House of Commons photo


Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was work.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as Independent MP for Markham—Stouffville (Ontario)

Lost her last election, in 2019, with 21% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Indigenous Languages Act May 9th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member opposite for his concern for this issue. The simplest answer to his question would be to say that it is not up to me. The answer is, in fact, up to indigenous peoples, be they first nations, be they from the Métis nation, be they Inuit, to determine for themselves. That is, of course, the definition of self-determination, one of the most fundamental rights of indigenous peoples.

It may, in fact, be that different indigenous peoples may answer the question differently in terms of whether it is a geographic decision or whether there is a cultural or historic basis for the decision. It is very important that we in this place unleash the decision-making process and allow it to be free to be where it belongs, which is in the hands of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

That is why I take so very seriously the concerns raised by people like Natan Obed, the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, for whom I have the deepest respect. They say that we need to listen.

I have acknowledged that I will be supporting this bill, but I think there are pieces missing, and I think we have to listen to the requests. As much as possible, we have to work side by side, indeed be led by indigenous peoples, to know how we as settlers and as partners working together can support this critical right.

Indigenous Languages Act May 9th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-91, an act respecting Indigenous languages.

As all members in the House know, indigenous issues are among the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities facing our country. As we create together the space for indigenous peoples to be fully self-determining, with an improved quality of life, we must all work together, across party lines, in a non-partisan fashion.

It is in that spirit that I would like to thank the member of Parliament for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo for offering me this opportunity to speak as an independent member of Parliament on this important legislation.

The preamble, though not the body of Bill C-91, notes that:

....the Government of Canada is committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which affirms rights related to Indigenous languages.

Specifically, I would like to remind colleagues that article 13 speaks to the fact that:

Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.

Article 14 goes on to talk about the fact that:

Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning....

States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.

Bill C-91 takes the very important step to establish an office for the commissioner of indigenous languages.

I want to use the time given to me today to highlight some amazing initiatives across the country by indigenous peoples for indigenous peoples to promote indigenous languages.

I had the privilege of visiting many communities when I was minister of indigenous services, as well as when I was minister of health, and I want to share some of the wonderful initiatives I have witnessed.

Let us start in British Columbia.

In British Columbia, it is estimated that there are approximately 30 different first nations languages, and close to 60 dialects are spoken. We cannot speak about first nations languages without remembering Kukpi7 Ron Ignace. Kukpi7 is the name for chief in the Secwepemc language of British Columbia. Kukpi7 Ron Ignace is certainly one of the champions of indigenous languages in his first nation in British Columbia.

Together with his wife, Marianne Ignace, who is a professor at Simon Fraser University, they have written an extraordinary book. This is a book that has been worked on for a lifetime. It is called Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws.

I had the opportunity to visit the community of Skeetchestn, where Kukpi7 Ignace is the chief. I heard the children signing and sharing together in their language, and it was inspiring.

Let me tell the story of Huu-ay-aht First Nations in British Columbia. It is among the Nuu-chah-nulth-speaking first nations. The Huu-ay-aht people have taken an incredible initiative as they continue to pursue and inspire others by their efforts to be fully self-determining. They have established a social services project that takes on a number of initiatives, particularly for children. They have decided to exercise their right to take on child and family services within the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, and they are specifically ensuring they do so in order to bring their children back to their community so they are raised in their language and culture.

Let us move a little east to the province Alberta.

I want to tell my colleagues about the incredible work that is being done in Maskwacis, a region just outside of Edmonton. I had the privilege of being in this community when it announced the beginning of the Maskwacis Education Schools Commission.

I was there with Grand Chief Willie Littlechild, who used to sit in this very House. He spoke about the incredible initiative that the Maskwacîs peoples had been able to undertake in order to start a school system of their own.

Grand Chief Willie Littlechild had been raised in residential schools. He talked about how his language and his culture had been taken from him as he was taken away to one of the largest residential schools in our country. However, now the Maskwacis, which is a gathering of four Indian Act bands, have come together to start a schools commission in order to exercise self-determination. Their education system there is Cree based, based upon the language of their people and their way of teaching. The contents of their teaching are based in their Cree culture and in their language.

We will then go a little further east again to the lovely province of Saskatchewan. Many examples can be seen across Saskatchewan, but perhaps one of the highlights in my mind is when I had the privilege of visiting the Whitecap Dakota First Nation, an extraordinary community just outside the city of Saskatoon.

While I was there, the chief showed me many things, but one of the most impressive was when we went to visit the Charles Red Hawk Elementary School. I met the woman who was the language teacher in that school. She gives Dakota language lessons to the children there. Their proudest moment was when a small group of children stood up spontaneously and asked me if they could sing O Canada to me in the Dakota language. It was a moment that is indelibly impressed on my mind. I saw the pride, not only of the children but of the elder who had taught them their language.

I want to then move to the wonderful province of Manitoba. I have spoken in the House before about the things that I have learned from the first nations of Manitoba as well as the Métis nation of Manitoba.

However, today I want to share a conversation about the work of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. The chiefs have been real leaders in one of the critical issues in our country, and that is the overrepresentation of indigenous children in care. They have highlighted the link between children being taken from their community into the foster care system and the loss of language that accompanies that. In fact, they have gone so far as to propose an act. It is called, the “bringing our children home act”.

In that act, the Manitoba chiefs speak to the fact that “We are reclaiming, practising and promoting our responsibility to pass down our knowledge, language, culture, identity, values, traditions, and customs to our children.”

This morning I had the opportunity to be in the indigenous affairs committee. A gentleman there had been in Manitoba and had experienced the foster care system. His name is Jeffry Nilles. I encourage people to look at the tape of his testimony in today's committee. He talked about what it meant to have been taken from his community, away from his family, about how he was shamed if he spoke in his language. It brought tears to our eyes as we heard about the moments he was treated cruelly because he naturally went to his native language and was punished for doing so. Now he is a man who is proud of the language of his peoples, but it has taken him some time to get there.

I will move further east again to the northern part of the province of Ontario. I would like to highlight in particular the extraordinary community of Fort Albany First Nation. I want to highlight a gentleman there who has been a real inspiration to me. His name is Edmund Metatawabin. Perhaps many members have had the opportunity to meet Edmund.

Edmund wrote a wonderful book, Up Ghost River, which had a big impact on my life. He talks about the role of residential schools. In fact, his book is an account of his residential school experience. He talks about the trauma of being separated from his language and his lineage, when he was forbidden to speak his language. He talks about the disastrous results that have ensued because languages and customs were suppressed by residential schools.

There is a good hint about the importance of indigenous languages in his book. Perhaps the most profound sentences in that book are when Edmund Metatawabin says, “There is no concept of justice in Cree culture. The nearest word is kintohpatatin.” He says that this, “loosely translates to “you've been listened to.”” Metatawabin writes, “Kintohpatatin is richer than justice—really it means you've been listened to by someone compassionate and fair, and your needs will be taken seriously.”

Metatawabin writes, “Kintohpatatin is richer than justice—really it means you've been listened to by someone compassionate and fair, and your needs will be taken seriously.”

That is a word I will never forget. It reminds me of the richness of a word and how much a particular culture can teach us just by showing us the words of its language, as well as how much that can mean to all of us.

Let me continue to travel across Ontario. This time we will come right down to the border of Ontario and Quebec, and in fact this community crosses into the United States as well. It is the community of Akwesasne. The community has an amazing leader in Grand Chief Abram Benedict. Here again I saw how language is so much a part of the pride of this community.

I had the opportunity to visit for the first time the Mohawk immersion school there. This is a school in which elders have come together to teach the young people, who are the teachers. In turn, those teachers teach the children. People in that middle age group did not know their Mohawk language and had to learn it from the elders. Now they, as teachers, are passing it on to children.

One of the things that impressed me at that school was that they had created their own teaching materials. They had taken children's books and adapted them so that the words were Mohawk. It was not just the words; the concepts, pictures, traditions and stories were appropriate for the Mohawk community. It is an extraordinary example, and one that needs to be recognized.

And now we travel to la belle province. Quebec is home to many first nations, but I am going to talk about just one of them, the Huron-Wendat Nation. Their leader, Grand Chief Konrad H. Sioui, is an extraordinary man.

Konrad Sioui left quite an impression on me. He has many stories to share and knows much about his people's history and their places. He told me how those peoples named places, rivers and mountains. Where he lives, every place has a name in his language.

Across the country, many places have names that come from indigenous languages. Grand Chief Sioui talked about the importance of preserving those names in indigenous languages.

We know, for example, that the word Toronto comes from an indigenous language. It is believed that it comes primarily from a Mohawk name, tkaranto, which means “trees standing in the water”. Right here in the city of Ottawa, we know that the word Ottawa comes from the word adaawe from the Anishinabe language, which means “to buy”. Maybe we could sometimes think about the fact that our city has something to do with buying, but I will not spend too much time on that point.

Let us move along to some places in Quebec, since I was just discussing Quebec. Shawinigan is an Algonquin word that means “portage at the crest”. We then look at the northern part of Quebec, because we must not forget the north, where we find the amazing town of Kuujjuaq, which means “the great river” in Inuktitut.

We had better spend a bit of time in the Atlantic, although I know my time is running out. I want to talk about the incredible work of the Mi'kmaq in the Atlantic, and in particular their incredible education authority. The education authority is entirely led by the Mi'kmaq people and is called Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey. I think the Mi'kmaq will forgive me for not getting that exactly right. I tried. We have often affectionately called this group “MK” because it is a little easier to say.

This is an education authority designed by Mi'kmaq for Mi'kmaq children. It has been incredibly successful, and this is in no small part related to its commitment to the Mi'kmaq language. It has, in fact, created an online talking dictionary, so that people can now find Mi’kmaq words online. There are now 6,000 or more Mi'kmaq words in this online talking dictionary. It offers language classes using the Internet, and video conference facilities have been set up so day cares throughout the region can teach Mi'kmaq to their children.

I was happy to hear that St. Francis Xavier University has now delivered its first program in the Mi'kmaq language.

While we are in the Atlantic, let us move north to Labrador and talk about Nunatsiavut, which is one of the four land claim regions of the Inuit Nunangat. The commitment of Inuit leaders in this country to the revitalization, maintenance and promotion of Inuktitut is something extraordinary. Inuit speak regularly about how Inuktitut is at the core of Inuit identity, spiritual beliefs and relationships to the land, as well as their world view and culture. It is fundamental to Inuit self-determination. I witnessed this myself when I went to meetings of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, which are all translated into Inuktitut.

However, I should note that the Inuit do not support Bill C-91, and it is important for us to recognize that. The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami organization, the ITK, hopes to see the bill amended to include both an annex that addresses Inuktitut as a distinct language and provisions allowing Inuktitut speakers to access federal public services in their language.

There is an impact when those services are not available. I saw it myself in relation to health. People said that tuberculosis, for instance, was not recognized quickly enough because there was no health care provider who spoke Inuktitut and could take a proper patient history. This is an important reality.

Time does not permit me to tell members about the things I observed in wonderful places like the Northwest Territories and Yukon. There are many examples of people working to revive indigenous languages.

It is my intention to support the bill, but more work needs to be done on this issue. This work should be continued in the next Parliament by those who have the privilege of returning to this place.

I had the privilege of learning an indigenous language when I lived in the country of Niger, in west Africa. I became moderately fluent in the Hausa language. The Hausa people have a saying:

[Member spoke in Hausa]


This means “silence, too, is speech”. Let us not, any of us, be silent on this matter, on the need to revitalize, maintain and promote indigenous languages. Let us recall that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples lays out minimum standards for the survival, well-being and dignity of indigenous peoples.

The right to use, develop and transmit indigenous languages to future generations is nothing less than a matter of survival. The duty to recognize and affirm this right rests on us all.

Indigenous Services April 11th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, earlier this week, I received a call from Chief Leo Friday of Kashechewan First Nation. Ten days from now, more than 2,000 people from this community will be forced to leave their homes in the annual evacuation process. The chief is concerned about the resilience of the dike and there are legitimate fears of severe flooding.

Our country spends millions of dollars annually for evacuations and for repairing flood damage in homes. When can we expect a serious commitment to funding the relocation that, for years, the community has been asking for?

Privilege April 9th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege concerning my recent expulsion and the expulsion of the member for Vancouver Granville from the Liberal caucus and a breach of the Parliament of Canada Act.

The question of privilege concerns a breach of my rights, the rights of the member for Vancouver Granville and other members' rights. While respecting the confidential nature of caucus discussions and my and the member for Vancouver Granville's obligations to maintain confidentiality of caucus discussions, how do I know that mine and my colleague's rights were breached?

On November 5, 2015, section 49 of the Parliament of Canada Act required Liberal MPs to vote four times. These four votes were to be recorded.

On March 21, 2019, the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood confirmed in a Toronto Star article that with respect to the four required votes, “Nothing like that ever happens in caucus....” As such, this would mean that one of the recorded votes that did not occur was the rule concerning caucus expulsions. This also means that one of the recorded votes that did not occur was the rule for readmission of a member to the caucus.

When the Prime Minister and his office prevented Liberal members of Parliament from exercising their rights under section 49.8, they violated the rights of Liberal members in three ways.

First, the Prime Minister deprived members of their right under right under section 49.8 to vote four times in a recorded manner.

Second, in depriving members of their right to vote, the Prime Minister denied members the opportunity to adopt the rules in sections 49.2 and 49.3 concerning caucus expulsions and caucus readmittance respectively. In doing so, the Prime Minister deprived members of their right to determine the expulsion of a caucus colleague on a secret ballot vote and their right to determine the readmittance of a Liberal member to the caucus on a secret ballot vote.

Third, in denying members their right to vote and adopt the expulsion rule in section 49.2 and the readmission rule in section 49.3, the Prime Minister denied members being considered for expulsion or readmission the right to a due process, one that is not ad hoc, not arbitrary nor unlawful.

With respect to expulsion specifically, section 49.2 lays out a clear process for expulsion and the bar is deliberately set high. First, at the time, on April 2, at least 36 Liberal MPs would have had to write to the caucus chair requesting an expulsion. Second, a majority of the entire caucus, not just a majority of MPs present, would have had to vote in favour of expulsion in a secret ballot, an absolute majority.

In other words, on April 2, 2019, when I and the member for Vancouver Granville were expelled by the Prime Minister, the Liberal caucus had 179 members, which means that at least 90 Liberal MPs would have been required to vote in favour of expulsion in a secret ballot. If only 120 MPs showed up to vote, 90 votes in favour of expulsion would still have been required.

The Prime Minister stated at the April 2 open meeting of the Liberal caucus and on national television that he had taken the decision to expel the honourable members from caucus. The Prime Minister added that he had met with me and the member for Vancouver Granville to inform us of his decision. This confirms that we were expelled prior to the commencement of the Liberal caucus meeting.

The Prime Minister's words that night to the Liberal caucus are important to underscore because expulsion should not be his decision to take unilaterally. However, the decision had been already made.

Members of Parliament are not accountable to the leader; the leader is accountable to members of Parliament. This is a constitutional convention.

I cannot adequately underscore how important this part of the confidence convention is. In fact, it is so critical to the functioning of our institutions that the last Parliament decided to take part of that unwritten constitutional convention and enshrine it in legislation to make an amendment to the Parliament of Canada Act.

This question of privilege is timely. Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you ruled on a question of privilege raised by the member for Perth—Wellington. Respectfully, that response does not address our situation nor our concerns.

First, the response to the question from the member for Perth—Wellington concerned the member for Whitby, who resigned from caucus and was not expelled. This is not the circumstance with respect to myself or the member for Vancouver Granville.

Second, we are not asking that the House deal with the possible expulsion of a specific member of caucus as a question of privilege. Rather, the matter of privilege is with respect to knowing which rules apply with regard to expulsion and readmission. This is necessary in order to ensure due process, fairness and that the rule of law is respected.

The Speaker's response to a point of order raised on December 10, 2015, by the member for Wellington—Halton Hills indicates that the chair of the Liberal caucus did indeed inform the Speaker in accordance with section 49.8(5) of the Parliament of Canada Act, but that the content of such notice would not be made public. The Speaker stated, “all actions required by the act to be taken by the Speaker have been taken.”

Recently, my hon. colleague, the member for Vancouver Granville, inquired of the Liberal caucus chair, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, by email, no less than four times, asking for clarity on the rules that applied respecting expulsion from the Liberal caucus. We anticipated that expulsion was imminent as was being reported in the media. The expulsions have now taken place, however we still do not know the rules and so cannot determine if they were followed.

Notwithstanding the Parliament of Canada Act, the rules of this place, points of order, or questions of privilege or inquiries we have made of our former colleagues, both myself and the member for Vancouver Granville still do not know what rules applied to our expulsion, nor what rules would apply to any readmission.

Third, we acknowledge, Mr. Speaker, that you have stated that you have no role in the interpretation of a statute or in the conduct of these 2015 provisions, but with respect, it is our view that this does not relieve you of your responsibility to ensure that all members are aware of their rights in this place. This is our privilege. Accordingly, a remedy is required for our situation. This matter is urgent and cannot wait for new Standing Orders. Procedural fairness and the rule of law demand this.

Secret in-camera meetings or private notices should not be a shield to prevent the upholding of the law and members' rights. I ask that you find a prima facie case of privilege, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that the rights of members, both for expulsion and readmission, are upheld and are consistent with the law.

Indigenous Affairs December 10th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for raising this solemn issue.

Our hearts go out to the family of Braiden. We are grieving with that community. I reached out to the chief today. I also spoke to the grand chief of the region to express our condolences.

The community where Braiden is from, the community of Webequie, is an area where we have made significant investments in mental wellness care. We will continue to make those investments. This is for all Canadians to work together to bring justice and ensure the safety of indigenous youth.

Indigenous Affairs December 10th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, the coerced or forced sterilization of any woman in this country is and always has been against the law. It is against medical ethics and it is against human rights. We are working to make sure that this never happens again. We are working with medical associations and medical providers to make sure that it never happens.

Indigenous Affairs December 10th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important issue. Of course, we agree with the member opposite that coerced sterilization of any woman in this country is a violation of that woman's rights, including her reproductive rights.

We are working with provinces and territories and we are working with health care providers and medical associations to make sure that the concept of informed consent is well understood and that culturally safe care is also well taught.

Indigenous Affairs December 6th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite asked about several things. I will talk about the additions to reserve that was part of our budget implementation bill.

This is a really important piece of legislation. People from first nations have been asking for this for 40 years. Finally, this week I was able to tell chiefs that it is going to be faster to get additions to reserve, thanks to new pieces of legislation. This is good news and it will add to economic prosperity.

Indigenous Affairs December 6th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, urgency means action now, and it means the actions we have already taken. We have made sure that there are special education funds for all students in that community. I have already shown the member the numbers on how much we have invested in special education in that community.

I have already made a commitment to that community the first time I met with the previous chief to say that we will go forward with the new health facility. We have now received the feasibility plan. I met with the new chief this week and we are moving forward on a new health centre.

Indigenous Affairs December 6th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for raising this issue.

The respect and recognition that indigenous patients, like all Canadians, should expect to be treated with in our health system is a matter that is of importance to all of us.

We work, of course, with the provinces and territories in the delivery of health care. Just today, I met with representatives from the Canadian Medical Association to speak to them about cultural safety and how we can all work together to do better to make sure that health care is received in a proper way.