Mr. Speaker, I rise to comment on the report prepared by the special committee on violence against indigenous women.
I would like to thank all of the committee members from all sides of the House for their study and analysis of these heinous crimes against aboriginal women and girls in this country.
Family violence and violent crimes against aboriginal women and girls continues to be a serious problem in Canada. Much work remains to be done to respond to and prevent this violence in the future.
Our government believes, without question, that aboriginal women deserve respect, dignity, and the right to feel safe and protected from harm. We recognize that Canadians expect us to act decisively in addressing this very serious issue. That is why, for many years, we have taken action to prevent these deplorable crimes.
I would like to assure my colleagues, and indeed all Canadians, that our government will continue to take strong and decisive action to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.
While this government response, as well as the action plan to address family violence and violent crime against aboriginal women and girls, is a very important initiative, I would like to take a few minutes to speak about what our government has already accomplished on this front.
I remind the House that in 2007, the government announced an investment of $55.6 million over five years to support and expand Canada's network of on-reserve shelters.
Budget 2010 committed $25 million over five years to improve community safety and to ensure that the justice system and law enforcement agencies could better respond to cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
RCMP reports now show that cases involving violence against aboriginal women and girls have solve rates that are nearly identical to the national average.
In October 2010, our government announced seven concrete steps to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and to make our communities safer. These were over and above other important programs, such as the half-million-dollar investment in the Native Women's Association of Canada from the From Evidence to Action program and the government's aboriginal justice strategy, which serves approximately 400 communities.
Last June, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act received royal assent. The legislation ensures basic rights and protections to individuals on reserves regarding the family home and other matrimonial interests or rights during a relationship, in the event of a relationship breakdown, and on the death of a spouse or common-law partner.
This important piece of legislation finally eliminated a long-standing legislative gap that discriminated against a specific group of Canadians and that led to the suffering of many women, men, and families who live on reserve.
Since the Indian Act was silent on the issue of matrimonial rights and real property and there were no comparable federal laws, the result was a legislative gap. While laws are in place to protect Canadians who live off reserve, there was no equivalent for most Canadians who live on reserves in this country.
Women and children living on first nations lands were already among the most vulnerable of Canadians. They had been affected the most by this legislative gap, and their suffering might have continued even further if not for this legislative change.
It should be noted that this is not the only legislative gap that we have filled. By repeating section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, we closed a 30-year legislative gap by ensuring that for the first time, hundreds of thousands of first nations people living on reserves get the same human rights protections as other Canadians by including them under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
We did not stop there. Economic action plan 2013 committed $24 million over two years for the family violence prevention program, ensuring that total annual funding remained at $30.4 million for each of the following two years.
Another component of our government's efforts to address violence against aboriginal women and girls is the family violence protection program.
There are two core elements of the program. The first is operational funding for a network of 41 shelters in the provinces and in Yukon. Shelters are vital to the safety and well-being of women and children in crisis situations.
Some 330 first nations communities, or 55%, are served by this initiative. Since 2006, our government has invested $205.8 million in family violence prevention on reserve. These investments have provided important, and in some cases life-saving, shelter services for over 19,600 children and 22,600 women.
The second aspect of the program involves proposal-based prevention activities. Prevention projects can include public outreach and awareness, education campaigns, conferences, seminars, workshops, counselling, support groups, and community needs assessments. Since 2006, the program has financed over 2,100 family violence prevention and awareness activities in first nation communities across Canada.
It is clear that our government understands—and we talked about this at committee—that a large part of solving this issue involves raising awareness among aboriginal men, boys, women, and children. The truth is that this government's investments are producing results. We are enhancing the safety and security of on-reserve residents, particularly, women and children. There are success stories from across the country.
Take the example of the Wapikoni Mobile initiative, which started in Quebec. Mentor filmmakers travel to aboriginal communities to provide workshops for first nation youth, with the goal of creating short films and musical creations on themes such as abuse and violence.
Look at the Six Nations' annual community walk against community violence. This is a significant event, involving community members raising awareness of family violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse, bullying, and lateral violence, as well as ending violence against missing and murdered aboriginal women. Our funding supported the recording of the event to promote awareness and educate the communities on these serious issues.
In addition to these encouraging initiatives, the family violence prevention program also allocates funding to the National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence. Its mandate is to support and contribute to the success of women's shelters and transition houses that provide services to aboriginal women and children across Canada. The circle initiates, designs, and delivers culturally appropriate programs and services to address family violence and to support shelters and family violence prevention centres. It organizes national annual training forums for front-line workers. As well, it produces publications free of charge, including “Ending Violence: Best Practices” and “Policies and Procedures: Guidelines for Shelters”.
This is another example of our government's actions to prevent violence against aboriginal women and girls, and of our desire to collaborate with willing partners to work toward shared objectives on reserve.
Some of the initiatives I have highlighted form the foundation of our government's action plan to address family violence and violent crimes against aboriginal women and girls. The action plan responds to all 16 recommendations from the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women. It builds on the knowledge gathered through the government's investments, which I have noted, as well as the RCMP's recent national operational overview. The new plan includes concrete measures under three pillars: preventing violence; supporting aboriginal victims and families; and protecting aboriginal women and girls.
An important part of today's discussion, the action plan on family violence and violent crimes against aboriginal women and girls invests an additional $1.34 million in AANDC's family violence prevention program per year. This brings the total annual funding for this important initiative to $31.74 million.
Clearly, our government, and indeed the House is deeply disturbed about the high incidence of violence against aboriginal women and girls. However, as I have outlined, we are taking action. While others call for more studies, we call for more action. That is why I urge all parliamentarians to join our efforts in realizing this worthy goal.