party manager at $1,800 a day, who I think was making more money than the Prime Minister, yet students were being evicted from college because the money was not being transferred for their college funds.
There are some fundamental problems with the relationship, and I would like to tell my hon. colleagues that it does not have to be this way. When I look at first nation communities across this country, I see such immense possibilities. I see inspired young people coming forward as leaders. On the James Bay coast I have seen a whole new generation of young, articulate leaders who see a much bigger world and want to be part of that world. I see industry saying it wants to find ways to get peace on the ground so development can occur, saying that for development to happen, it needs trained, empowered first nation communities, but I do not see the federal government at the table.
For example, the government claimed that the Ring of Fire—