Madam Chair, it is with great humility that I rise this evening to speak to this very delicate, very sensitive issue. My opening thought for this emergency debate on the serial killings in Winnipeg is as follows: Attacking women and girls is the most effective way to destabilize a population, because it compromises its survival.
Jeremy Skibicki, a 35-year-old man, was charged with the premeditated murder of three indigenous women last week. Skibicki had already been arrested in May for the murder of another indigenous woman in the Winnipeg area. At the time, the Winnipeg police believed that there might have been other victims. Now their fears have been realized.
The accused describes himself as an official member of the far-right movement Holy Europe, which is openly pro-life, pro-gun and anarchist. Earlier this year, when he was first arrested, CBC examined Skibicki's Facebook account and discovered that his posts were rife with violent sentiments and anti-Semitic and misogynistic material.
In a press release, the Native Women's Association of Canada issued a statement on the new murder charges laid against the accused. The association pointed out that the most recent crime statistics released in 2020 tell us that the homicide rate for indigenous people is still seven times higher than for non-indigenous people. The fact that it remains so high is a Canadian human rights failure.
The government must not see the completion of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as the end point, but as the starting point. These murders are proof that everything remains to be done.
The police still refuse to say that this violence was specifically directed towards indigenous women. We do not want to interfere in a criminal investigation, but four murders, four indigenous women, is significant.
In Quebec, the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is one that the government has always tried to ignore and gloss over by choosing to treat each disappearance and death as an isolated case. However, in 2014, the issue finally broke into the headlines as a potential systemic problem after the RCMP unveiled its figures on the number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The numbers speak for themselves, and they are chilling. A total of 1,017 indigenous women and girls went missing or were murdered between 1980 and 2012. There are still 105 women unaccounted for, who disappeared under unexplained or suspicious circumstances.
Between 2004 and 2014, as the murder rate fell across Canada, six times more indigenous women and girls were murdered than non-indigenous. Taking advantage of the momentum generated by the TRC's work, many groups held demonstrations on October 4, 2014, demanding a national inquiry into the causes of the disappearance and murder of indigenous women and a national action plan.
During one of those demonstrations, Béatrice Vaugrante, executive director of Amnesty International for francophone Canada at the time, emphasized that many UN, U.S. and U.K. bodies had asked Canada to put an end to violence against indigenous women. She considered this Canada's worst human rights issue and said the government's failure to recognize the magnitude of the problem and take action was unacceptable.
In October 2004, in response to the tragically high number of indigenous women being victimized, Amnesty International released a report calling for meaningful action and concrete measures. Pressure was mounting on the federal government, which until that point had ignored all calls for action. Less than a year later, in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called for a national inquiry into the disproportionate victimization of indigenous women and girls. The national inquiry's final report was released on June 3, 2019.
Then, in 2016, following the disappearance of Sindy Ruperthouse, an Algonquin woman from Pikogan in Abitibi, near Val‑d'Or, the Quebec government launched the Viens commission. There were reports of a number of indigenous women in Abitibi accusing the police of physical and sexual abuse. Released in 2019, the report's conclusion highlights years of systemic discrimination against indigenous groups. The inquiry also calls for a public apology from the government for the harm done over time.
In October 2019, François Legault rose in the National Assembly and apologized on behalf of the Quebec government. The Government of Quebec is still reviewing the document's 142 recommendations for addressing the situation.
Five years after its initial report, Amnesty International published a second report entitled “No More Stolen Sisters: The Need for a Comprehensive Response to Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada” and highlighted the five factors that contributed to the phenomenon of violence against indigenous women.
These factors are the role of racism and misogyny in perpetuating violence against indigenous women; the sharp disparities between indigenous and non-indigenous women when it comes to the fulfilment of their economic, social, political and cultural rights; the disruption of indigenous societies caused by the historic and ongoing mass removal of children from indigenous families and communities; the disproportionately high number of indigenous women in Canadian prisons, many of whom were themselves victims of violence; and the inadequate police response to violence against indigenous women, as illustrated by the handling of missing persons cases.
The calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, presented as legal imperatives rather than optional recommendations, set out transformative measures in the areas of health, safety, justice and culture, including the following: establishing a national indigenous and human rights ombudsperson and a national indigenous and human rights tribunal; developing and implementing a national action plan to ensure equitable access to employment, housing, education, safety and health care; providing long-term funding for education programs and awareness campaigns related to violence prevention and combatting lateral violence; and prohibiting the apprehension of children on the basis of poverty and cultural bias.
While there is still an ongoing debate about whether it is appropriate to use the word “genocide”, I believe there is a general consensus on the term “cultural genocide”. In fact, we can now say that the federal government of the day and the clergy responsible for the residential schools deliberately attempted to assimilate or erase a culture. The government of the day was clearly intent on committing cultural genocide. It was an official policy, even. Under the guise of equal educational opportunity, the primary goal of this policy was to assimilate the children and eradicate indigenous cultures.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is of the opinion that this policy of assimilation has had a negative impact on all indigenous peoples and has undermined their ability to thrive in Canadian society. In their descriptions of encounters, families and survivors who spoke at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls consistently linked their experiences to colonialism, both historic and modern forms, in one or more general ways: historical, multi-generational and inter-generational trauma; social and economic marginalization; maintaining the status quo; and institutional lack of will. The Canadian government and the clergy planned this collective trauma with the ultimate goal of driving all indigenous communities to extinction. Those communities have since been left to deal with the consequences alone.
According to Viviane Michel, president of Quebec Native Women, it is essential that communities and families have an opportunity to be heard as part of any inquiry. She also said that understanding the deep roots of the systemic discrimination faced by indigenous women is crucial to ensuring their dignity and safety.
As we listen to the testimony of indigenous women, four types of violence emerge. The first is structural violence. There is also social, legal, cultural, institutional and even family violence. That last term is frequently used in an indigenous context to make it clear that violence affects not only couples, but also the children and potentially other people connected to the family. There is also personal violence. This type of violence covers actions such as physical violence, psychological manipulation and financial control and involves individuals. There may be some overlap that emerges from the facts of the Skibicki investigation. There is a recognizable pattern, an all-too-familiar pattern that Quebeckers can unfortunately relate to because of their own numerous femicides and the tragic death of Marylène Levesque in early 2020.
In conclusion, it is essential to recognize and understand the sources of violence and support indigenous peoples' efforts to rebuild. It is also essential to promote gender equality, support women's empowerment and establish a nation-to-nation partnership with indigenous peoples. The Bloc Québécois has been advocating for all these measures for years.
We did so during the election campaign, and we will continue to do so, because one of the major obstacles we are facing is the failure of the comprehensive land claims policy. That is exactly why the Bloc Québécois wants it to be completely overhauled.
I could go on at length about this, but I believe my time is up.