That the House recognize that a disproportionate number of Indigenous women and girls have suffered violence, gone missing, or been murdered over the past three decades; and that the government has a responsibility to provide justice for the victims, healing for the families, and to work with partners to put an end to the violence; and that a special committee be appointed, with the mandate to conduct hearings on the critical matter of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and to propose solutions to address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women across the country; that the committee consist of twelve members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair is from the government party; that in addition to the Chair, there be one Vice-Chair from each of the opposition parties; that the committee have all of the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada, subject to the usual authorization from the House; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Whip of each party depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party’s members of the committee no later than March 28, 2013; that the quorum of the special committee be seven members for any proceedings, provided that at least a member of the opposition and of the government party be present; that membership substitutions be permitted to be made from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2); and that the committee report its recommendations to the House no later than February 14, 2014.
Mr. Speaker, it is with a great deal of emotion that we address today the motion of the Liberal Party to strike a special parliamentary committee with the mandate to conduct hearings on the critical issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada.
It is not a coincidence that families of Sisters in Spirit and Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society have chosen February 14 to come here to Parliament Hill to plead their case. Cindy's Have a Heart rally is at the Centennial Flame this morning, and today at noon the families of Sisters in Spirit will meet at the Langevin Block and march to Parliament Hill on their day of justice.
Today, the UN is part of a campaign called One Billion Rising. It is the largest day of action on the issue of violence against women and girls. It is a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Unfortunately, we in Canada are not just supporting a movement about violence against women and girls in post-conflict zones or in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, it is here at home that we have to deal with this systemic violence against indigenous women and girls in Canada.
Tragically, more than 600 aboriginal women and girls have disappeared or been murdered in Canada since 1970. Moreover, aboriginal women in Canada experience rates of violence more than three times that of non-aboriginal women. Young aboriginal women are five times more likely to die of violence.
However, it is important that the rallies today make it clear that this is not just about appalling unfairness and injustice. It is about missing daughters, mothers, aunties, cousins, nieces, real people who have now left a real hole in the hearts of their families and their friends. It is so overwhelming to see the pictures of the missing and murdered women clutched by their bereaved family members, who have been clear with us in meeting after meeting that they will never heal, but they need support on their healing journey. They want justice. They want prevention. They want the violence to stop. They know it needs a systemic solution.
I have heard the stories from Prince George to downtown Winnipeg. I slipped into the back of the hearing room at the Oppal inquiry in Vancouver on the Pickton murders to hear from the families and I can tell members, we are not doing enough.
From 30 years ago when Helen Betty Osborne, who was clearly killed because she was an aboriginal woman, we have continued in this country to not do enough. Look at the names on the Sisters in Spirit website of Lorna Blacksmith, Daleen Kay Bosse, Claudette Osborne, Pamela Holopainen, Hilary Bonnell. Yesterday in the Human Rights Watch poignant paper, we saw the Highway of Tears sign with the names of Tamara and Cecilia and Delphine, and the people who are no longer with us because of this systemic violence.
The sign at these rallies that always touches me the most is, “To the world, she was one person. To us she was the world”. It means that we cannot deal with this in only the horrific statistics. We have to deal with this as a very human problem of human families and communities. It is also the systemic problem of the effects of residential schools, of colonization. The fact is that we have to address this head-on. We need the 96% of Canadians who are not from an aboriginal background to understand and work with us in this serious injustice.
We need a public and national inquiry. There is no question that our motion today is not to say that this will be instead of a public inquiry. We want a national inquiry, but the government has been so reticent to actually do what is necessary, to deal head-on and analyze the root causes, to seek justice and to prevent and end the violence. We are asking, in the absence of a public inquiry, that our motion today would establish a special committee that would be able to hear evidence and propose recommendations to address the root causes of violence against indigenous women across the country, to seek justice and to identify a real action plan to stop the violence.
These were things that were asked of the Government of Canada yesterday in the Human Rights Watch report. The issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls must never be just an issue for first nations, Métis and Inuit in Canada. It is a matter of critical importance to all Canadians. This is, quite simply, a source of national and international embarrassment.
Canada has been regularly criticized by organizations like Amnesty International, in 2004 and 2011, and the United Nations, in 2008, for neglecting to investigate and address the issues of violence against aboriginal women and girls.
This is not a partisan issue. The motion is not about politics.
All of the parties need to rally together and join forces to do everything they can to provide justice for the victims, provide healing for the families and put an end to this epidemic.
Many members of Parliament, on all sides, have expressed a desire to deal with the issue. The Conservative member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo has said:
—I have to share a sense of shame to know that my province and my country are identified as one of the worst in terms of missing aboriginal women and children. No one can feel anything but shame over those circumstances.
In March, 2010, then Conservative Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Chuck Strahl, stated that the government “will take...action to address the disturbing number of unsolved cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal women”. As well, the current Minister of Justice committed:
We will work with provinces, territories, aboriginal people and other stakeholders for effective solutions. After all, we all have a stake in finding a solution....
However, it is time for the government to match its words with action. It is time for the all ministers of the Crown to put their resources together to ensure that a parliamentary committee is able to hear the witnesses it needs to hear and for each minister to commit to act on the recommendations of this special committee.
Recently, the Government of Manitoba hosted a meeting to discuss the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. All provincial, territorial and federal ministers of aboriginal affairs, justice and the status of women were invited. The federal ministers were the only ones who did not attend. Instead, they sent their bureaucrats. This is not good enough. If this had been happening to non-aboriginal Canadian women at the same rate, over 20,000 women would be murdered by now.
If hundreds of women and girls were disappearing or were being murdered in our communities and our ridings, it would be considered a crisis and people would demand immediate action.
It is as if two 747s fell out of the sky and nothing was done to figure out why.
I invite all members to join in solidarity with families of Sisters in Spirit at noon to mark this day of justice for families of Sisters in Spirit and to remember and honour the lives of missing and murdered women and girls. This deplorable pattern of violence and indifference experienced by aboriginal women and girls clearly requires a more comprehensive response from the government and Parliament.
I believe we can work together across party lines to confront this unabated violence. A non-partisan study was begun by Parliament in 2010 to gather information about the extent of the violence against aboriginal women, programs in place to address it, the root causes and what steps could be taken to break the cycle.
Although very important, the work of that committee failed to specifically address the problem of the missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.
Further, that work was, unfortunately, interrupted by the 2011 election and the mandate of the committee was subsequently shifted to the aftermath of the violence and to empowering women and girls. This appalling situation is, unfortunately, not a recent revelation. Now it is time to come together to provide justice for the victims and healing for the families and to put an end to this tragic injustice.
Back in 2004, Amnesty International released its Stolen Sisters report, which showed that indigenous women in Canada faced gender- and race-based discrimination and a heightened and unacceptable risk of violence. Among other recommendations, Amnesty International called on the government to ensure adequate funding for comprehensive national research on violence against indigenous women, including the creation of a national registry to collect and analyze statistical information from all jurisdictions. In 2005, in response to mounting evidence that hundreds of aboriginal women in Canada were going missing or had been murdered, the previous Liberal government invested $5 million, through the Native Women's Association and Sisters in Spirit, to create a national database of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Unfortunately, in 2010, the Conservatives cut the funding and mandated that any future funding for the Native Women's Association could not be used for Sisters in Spirit.
The information uncovered by this comprehensive research project was truly heartbreaking. NWAC had gathered information about 582 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Of these, 67% were murder cases; 20% were cases of missing women and girls; and 4% were cases of suspicious deaths, deaths regarded as natural or accidental by police but considered suspicious by family or community members.
NWAC's research indicates that between 2000 and 2008, aboriginal women and girls represented approximately 10% of all female homicides in Canada. However, aboriginal women make up only 3% of the female population. This is nothing short of shocking. Further, in terms of justice for the victims, it is important to point out that although the national clearance rate for homicides in Canada is 84%, according to the NWAC statistics, almost half of the homicides involving aboriginal women and girls remain unsolved. This requires a systemic approach. A complaints commission for the RCMP will not fix the systemic inability of our justice system to seek justice for these missing and murdered aboriginal women. Half the cases are unsolved. There is no explanation other than discrimination and a two-tiered justice system. We know how to fix this, and we have to fix it now.
In 2010, as the government cancelled the Sisters in Spirit funding, the Conservatives provided $10 million in funding for a series of initiatives that they argued were directed at missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. However, most of the money went to police initiatives that track missing persons in general, without any particular focus on the specific patterns of violence against indigenous women.
The Prime Minister's answers yesterday on a related matter in question period showed a true lack of compassion and a lack of understanding of the scope of this issue. How on earth can we fix the unbelievable difference between violence against aboriginal and non-aboriginal women without the capacity to track disaggregated data? As Claudette Dumont-Smith, the executive director of NWAC, said yesterday at the Human Rights Watch press conference, these programs may well be positive criminal justice initiatives. However, there are still important gaps in the available data that must be filled to ensure that the policy directed at this specific issue is based on sound information and facts rather than on ideology. Recent reports from the Oppal Missing Women Commission of Inquiry and from Human Rights Watch have made clear that there are serious shortcomings in our policing and justice systems, which too often have failed to protect indigenous women and girls, and this must change.
The Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police is one of the few law enforcement organizations to keep comprehensive statistics on missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. According to its website, in 2012 there were 30 missing women in Saskatchewan, and 17, or 57%, of these were aboriginal. Yet only 14% of the population of Saskatchewan is aboriginal. These sorts of data should be available for the entire country, but police in many jurisdictions do not even report whether the victims of crime are indigenous. This is why it was so disappointing that in 2010, the Conservative government cut the funding for the NWAC Sisters in Spirit database.
I want to repeat and address again the need for a full national public inquiry. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch's report, “Those Who Take Us Away”, was crystal clear. Among other things, it called on the Government of Canada to establish a national commission of inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls before the end of 2013 and to develop and implement a national action plan to address violence against indigenous women and girls, the structural roots of the violence, and the accountability and coordination of government bodies charged with preventing and responding to the violence.
Liberals first raised the need for a federal public inquiry and investigation of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in the House of Commons in May 2009 and subsequently called for a national public inquiry into the issue in 2010, 2011 and 2012. During the 2011 federal election campaign, Liberals committed to initiating a national task force to examine the systemic causes of this problem, with an emphasis on preventing its continuation in the future.
Our call today for a parliamentary committee in no way means that we are backing away from that commitment. On October 12, 2012, the national day of remembrance, I put my Motion No. 411 on the order paper. It calls on the government to take immediate action to deal with this systemic problem and to call a public inquiry. Liberals have joined the AFN, the Native Women's Association of Canada and all of Canadian society in calling for a national public inquiry on this issue.
Every time we make this request, the government refuses.
We need to work together to begin the process of collecting the necessary data and information and of finding solutions now.
This motion offers parliamentarians the opportunity to extend our support to those families that have been touched by the loss of a loved one to violence and to seek justice for all who have been touched by this continuing tragedy. The Conservatives claim that they stand up for victims of crime. Unfortunately, many people in Canada say, that is unless the victim of crime happens to be an aboriginal woman or girl. We are asking them to join us, to stand up for missing and murdered aboriginal women—the mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunties and cousins and the families who loved and cherished them—and support this motion.
Today the UN is calling, with its End Violence Against Women Campaign, for the V-Day pledge:
One Billion Rising is the beginning of the new world ignited by a new energy. It is not the end of a struggle but the escalation of it, so V-Day is asking those who are rising around the globe to take a simple pledge this Thursday, to do one thing in the next year to end violence against women. It can be a simple action, or a monumental one; it can be personal, or political, it can be quiet or loud, but these actions—taken together—will create change.
I encourage all members of the House to support this motion. It may be simple, but it will be loud and it will create change.