House of Commons Hansard #264 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was peoples.

Topics

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2018 / 7:45 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the hon. member's commitment to this issue and to indigenous peoples.

I would like to ask him about the importance of a rights-based framework and the implementation of indigenous rights, and the steps needed to make sure that indigenous peoples can enjoy their full rights in the court system, without taking part in the courts to the same degree they are now. What systemic changes does he see that we should be taking as a government, and as parliamentarians, to prevent the next generation of indigenous kids from filling up our criminal justice system and our jails like they do today?

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think the basis of our work in all the things that we do, either from a policy perspective or a legislative perspective, needs to be based on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The norms contained in the UN declaration are the minimum standards for the survival of the dignity, well-being, and security of indigenous peoples in this place.

I am grateful that the government has supported Bill C-262, because that is the kind of basic framework we need in this country.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I always appreciate the thoughtful words of my colleague on the indigenous affairs committee.

I am very concerned by what I see as a very difficult situation in Saskatchewan. Communities are experiencing challenges. I already mentioned the anger that we see.

I am wondering if my colleague has any suggestions that we could talk about tonight with respect to how we might support these communities in terms of healing from the very tragic death of Colten Boushie.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, these types of situations have already been studied to death. I mentioned the aboriginal justice commission of Manitoba which looked into the 1971 murder of Helen Betty Osborne. It is a similar case. In this case, the commissioner's report recommended that the Criminal Code be changed with respect to jurors. When I look at that report and the quote that I read a while ago, that is the first step we need to take in this type of situation.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is really a question of justice. As a mother of indigenous sons, and as a grandmother of three indigenous grandchildren, Kwastanaya or Naya, Shoshonie, and Little Dude, we have to look at the reality of this case and the beautiful soul that is no longer with us, Colten Boushie. We have to look at our justice system and see what the value of an indigenous life is. That is something that all of us in the House are questioning. All parents of indigenous children across this country are very concerned. We need to know that when our children leave our house their lives are valuable.

I am wondering if the member could talk about how we look at a justice system and how we remind all Canadians that every life, especially those that we have not valued, are valuable.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier a member talked about living on a reserve. I still do too.

My dear hope is that this type of case will not surface again in the future. I faced exclusion throughout my life and still do to this day. That needs to stop. The words “reconciliation” and “justice” go together, and if we are truly committed to reconciliation and justice, there cannot be reconciliation in this country in the absence of justice.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about the experience of many first nations, Inuit, and Métis people within Canada's justice system.

I stand here to state that the value of an indigenous young person is more valuable than property, and it should be. Human life is precious and should be respected. I ask why the late Colten Boushie and his family were treated like criminals. Why were Colten Boushie and his family not treated like the victims they clearly were? This past week offers a clear signal of the catastrophic failures of the criminal justice system.

The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that comprehensive changes to the legal system are put in place and that systemic changes be made to improve the justice system. There are indigenous people in my province who feel threatened today. They fear for their safety. All levels of government must play a key role in ensuring that all citizens feel safe in Saskatchewan and everywhere in Canada. The provincial government must address why indigenous people feel unsafe. All levels of government must enact changes to the Canadian justice system to prevent further victimization of indigenous people.

The justice system is failing indigenous people. The under-representation of indigenous people on the Stanley jury has been well documented. It is clear to me that the peremptory challenges used to keep indigenous people off the jury reflected a horrible failure in our treatment of indigenous people in the justice system, but we knew that already, and if we did not know it before, we have certainly come to learn it in the last several days.

There is a huge body of research on indigenous peoples' experience with the legal system. Indigenous people are suffering under its weight. There are more and more reports of youth suicides, increased homelessness, unacceptably high unemployment levels, and a shockingly high rate of incarceration. It seems easier for indigenous people to end up in jail than it is to be given a fair chance to succeed.

We also know that indigenous people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, both as victims and offenders. Indigenous youth aged 12 to 17 accounted for 37% of provincial and territorial custody admissions. Before they finish high school, there is a good chance indigenous youth will have had encounters with the police and faced criminal charges and incarceration. I repeat that it is 37%. Anyone who does not know that this is a crisis is not paying attention.

Perhaps we could benefit by a review of Manitoba's Aboriginal Justice Inquiry report's recommendations and the Gladue decision, which called on the courts to take into account factors that brought indigenous offenders before the court. At the core of the Gladue process is the imperative of the courts to take into account the impacts of colonialism on indigenous peoples, who feel that they are not valued, that they are disposable, and that they are treated like criminals all the time.

Today, the Prime Minister spoke about making changes. If he does not lead his government to make those changes, he risks raising indigenous peoples' hopes again, only to disappoint them again. First nations, Inuit, Métis people, and advocates have been saying for years that prisons and foster care have replaced the old residential school system. Research shows that change must occur so that indigenous peoples' lives can improve. Indigenous youth, elders, and families will have listened to the Prime Minister's words today and again felt some hope. The government must lead the change that has been promised today. Please do not disappoint the indigenous peoples again. Please do not shatter their hopes again.

I echo the sentiment of the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Bobby Cameron, when he said the other day that the verdict in the Stanley case was “nothing new”. It simply “highlighted and exposed the ugliness of justice system in Canada”. The Boushie family was here this week to advocate strongly for meaningful reform. They were encouraged by what they heard. Please do not disappointment them again.

We all learned this week that the justice system is failing indigenous people. I stand ready to work with the government to make the changes that were promised.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to probe a little this issue of peremptory challenges. I have been reading some of the commentary back and forth in the press on this. Some people have expressed the idea that peremptory challenges affect indigenous people who might otherwise have been jurors, but I have also heard the argument that perhaps peremptory challenges, given equally to both sides, can also be used to remove people from juries who might have a bias against indigenous people.

I am curious to hear the member's thoughts on that argument and if this is an ideal change or if there is the potential for other changes to be made to the jury selection process, recognizing that some at least have argued that there might be unintended consequences of removing peremptory challenges entirely.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, when we look at the words of the peremptory challenge, the keywords are the chosen, the potential jurors, and candidates are “reflective of all communities”.

How can anyone say that an all-Caucasian jury is reflective of the indigenous community, when the victim was Colten Boushie? We are talking about indigenous families, and it was not equal.

Again, it is reflective of all communities. It goes both ways. How would you feel if the scenarios were reversed, and you were the victim and all the jurors were aboriginal or indigenous?

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I would remind hon. members to direct their comments to the Chair.

The hon. member for Courtenay—Alberni.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my good friend for her important speech. My father, Frank, who is Cree, and my aunts and uncles told me they grew up with discrimination, whether in a restaurant or being pulled over by the side of road by a police officer, unfairly. My grandma, who is 92, who speaks her language to this day, faced discrimination her whole life. One thing they expected was that, at least in court, they would be treated fairly. They would have an opportunity to defend themselves if they were unfairly charged, or charged for a crime and they wanted to make sure they had an opportunity to defend themselves and present the evidence fairly.

We know the system we are seeing right now is broken, and clearly, it is not a safe place. I would like to ask my colleague and good friend about the importance of the urgency that the government fix this broken system in order to give confidence back to Canadians and to indigenous people, so that they will know that if they have to go to court to defend themselves they will have their fellow citizens there who will reflect the people in their communities, and they will be given justice. Perhaps she could comment on the significance of the government expediting this, to give confidence to Canadians, especially to indigenous people in our country.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

NDP

Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, today, we heard the Prime Minister speak and offer really encouraging words, raising hope in the indigenous community. Indigenous people in communities across Canada have wanted and asked for change for decades. They have asked for reforms in the justice system and at various levels. Report after report has occurred, requesting change over and over again.

The families that are here this week are still asking. The indigenous peoples are still asking. I would like to ask the government how it can speed up the process to ensure that progress is being made.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Mr. Speaker, every time I rise in the House I do so with tremendous pride. I am proud to represent the riding of Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, and I am proud to be a Métis nation member of Parliament.

When I rise, I often think of Louis Riel, who was born in Saint Boniface and currently rests there, because Riel was never granted the same privilege that I am being granted. Louis Riel was democratically elected as a member of Parliament for the constituency of Provencher, not on one or two occasions but on three occasions, yet he was never allowed to rightfully take his seat in the House.

Therefore, today I rise, on the eve of Louis Riel Day in Manitoba, and I reflect on Riel's own treatment by Canada's justice system. Sentenced to death on the charge of treason for defending the rights of the Métis people in Saskatchewan, the jury that sentenced Louis Riel was comprised of six Protestant men of English and Scottish descent.

Over 130 years later, Canada is a much different place, but the colonial legacy of racism and systemic racism remains within our institutions.

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recently presented in the House its report on the forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination. I had the honour of sitting on that committee during its study and I heard academics and indigenous advocates speak in detail about the systemic racism that exists in our country today. There is no doubt that systemic racism is present today.

It was during this testimony for the study on Motion No. 103 that Senator Sinclair, who was a witness, stated that “systemic racism is the racism that's left over after you get rid of the racists.”

The systems, the policies, the procedures in place within our institutions are very often inherently discriminatory as they were built from our colonial heritage and cultures.

It is the systemic nature of this racism that leads to a higher likelihood that bail will be denied for indigenous people. It is the systemic nature of this racism that means indigenous people spend more time in pretrial detention. It is the systemic nature of this racism that leads to indigenous people being more likely to be charged with multiple offences than non-indigenous accused. It is system racism that causes indigenous people to be more than twice as likely to be incarcerated.

The statistics reveal the shocking reality that indigenous people face within the justice system. In my home province of Manitoba, over 70% of the inmates identify as indigenous, yet the indigenous population of Manitoba is 15%.

Indigenous people are not predisposed to violence or criminality, any more than any other population group. Nothing in indigenous culture predisposes this. Nothing in human nature predisposes this. We must face the reality that the long history of colonialism in Canada has led to discrimination and social inequality. The causes of crime must be examined within this context. There are links between poverty, marginalization, and criminal behaviour, but these factors are, again, steeped in systemic racism.

The justice system itself has historically contributed to poverty in indigenous communities in many ways, such as not assisting indigenous communities in enforcing treaty rights, and other rights. The marginalization of indigenous populations is the result of systemic efforts by the government. One needs to look no further than residential schools. Rather than respect the inherent and treaty rights of indigenous people, the government of the day attempted to assimilate the indigenous population.

By continuing to deny indigenous people their inherent and treaty rights, we have perpetuated a cycle of poverty and marginalization throughout many generations.

The scars left by the residential schools are still deeply felt in our indigenous communities. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald said that we needed to “kill the Indian in the child”, in other words, remove the child from his or her culture, language, and traditions. The abuse and trauma that residential school survivors experienced have lasting repercussions in their own lives, as well as in the lives of their descendants and on the health of their communities.

This denial of culture is still happening today. We do not know what the long-term impacts of the current crisis within the child welfare system will be, but we do know that indigenous children across the country are more likely to be apprehended and placed in foster care.

My own province, sadly, has over 12,000 indigenous children in care. Too often they are not placed in culturally appropriate homes. Instead, the history of assimilation of indigenous people is being created within this system. This crisis has often been described as the new sixties scoop, another devastating historical wrong perpetuated by government and colonialism.

I hate to say it, but there are people in Canada who grew up fearing indigenous peoples, and particularly indigenous men. They were taught to fear indigenous people. Hate is learned behaviour.

The number of hate crimes perpetuated against indigenous people across the country is still staggeringly high. Compounding the issue is the inconsistent reporting of hate crimes. Victims are too often reluctant to report hate crimes to law enforcement, and we are not able to have an accurate account of hate crimes and hate-motivated violence in Canada. Under-reporting is an acute issue among the indigenous population, due to lack of trust by indigenous communities toward law enforcement.

It is unacceptable that in Canada indigenous men and women are more likely to face violence and murder. In 2015, 25% of murder victims were indigenous. The rate of violent victimization for indigenous women is double that of non-indigenous women. Too many families have undergone the trauma and pain of losing a loved one to violence. I certainly do not want to pre-empt the work of the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls commission, but I hope its work will lead to concrete actions to end this ongoing tragedy.

One of the most frustrating issues in this debate is that none of these issues is new. It was in 1988 that the Manitoba government launched the Public Inquiry into the Administration of Justice and Aboriginal People, and it issued its report in 1991. Many of the problems we are discussing tonight were addressed in this report, and I encourage all members to seek out this report, which was co-authored by Senator Murray Sinclair from Manitoba.

However, we are moving toward a path of reconciliation, and I must end my speech with hope, because I feel hope. In spite of all the sadness, anger, and frustration, I genuinely feel hope. We are all in this together, whether we are Liberals or Conservatives, indigenous or non-indigenous. We are all in this together and we need to find our way out of this together.

Indigenous people of Canada deserve better, and I truly believe the actions of the government are working to improve the lives of indigenous people throughout Canada. I was very proud to hear the Prime Minister speak today about building a new rights-based framework in collaboration with indigenous people. This comprehensive strategy would work to fully recognize and implement indigenous rights.

Ultimately, we cannot solve the issues of systemic violence within our institutions without moving forward toward self-determination for indigenous people. This strategy is an important step toward this goal. Further, the justice minister has begun a broad review of the criminal justice system, which will include a review of indigenous participation within the justice system.

Finally, before taking questions, I would like to thank the family and the loved ones of Colten Boushie for taking the time to meet me yesterday. I share their grief for the loss of their loved one. No family should have to face the pain of losing a loved one to violence.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Hope, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned a number of statistics, very troubling and alarming statistics, and unfortunately, as he said, they are statistics we have heard before. I think he would agree with me that one statistic that crosses all cultures, all groups of people in Canada, is that the lower the level of education, the more likely people are to have interactions with the criminal justice system.

Our previous government tried. Bill C-33 was our effort in the previous Parliament to try to improve first nations education, recognizing the difficulty of education in first nations communities, given the history of residential schools. We are talking about the criminal justice system, but I want to get the member's thoughts on the importance of a quality education for first nations and indigenous students, one that is the same as for non-indigenous students, as well as how we can work together to get there so that more indigenous students have a good education, have better options, and are able to make the choices many of us take for granted in non-indigenous communities.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Mr. Speaker, I firmly believe—and I do not think there is a member in this chamber who would disagree—that education is a way to a better life, education that is respectful and that respects the cultural heritage of indigenous people, education that respects the indigenous languages of the Métis, first nations, and Inuit people of our country.

I am very proud of what our government is doing. We are investing over $2.6 billion in the next five years for indigenous education, first nations education, and we feel that is something that is a concrete first step. However, there is much more work to do, and we are committed to doing the work that is necessary, in partnership with first nations, Métis, and Inuit people.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been very encouraging to hear the government members talk about justice. I would encourage Canadians to read a fascinating document supplied by the justice department that gives the real view of indigenous justice. That was the factums that were provided to the B.C. Supreme Court to fight the St. Anne's residential school survivors.

However, the government's position is so shocking in attacking reconciliation and attacking the basic rights of indigenous people that it had those factums put under a sealing order. It had the trial put under a sealing order. Even after it won, they are still under a sealing order, because if Canadians knew what the government's legal arguments against indigenous people are, everything this Prime Minister said today would be seen to be a mockery. That's because if they were to look at the most belligerent, militant opposition to indigenous rights in this country, they would see that it is the Justice Department of Canada.

It has been there from day one. The government spent $100,000 fighting a young Cree girl getting orthodontic surgery and $4 million fighting Cindy Blackstock. The government spent over $110 million going after indigenous rights with legal matters in 2013, when it only spent $66 million at CRA. My belief would be if the government spent as much going after international tax cheats as it is willing to spend going after indigenous rights in the courts, we might see a better Canada.

If we are going to look at true reconciliation, will the Liberals start to address the justice department and ensure that the Department of Justice Act starts to defend indigenous rights instead of attacking them time and time again, whether it is treaty rights, individual rights, or the rights of indigenous children? We need to know that the government is serious, and it is going to have to start with taking on the justice department.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is fairly obvious that the member across the way was not present today to hear the important announcement or the important speech this evening by the justice minister on what this—

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I have a point of order.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I am confident that the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay is rising to ask me to point out that we do not draw attention to the presence or absence of a member in the chamber.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I was here.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The hon. member is insisting he was in the chamber, but in any event we do not draw attention to the presence or absence.

The hon. member for Saint Boniface—Saint Vital.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Mr. Speaker, let me rephrase that. It is fairly obvious the hon. member across the way was not paying attention when the Prime Minister today spoke passionately about our new rights-based framework that we are going to be advancing in partnership with indigenous, Métis, and Inuit populations. It is quite obvious to me that the hon. member across the way was not paying attention when the justice minister, a half hour ago, spoke passionately about leading the way toward better defining the rights that exist in section 35 of Canada's Constitution.

For too long, section 35 has not been defined. We are committed to working with indigenous populations from coast to coast to coast to help define those rights. That is something that is starting immediately, and we are 100% committed to getting the job done.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:20 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on some of the comments my colleague from Chilliwack made. He talked about education being absolutely critical. The Conservatives and all parties in this House supported first nations having control of first nation education and things like Anishinabek Nation Education Agreement Act. However, I have noticed that as part of that process there was one unfortunate thing, which is that children in the communities that live side by side are not going to school together anymore.

When children go to school together, play sports together, and have birthday parties together, they create a bit of a shared understanding of culture and become friends. This goes back to the comment I made earlier about what we can do as parliamentarians, not only with respect to the healing or what needs to happen in Saskatchewan, but to make sure that we do not create that divide.

This was one of the things that was a bit of a loss. Although we certainly support and understand the reasons for first nations needing to assume control over their education, there was that loss of opportunity within the communities.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will repeat that I believe every member in this chamber believes: that education is the key to a better future.

I know that we have been doing some good work on the education front in my home province in Manitoba. The government has recently signed an agreement for a first nations educational authority, representative of, I believe, a dozen first nations in Manitoba, to control their own education and to set the curriculum for the students who are in those schools.

We have to continue talking and negotiating in good faith. We need to listen. One of the hardest things to do in this job is to listen, to really listen without interrupting, and to try to get to a mutual space where there are benefits for all parties. I think that is what “nation-to-nation” means, and we are committed to moving forward in that way.

Indigenous Peoples and Canada's Justice SystemGovernment Orders

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I come from an urban riding. It is also the third-largest urban aboriginal community riding in the country.

Twenty years ago we had a situation of an indigenous man named Frank Paul being picked up by the police while intoxicated. He was supposed to be brought to the sobering centre to sober up. Instead, the police officer dragged him into an alley in the Downtown Eastside and dumped him there, where he died of hypothermia.

There was obviously outrage from our community, and we called for an inquiry. An inquiry was conducted, and we ultimately found out what had happened. The police chief made an apology to the family, and police training, education, and so on took place.

In the case of Colten Boushie, I am wondering whether or not the member agrees that there should be an inquiry held so that we learn from these kinds of lessons. “Never again” should not be repeated over and over again in different scenarios, such as in the cases of Frank Paul and Colten Boushie.

I would like to hear the member's answer.