Mr. Speaker, I want to begin my remarks by recognizing that we meet today on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. I hope that one day we will begin all of our daily proceedings in this place with this acknowledgement.
I also wish to acknowledge that my riding is situated in Treaty 6 territory and the ancestral homeland of the Métis.
It is an honour and a privilege to rise to speak on such an important topic as the mistreatment by our justice system of indigenous women and girls and to speak of a way that our justice system could make that change. I say that because we have a justice system that must do better for indigenous women and girls. We have a justice system that is just for some, but not for all Canadians.
Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that everyone has the right to be treated equally before and under the law and that all Canadians have the equal benefit and protection of the law. However, that is not the case for indigenous women and girls in our country. Indigenous women and girls cannot count on a justice system that is fair and just, that provides them the full protection of the law and that is blind to race and gender.
That is why I am speaking in support of Bill S-215 and to support the leadership of Senator Dyck, whose work and advocacy on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is to be commended and respected.
Bill S-215 is about bringing equality into our justice system for indigenous women and girls. The bill would amend the Criminal Code to make indigenous female identity an aggravating factor during sentencing. We need such a bill because we need to reform our justice system now. For too long we have tolerated the discrimination against indigenous women and girls. We need such a bill because the treatment of indigenous women and girls in the justice system reflects “societal indifference to the welfare and safety of Indigenous women [that allows] the perpetrators [of violence against them] to escape justice.”
We know the names of two indigenous women, Cindy Gladue and Betty Osborne, not because justice was served, but for the exact opposite reason. We know these women's names because of the unspeakable violence perpetrated against them in life and in death; a justice system that continued to degrade them as human beings, treated them as less than. We know their names because of the efforts of indigenous women and human rights advocates who demanded justice for Cindy and Betty.
The bill before us today is one measure to combat societal indifference to the lives of indigenous women who are more likely to be victims of violent crimes and their circumstances more likely to be taken less seriously by our justice system. We have systems of protection and justice in the country that effectively demonstrate that indigenous women's lives and their safety are less important and less worthy than non-indigenous women.
The family of Nadine Machiskinic know this fact all too well. In 2015, Nadine, a 29-year-old indigenous woman, was found in medical distress in the laundry room of the Regina Delta Hotel. She had fallen 10 floors down a laundry chute. Because of a justice system that did not value Nadine's life, her death was never properly investigated. It is because of her family's tireless efforts for more than three years that in 2018 the Regina police service's actions in this case were formally reviewed by the RCMP.
We know now all that was not done for Nadine by the hotel, EMS, police and investigators to help her, to determine the circumstances of her death and to find the perpetrators. We learned that her death was not reported to police for some 60 hours, that police took four months to send toxicology reports and that it was over a year before the police made a public plea for information about the two men on surveillance cameras and video who appeared with Nadine.
In her own words, Senator Dyck acknowledges that her bill is not the magic solution that will end the violent victimization of indigenous women and girls and it will not change how Nadine was treated by the system. The bill is intended to cause a ripple effect in the justice system by ensuring judges consider the unique circumstances of indigenous women and girls in Canada today.
Bill S-215 is needed because despite all our justice system is meant to be, it is failing to provide equal benefit and protection through the law.
Like many systems that are being challenged today by indigenous peoples and human rights advocates, our justice system has not escaped the historical influences of colonialism and racism; influences that continue to this day. These influences have led to what is the reality for indigenous women in Canada, a climate in which indigenous women are particularly vulnerable to sexism by the police and the court system. Indigenous women who are victims of violence are mistreated by the systems that are intended to protect them.
Senator Dyck's bill is a response to extremely high rates of murder and disappearances of indigenous women and girls. This legislation will help to ensure a justice system that provides equal protection under the law for indigenous women and girls as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This legislation also responds to our legal obligations in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to protect indigenous women and girls from violence, victimization and the indifference by the state and society to their experiences of violence.
I had the opportunity to sit in on presentations by Senator Dyck on her bill and to also hear of her research initiatives in partnership with the University of Saskatchewan. Prior to being appointed to the Canadian Senate, Dr. Dyck was a professor in the neuropsychiatry research unit in the Department of Psychiatry and an associate dean of the College of Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Saskatchewan.
It is through her leadership and her support of current research that we are learning definitively of the detrimental impacts of the racism perpetrated on aboriginal girls.
Finally, Senator Dyck's bill would afford indigenous women and girls protection similar to that given to others in the Criminal Code, such as taxi drivers and transit workers.
In debate so far on this bill, we have heard technical legal arguments from hon. colleagues in the official opposition about how this bill is not an appropriate avenue for addressing the failings of the justice system to protect indigenous women and girls. To that I say that technically, the law is not to discriminate; technically, the law is not to be sexist or racist in its application; and technically, the law is to enforce the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I rest my case.
We have heard from some on the government side, such as the special adviser to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues, the MP for Edmonton Centre, who in his speech during debate called for a broad-based, holistic approach as the best way to ensure better protection for indigenous women and girls.
First, I must object to the member's paternalistic tone and the choice of language in his comments. He stated that his way or the government's way is the best way—not a better way, but the best way. It is presumptuous of any member to state that his or her way is the best way. Further, terminology like “broad-based” and “holistic” are words that say to me that the government wants indigenous women and girls to continue to wait for justice and equal protection under the law.
Iskwewuk E-wichiwitochik, Women Walking Together, is a local women-led volunteer group in Saskatoon that has been supporting families and relatives of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls since 2005. Most recently, in 2018, the founders of the group, Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte and Myrna LaPlante, received the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for their work.
Darlene and Myrna, along with the volunteer members of Women Walking Together, fully support Bill S-215. This endorsement must be respected and hold much weight in our deliberations on the bill, as it comes from women who know first-hand the impact of the epidemic of violence against indigenous women and girls and who combat every day the indifference of the institutions meant to protect women and girls.
Long before this chamber was talking about murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, these women were speaking out, helping families and getting results. This House can do something now to change the lives of indigenous women and girls. We can pass Bill S-215 and begin to see justice served to all Canadians; not just some Canadians.