Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Bow River, in Alberta. I look forward to hearing his remarks. His constituents include first nations representatives, as do mine, in fact. I will come back to that near the end of my speech.
I am pleased to speak at this stage of the bill.
This piece of legislation is quite important. As I said a few minutes ago, the meaning or spirit behind it is good. Everyone here supports the fact that we want the best for Canada and Canadians. We want the best for our first nations people, especially for first nations youth. Yes, there are some issues. Unfortunately, too many first nations young people experience family problems.
It is sad to see that, unfortunately, nearly 50% of first nations children from many communities do not live with their parents. They have been placed in foster families to protect them or “for their own good”, as my mother used to say to me when I was in trouble. She would tell me that what she was doing was for my own good. I did not necessarily agree, but of course, in the end, my mother always knew best.
We understand that this is a troubling reality and that we need to ensure that first nations youth are treated properly. We also recognize that, in order to help children, whoever they may be or whatever nation or group they may be from, it is better to give them an environment they can relate to. That will make it much easier for them to get back on track and reach their full potential.
The problem is that children who are placed in foster families do not always get to stay in their own community, and that creates serious problems with healing.
The target is important, but we are very concerned with the fact that this issue is very touchy. Everybody would support the spirit of it, but the technical problems that could arise from that could hurt the spirit itself.
That is why we are so concerned. As the parliamentary secretary said earlier, we know that child welfare falls under provincial jurisdiction. We also know that first nations fall under federal jurisdiction. Naturally, this particular combination may lead to conflicts. There are provincial laws that may apply, but there also federal laws that pertain to first nations children.
We are not here to create problems. We are here to solve them. The bill is at second reading stage. The next step will, of course, be committee. We, on this side of the House, will do our part to ensure that no technical problems hurt the spirit of this bill, and I am sure all other members will do the same.
Since this pertains to children, jurisdictions and the fact that, unfortunately, jurisdictions sometimes collide, I feel compelled to mention the unspeakable tragedy that has shaken Quebec for the past two days. A seven-year-old girl suffered unimaginable abuse her whole life. This situation has gripped Quebec. Yesterday we were very pleased to see members of the National Assembly and people throughout Quebec come together to try to prevent such a tragedy from every happening again. My thoughts are with the loved ones of this poor victim.
We cannot look at this bill without being reminded of the fact that indigenous children are suffering through serious social problems that originate with the Canadian government and the residential school tragedy of nearly 100 years. For nearly 100 years, some 150 indigenous children were ripped from their families and placed without their consent in residential schools that had two primary objectives: to stamp out their indigenous knowledge and traditions and assimilate them into the new world, the world we are currently living in.
The scars from this tragedy are unfortunately still present today. This is why, in an extraordinary moment on June 11, 2008, right here in the House of Commons, the Right Hon. Stephen Harper, the former prime minister of Canada, issued an official apology to the first nations on behalf of all Canadians for this tragedy. It was a magical moment, but it was, unfortunately, necessary because we had put far too many indigenous peoples through this.
I want to read two excerpts from the Government of Canada's apology to the first nations. Prime Minister Harper said:
The legacy of Indian Residential Schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today. It has taken extraordinary courage for the thousands of survivors that have come forward to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered. It is a testament to their resilience as individuals and to the strength of their cultures. Regrettably, many former students are not with us today and died never having received a full apology from the Government of Canada.
Today we are studying this bill because, as Prime Minister Harper expressed so well at the time, a message that was echoed by the country, parents raising their children today are suffering from the horrors they and their ancestors have been forced to endure over the past 100 years. I will share another quote from Prime Minister Harper:
We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions.... We now recognize that, in separating children from their families, we undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their own children and sowed the seeds for generations to follow, and we apologize for having done this.
This is why we are studying a bill today to help the victims of a government approach that we strongly oppose today. We will keep a positive attitude in our study of this bill, while remaining serious, to ensure that no jurisdictional issues will affect or slow the momentum of this bill.
Earlier, I had the pleasure of saying that it will soon be four years since I was elected to the House of Commons, and it will soon be 11 years that I have served in politics at the provincial and federal level. I was the MLA for the indigenous community in Wendake, which I now represent federally. I am very proud to have represented them in the National Assembly and to be their MP here in the House of Commons. These people have lived in the Nionwentsïo for millennia, but over 320 years ago they settled permanently in Loretteville, not far from where I was born and raised.
This community is not very big and has a population of about 2,000. However it is extraordinarily positive and successful on an economic, social, historical and personal level. These people live peacefully with everyone. They are a model and an inspiration for all first nations on how people can get along. It is with great honour and pride that I represent them in the House; I have them in mind as we debate this piece of legislation.