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.