Mr. Speaker, today I rise in support of, and in solidarity with, the generations of first nations, Métis and Inuit women who have come before me and will come after me. Today I would like to add my voice to the apparent silence that exists for indigenous women in Canada's justice system and speak in support of Bill S-215.
Within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, all individuals are guaranteed equality before and under the law. All individuals have the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination. However, it is clear that this is not the case for first nation, Métis or Inuit women.
If indigenous women had equal protection under the law, we would not have an ongoing inquiry into the 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. All those women and girls had names, are loved and have families and communities that continue to search for justice in a system that does not view them as equals.
If indigenous women were viewed as equals in Canadian society, we would not mourn with the families of young indigenous women lost in child and family care. We would not have to continue to fight for an inquiry into the systemic oppression indigenous women face. We would not have a Highway of Tears, and in 2018, we would not have to call for justice for the indigenous women forced into sterilization.
When first nation, Métis and Inuit women and the organizations that support them call for justice and propose changes to the justice system, we should be listening. Not only should we be listening, we should do everything in our power to bring those changes and reforms into effect.
Canada has a long history of oppressing and excluding indigenous women from systems of justice, but surely Canada's future is one that includes the voices of indigenous women. For this reason, I am proud to support this bill my friend in Saskatchewan, who serves our province in the other place, has brought forward, which is now being considered here. Bill S-215 would amend the Criminal Code to require a court to consider that when a victim of assault or murder was a first nation, Métis or Inuit female person, this fact would constitute an aggravating circumstance for the purpose of sentencing.
It is not without precedent that consideration of aggravating circumstances has been given to other groups in society. Among others, police officers, transit workers and animals have been identified as vulnerable within the Canadian justice system by virtue of the line of work and social position they are in when they are the victims of a crime.
The evidence exists for indigenous women to be given similar status. A 2014 RCMP report, reports from the Native Women's Association of Canada and reports from Amnesty International all affirm that indigenous women are three to four times more likely than other Canadian women to be murdered, sexually assaulted or made missing. Aboriginal women are seven times more likely to be targeted by serial killers. Statistics Canada has reported that being indigenous is a significant risk factor for women to experience violence, but that is not the case for indigenous men.
I myself am an indigenous woman from northern Saskatchewan, and I repeat these statistics here not for my benefit but for the benefit of my colleagues present in the House today. My family and community are Dene. Most of the constituents in my riding are first nation or Métis. My constituents know how difficult life is for indigenous people in Canada, because they see and experience Canada as indigenous people.
Our families suffered and survived residential schools. We feel the pain of colonialism every time young indigenous persons lose their lives, either from suicide or the violent actions of others. We feel the isolation of the north when we have to hitchhike for medical care. We know the danger of what it is like to be indigenous, because in virtually every way, our lives are governed by a colonial system that puts our communities at a lower status than those of non-indigenous Canadians.
Like many indigenous women, I am personally affected by the injustice of violence against women. My auntie Janet Sylvestre and my friend Myrna Montgrand are among the 1,200 women and girls who were murdered and made missing. To this day, their killers are not known. Happy Charles, from La Ronge, has been missing for a year and a half, and her family remains determined, despite a lack of answers.
I understand that we do not make policies or decisions as a government from the stories of individuals or from the anecdotes of history. However, at certain points in history, the stories of individuals become the narratives of a country if those stories are told again and again. This story of violence against indigenous women has been repeated far too often for us to think of it as a footnote.
Our stories exist to teach us lessons and guide our future. If we learn nothing from the continued story of violence against indigenous women from the stories of Happy, Janet and Myrna, among so many others, we do nothing but silence those who bravely step forward to speak. This narrative of violence must be accounted for in Canada's laws so that indigenous women are no longer targeted and overwhelmingly the victims of violence in Canada.
Of course, the bill is not without concerns. I have heard and read the debates about how Bill S-215 would be unfair to aboriginal offenders who could be sentenced to more time in prison, and as a result, would be more likely to reoffend in the future. In particular, the bill, if implemented, could potentially negatively interfere with the section of the Criminal Code known as the Gladue provisions. To this I have two responses.
First, as my colleague from Manitoba has said, the Gladue provisions of the Criminal Code are not meant to reduce prison time. The Gladue provisions are intended to ask the court to consider alternatives to prison, such as restorative justice and rehabilitation programs. Programs like these retrain and heal offenders and thereby decrease the likelihood that they will reoffend.
Furthermore, the Gladue principles do not call for sentences outside the range of legally available penalties. A court cannot substitute a sentence just because someone is indigenous. The practitioners of violence would still get the punishment the law calls for, even with the aggravating circumstances the bill would put in place. It is even questionable whether the Gladue principles could be applied to violent crimes, with the Supreme Court ruling that for serious offences, there may not be any reduction in imprisonment for aboriginal offenders.
Second, I want to speak about the balance of rights for indigenous women in the justice system. It says a lot in a debate about how we can help indigenous women and their families get the justice they are owed when we put the concerns of the offender over the concerns of the victim. Do not get me wrong. I am not trying to say that perpetrators of violence do not have rights, because those rights are important, but where we have protections for aboriginal offenders in Gladue reports, our courts must not fail to consider the situations and circumstances of the victims.
Indigenous women who are the victims of violent crime are affected by the same historical factors and upheaval of economic development experienced by their communities. Not only are indigenous women victimized by the accused, they are victims of systemic discrimination and are economically and socially disadvantaged to a greater degree than the accused.
Bill S-215 is not a catch-all solution for the problems indigenous women face in the justice system. The justice system is not destined to stay the same forever. It changes just as society does. It is a living, breathing system full of individuals who are constantly challenging it. Bill S-215 is an opportunity for us to examine and question the belief systems judges, lawyers, police officers and court workers have and calls on them to see indigenous women from a new perspective.
For these reasons, I am proud to support this bill that works to create a safer world and a more equitable justice system for first nation, Métis and Inuit women.