Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to stand with my colleagues from the New Democratic Party tonight to talk about the need for this inquiry for the murdered and missing women. I thank my hon. colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou who has been such a passionate speaker on this.
I would point out that it took a procedural manoeuvre to get a discussion on the number of murdered and missing indigenous women in this country from a government that has done everything it can to stonewall this discussion.
It is September. It is a time when we talk about going back to school, and we think of our young people. I think of 16-year-old Maisy Odjick and 17-year-old Shannon Alexander, who, six years ago, walked out of their homes in Kitigan Zibi and were never seen again.
The Conservatives are talking about these people who are unemployed, who have criminal records and who live on the streets. These were top students. They were army cadets. They walked out of their homes. They were not runaways. They did not take their wallets with them, and they were never seen again. I ask members to imagine two young white students going missing in Oshawa; London, Ontario; Kamloops. Imagine the media. Imagine the articles. Imagine the mass outcry from the Canadian population that two young leaders could be stolen right from their street. That did not happen, did it?
In fact, I do not remember hearing a single story about Maisy and Shannon, and I did not learn about it until a year later, when I saw their family members putting posters up on streets in little towns in northern Ontario. I went up to that poster and said that this is what it is like to have justice as an indigenous young woman in this country. Their families have to go and put up posters to ask, “what happened to our daughters?”
What would an inquiry tell us? An inquiry would tell us how it is possible that two top young students were taken away, that there was no national plan to make the public aware, and that it was left to people putting up posters on the streets.
We have talked a bit about young Tina Fontaine, whose body was found in the Red River. However, what has not really been pointed out is that the police were not looking for Tina Fontaine. They found her accidentally, wrapped up in a garbage bag. Sgt. John O’Donovan of the Winnipeg police said what I think every parent in this country should feel. He said:
She’s a child.This is a child that’s been murdered. I think that society, we’d be horrified if we found a litter of kittens or pups in the river in this condition.
She was just a child. Again, we have to ask ourselves how it is that a police officer would have to point out that if it had been dogs or kittens who been subjected to such abuse, there would have been an outcry. This was a young indigenous woman.
Contrary to my friends in the Conservative Party who say that it is family members who do these things, it is people they know, and people with criminal records. Tina Fontaine was taken from her family because the federal government will not pay for support for children who have needs.
She was a happy, loving child. That is how they remember her. When her father died, she was taken away through Children's Aid. The reason that they took her away is why they take our children from communities across this country. It is because the federal government will not pay for the basic supports that any other child, any non-aboriginal child in this country takes for granted.
When we have a child who may be suicidal in our region, they are taken and apprehended because the federal government believes that providing suicide therapy for teenagers is not a justifiable expense of its money. It will leave a child to either die in the community or if the children's welfare groups become aware of it, often the only choice they have is apprehension. What we see with apprehension is that children are taken from their families and cultures, and all too often, they end up on the street.
What would an inquiry tell us? An inquiry would start to unpack the horrific statistics of the young people who end up being trafficked and who are living on the streets because they were taken from their homes and because basic support for counselling, therapy and family at-home support is not available. However, it is available to any non-indigenous child in this country.
We have to ask ourselves how it is in a country like Canada we have a system of systemic discrimination. If a child is on reserve, he or she just makes do.
What would an inquiry tell us? It would unpack a whole manner of things, because these are very complex issues. We would begin to see that perhaps there were vulnerable women who were murdered on the trail of tears, and what made them vulnerable, and why it was possible that women were taken without police investigations finding out who the perpetrators were. We could unpack that part.
We could unpack the part about the children and young women who are taken from their homes because the federal government will not allow therapy and in-house support for their families, so they are put into foster care. Then, like Tina Fontaine, they end up on the street. We could start to get answers there.
If we look across every city in the country, we will see that the trail of tears runs through the downtown. There are marginalized women who are considered a disposable class of human beings.
I think of this past May, when the mothers of the Nishnawbe Aksi Nation came down on Mother's Day to beat the drums and ask why the Minister of Justice, Mr. Stand-up-for-the-Victims, refused to meet the mothers and the sisters and the daughters.
What would an inquiry tell us? An inquiry would send a message that these women were loved, that they are respected, and that our Canadian society is ashamed that so many people could be allowed to disappear or die.
We would not have to have a justice minister who hides in the House of Commons while the mothers and sisters and daughters stood out there on Mother's Day. They just asked to meet to tell their stories.
Part of the showing of respect is to allow the families of the victims to be heard. We do not write them off with statistics, saying that half of them must have been killed by their relatives and that some of the others might not have had jobs. That is what we hear from the Conservatives. They will get an action plan billboard to say they responded. They should put that action plan on the trail of tears and see what difference it makes.
An inquiry is about a societal commitment to make change. We know the Conservatives are ridiculing this. They have been trying to suppress it. However, I point to Ipperwash.
What did the Ipperwash inquiry do? At Ipperwash we saw how the Conservative government of Mike Harris told the OPP to go in and take those Indians out of the park. That is what he said. Young Dudley George died. Another life was ruined that day as well. It was the OPP officer who followed the instructions that were given to him by the government. He went in and did the shooting.
What the Ipperwash inquiry told us was that things had to change, and we can see it. I can testify from the many events I have been to in my region and across the country that police officers fundamentally changed their approach to dealing with peaceful confrontation because of the Ipperwash inquiry. Therefore, lessons can be learned.
It is about respect. It is about recognizing the fact that in 2014, in a country as rich as Canada, thinking simply on the basis of their race that it is okay to say to children that they do not have the right to safe schools, to proper homes, to the basic supports that any other child in the country takes for granted has to end.
Will an inquiry solve all these issues? No, but it will send a message that the healing needs to begin, that the path of reconciliation needs to begin. It will send a message that the country that broke the treaty from the beginning has to recognize that we are still in this relationship together and that it has to change, because it is the primary relationship on which the country has been built.