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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was actually.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as Liberal MP for Winnipeg Centre (Manitoba)

Lost his last election, in 2019, with 34% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Committees of the House November 29th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, the House of Commons only allows translation into English and French. However, it is my dream that one day in the future, when we tune into CPAC on the television, and as we have more indigenous members from across the country who are elected to the people's House, we can watch it in Cree, that a grandmother can watch the great debates of our Parliament. Also, young children will be able to hear that language in the background and know that it is important, that it is not a forgotten language and it is not something which is not worthwhile but is spoken and heard on TV and the Internet, and it has value. It has value to them and their self-esteem, and it will lift our people up and raise them so our young people can be successful and reach their full potential.

Committees of the House November 29th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I move that the 66th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on Tuesday, June 19, be concurred in.

[Member spoke in Cree]

I would like to share my time with the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River.

I just said in Cree that I am extremely proud to be here and that we are all related. It is a way of saying hello to everyone. This greeting is not only for my fellow Canadians, but for all people with whom I have a connection. It also tells all people and all creation that we are together.

Language and culture are extremely important. They are not distinct. Indigenous languages have been dying now for over 150 years. They have been ignored for generations and actively suppressed by governments, but I am proud to say that we are entering a new age, when this will be no more. We will be getting a fighting chance to ensure the survival of indigenous languages.

When I was first elected to the House of Commons, I had a dream, a dream that a grandmother, from her reserve, could turn on the television and watch the great debates of Parliament in her indigenous language, whether it was Cree, Anishinabeg, an Iroquoian language, Innu or any language across Canada. It is extremely important that the dream be realized, but we face grave difficulties, because there is no central authority to enable that grandmother to have the television on. Even though we have CPAC in French and English, it does not exist in indigenous languages.

In places like Little Pine, Moosomin, Mosquito Grizzly Bear's Head, Sweetgrass, Poundmaker and Red Pheasant First Nation, where my people are from, people have been talking for many years about their desire to see indigenous languages, such as the Cree language, heard and spoken in this place, the people's place. If Canada is to fulfill the dream we have for each other, if we are to fulfill the vision laid out for Canadians in our Constitution and our charter, then the full welcoming of indigenous languages into this House is long overdue. I think every party in the House can agree that if we are to truly be a great nation, all people should know that this is their nation, whether they have been here only one day or since time immemorial, since the rivers have flowed and the grasses have grown.

I would like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs who spent innumerable hours fighting for indigenous languages in this House, the great hon. members for Yukon, St. Catharines, Halifax, Laurentides—Labelle, Winnipeg North, Brampton North, Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, York Centre and Kitchener Centre and the now Minister of Seniors. These members, who are not indigenous, spent countless hours fighting for indigenous languages. Members from the loyal opposition as well as the third party also spent countless hours fighting for indigenous languages, even though there might be little or no benefit to them, to their families, to their personal histories or to their old vision of what Canada might have been. Nonetheless, they stood up for each and every one of us in Canada.

When I was first elected in 2015, I went to see Annette Trimbee, at the University of Winnipeg. We sat down for a lovely meeting, and she said there were a few things she needed help with. One was funding, but there was also a desire at the University of Winnipeg to expand language training.

When I was a professor at the University of Manitoba, I spent many years trying to increase the amount of language programming. The University of Winnipeg and Annette Trimbee were particularly interesting, because they wanted to combine it with modern technology and data. However, they lacked a large amount of metadata to feed the algorithms to ensure that they had adequate translation so that the computers would actually be able to properly translate indigenous languages. There are a lot of children's books, but they are often not written in a living language.

I would like to thank Wab Kinew who was the previous associate vice-president for indigenous relations at the University of Winnipeg. I would also like to thank Dr. Currie, the dean of arts; Dr. Glenn Moulaison, who also invested a large amount of personal time to learn indigenous languages. I would like to thank Dr. Jacqueline Romanow, who offers credit courses in Cree and Ojibwe. The language instructors in the department include Darren Courchene, Annie Boulanger and Ida Bear.

The department also supports an intensive two-week learn to speak Ojibwe program. The program is designed to teach beginner and intermediate Ojibwe and involves classroom and field work. The field work is held at the Medicine Eagle Camp and includes traditional teaching on medicine, beading and drumming. Funding for this has been provided by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada.

There is also University of Winnipeg undergraduate student Cameron Lozinski, who is currently developing an app to make his ancestral language, Swampy Cree, more accessible.

Dr. Lorena Fontaine, academic indigenous lead at the University of Winnipeg completed her Ph.D. on aboriginal language rights in Canada. She was working with the Manitoba Aboriginal Languages Strategy, Red River College, with Rebecca Chartrand, the University College of the North, the University of Manitoba and the Manitoba provincial government to develop a certification program for aboriginal language speakers who are not teachers. She has also been an aboriginal language rights advocate for 12 years both nationally and internationally.

The university has also been bringing in faculty, students and the public to learn from, for example, Dr. Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, and Octaviana Trujillo, professor of applied indigenous studies at Northern Arizona University.

Community programming continues to go on at the University of Winnipeg's Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre, which provides options to the community to learn Ojibwe. Weekly classes are held free of charge for all ages, taught by Aandeg Muldrew. Aandeg is a linguistics student at the University of Manitoba, where he is also a sessional instructor for Ojibwe.

This is extremely important. All of these individuals have had a role in trying to get our languages to survive. There is currently no large-scale or government agency which would ensure that there is a central type of standardization, so that when we stand in the House of Commons, we would have an agreed-upon word for what it means to be a member of Parliament, otapapistamâkew. If we can get the Parliament of Canada to allow us to have greater translation, to have interpretation with interpreters from across Canada for the Cree language, working together, coming up with the actual specific terms and making indigenous languages living languages, like the French and English languages are, this would ensure that they can survive into the future so that my children will have the opportunity of actually turning on the television and being proud.

This all started not only with a conversation with Dr. Annette Trimbee, but when I stood up in this House to make a member's statement over a year and a half ago, I spoke only in Cree about violence against women for the Moose Hide Campaign, whose button I wear proudly on my lapel, and there was some laughter in the chamber because no one could understand what I was saying. I raised a question of privilege asking you, Mr. Speaker, whether my rights had been violated. You looked into the Standing Orders to discover if my rights had been violated or not and you determined that it was up to the House to decide. You took the sage decision to ask the PROC committee to investigate and come up with a report to use the processes that we have in this place to come up with the right decision.

As well as thanking other members in this House, I must thank you, Mr. Speaker, for taking that courageous decision to push this issue forward. If you had not done so, Mr. Speaker, I would have been very disappointed. Hopefully, your actions will allow my children's children to have the opportunity of speaking an indigenous language, which I think is the greatest gift you have given to this place in your time as Speaker. I look forward to reading the rulings you have made in the book that will come out once you are no longer Speaker. This decision, I believe, will be the very first one. It will be extremely important to the history of our nation and to what we have demonstrated we are able to do in this place.

I would like to thank you, Mr. Speaker, in Mi’kmaq, wo la la li uk, in Cree xsay, ekosani, in Anishinabe, meegwetch. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

[Member spoke in Cree]

Budget Implementation Act, 2018, No. 2 November 27th, 2018

Madam Speaker, it is quite interesting to note that the Conservatives want a balanced budget. Where are they exactly going to cut? I would remind the House that the balanced budget they had when they were in government was made on the backs of veterans, indigenous peoples and indigenous children. Indeed, it was a very dark decade.

The question before us today is this. Do we invest in people today or do we see a long-term loss in health, education, economic potential and the potential of Canadians? This budget is about investing in the human potential of Canadians, ensuring people have the tools to be successful. We we can invest today or we can cut and we will have to pay the costs later on as a Canadian society.

Criminal Code November 26th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to mention that the bill also has the support of the Assembly of First Nations, as well as the FSIN from Saskatchewan, in resolutions that were passed in 2016 on the Niagara Falls Annual General Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations. Perry Bellegarde signed resolution, 26/2016, concerning his support for Bill S-215.

Also, when we talk about how we protect individuals, it is extremely important that we not only take into consideration the idea of offenders. We also need to take into consideration the whole idea surrounding victims in our justice system. I know the members from the Conservative Party moved quite extensively to try to put more victims rights into our justice system, and that is to be applauded.

This goes a little further in trying to ensure that one specific group, or a specific period of time, at least receives additional protection to ensure that we hold them in high esteem, that we hold them up and do not continue to debase them in popular culture, as well as in how we view them in general Canadian society.

Criminal Code November 26th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I do not know about the government position. I do know there has been great discussion among members of the caucus here.

If members of the opposition, the loyal opposition, as well as the third party, decided to support the bill, I suspect there might be enough members on this side of the House, whether the government supports it or not, to move it forward. That is something for each member to determine. It is a private member's bill, and it should be a free vote.

I would like to respond to the previous member who asked a question. In 1999, in R. v. Gladue, the Supreme Court stated that a section of the Criminal Code was enacted to respond to the disproportionate incarceration of aboriginals compared to non-aboriginal Canadians. It stressed that the section of the Criminal Code was a remedial response. It was referring to the Gladue decisions in the sense that there already were provisions for specific remedial measures concerning aboriginal offenders within the Criminal Code, which also meet the charter requirements.

In this case, we are also talking about the victims. Instead of always discussing offenders, we are trying to protect more victims in Canadian society, ensuring they have adequate protection in the court. Often no one is specifically out there fighting for them. This would ensure that judges take into consideration the victims in sentencing.

Criminal Code November 26th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, there was some discussion, obviously, about the constitutionality of the bill. At the same time, it still passed through the Senate.

I am not an expert in the justice system per se. I am not a lawyer; I am simply a gentleman with a PhD. I am sure there are people, who were at the justice committee, who are more qualified to answer that question. They would be able to look at the constitutionality. I am sure the Government of Canada will put out an advisory on the constitutionality of the bill.

At this time, I cannot answer that question. All I can simply say is that I hope my colleagues will take the time to study it in second reading, at committee stage and come up with whether it is a worthwhile bill and whether it meets the requirements of the charter.

Criminal Code November 26th, 2018

moved that Bill S-215, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for violent offences against Aboriginal women), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker,

[Member spoke in Cree]

[English]

Bill S-215 has been meandering its way through Parliament. It has now come to this place. It has come to the House of Commons, the people's place. It has moved through the Senate through first reading, second reading, committee stage, report stage and third reading. It was proposed by Senator Lillian Dyck.

Bill S-215 would amend the Criminal Code to require a court to consider the fact that when a victim of an assault or murder is an aboriginal female it constitutes an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing. In doing so, it would add new sections immediately after sections 239 and 273 of the Criminal Code.

We know indigenous women are overrepresented in violence committed against women in Canada. We only need to think of cases like that of Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg. I remember all too well four years ago how a young girl had gone missing, but at first no one seemed to care. It was only upon her discovery at the bottom of the Red River wrapped in a plastic garbage bag that people actually took note. She was only discovered because people were looking for someone else in the Red River. They discovered her body there, and it galvanized the city of Winnipeg. For the next two days, thousands upon thousands of people came to walk the streets in protest, to raise awareness of the issue of violence against indigenous women and girls and to say enough was enough.

In fact, Tina Fontaine's death eventually led to the murdered and missing indigenous women's inquiry. It was one of those defining moments in Winnipeg, when people from all walks of life, whether indigenous, Caucasian, or from African or Asian heritage, all came together and really truly said that enough was enough.

However, this is not the only case we have of violence against indigenous women in Canada. There is the recent example of Cindy Gladue. Cindy Gladue was a 36-year-old Cree mother of three found bleeding to death in an Edmonton hotel bathtub in June of 2011. The accused in the case was a truck driver who had spent two days with Gladue. Gladue bled to death from an 11-centimetre tear to her vaginal wall, while the accused slept. The Crown later argued in court that the tear in her vagina was caused by a sharp object, and the defence argued that the tear was caused by consensual rough sex because she was a sex worker at the time. The jury found the accused was not guilty. This was last spring. The accused was found not guilty of murder, not even guilty of manslaughter.

Fortunately, the Attorney General of Alberta had common sense and appealed the decision, and it was just heard in the Supreme Court. In the last 20 years, there have only been three reported cases in Canada where the victim died as a result of rough sex. In all three of those cases, the defendant was convicted of at least manslaughter. As I said, the jury in the case did not even do that. There was no indigenous person on the jury. In an unprecedented move, the Crown actually entered into evidence the torn vagina of Cindy Gladue in the courtroom, and Gladue was reduced to a mutilated body part. This was not only highly offensive and extremely disrespectful to the victim and her family, it did not even result in a guilty verdict.

The second example is the case of Helen Betty Osborne. Osborne was 19 years old when she was abducted and brutally murdered near The Pas, Manitoba, on November 13, 1971. The RCMP eventually thought four men were responsible for the murder. However, charges against three of the men were not brought until 1986, 15 years after the murder. In the end, only one man was convicted to life in prison for the murder of Osborne, one man was acquitted and the third was given immunity and set free in exchange for testifying against the others.

It should be noted that Helen Betty's murder was extremely violent. She was badly beaten, assaulted and stabbed more than 50 times, apparently with a screwdriver. I remember this case, having read about it at the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba, where it was taught to us in class. Imagine reading about something like this. Thankfully, there is a building named in her honour at the University of Winnipeg.

Helen Betty's case sparked the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission to conduct an investigation into the length of time it took to resolve the case. The commission concluded that the most significant factors that delayed and deterred the case were racism, sexism and indifference from the community right through to the criminal justice system. The report stated:

It is clear that Betty Osborne would not have been killed if she had not been Aboriginal. The four men who took her to her death from the streets of The Pas that night had gone looking for an Aboriginal girl with whom to “party”. They found Betty Osborne. When she refused to party she was driven out of town and murdered. Those who abducted her showed a total lack of regard for her person or her rights as an individual. Those who stood by while the physical assault took place, while sexual advances were made and while she was being beaten to death showed their own racism, sexism and indifference. Those who knew the story and remained silent must share their guilt.

The whole community protected these men, so for 15 years the family suffered.

There are numerous cases in Canada. I could continue to enumerate all of them, but we must also think about other cases, which go on continuously here in Canada, about why indigenous women need greater protection, why we need to rebalance the scales of justice. Let us think of the Highway of Tears; between 18 and 40 women have gone missing on the Highway of Tears in British Columbia near Prince George.

I was speaking with Paul Lacerte and his daughter Raven, who started the Moose Hide Campaign, a patch that many of us wear in the House of Commons and that many of my colleagues care about. The campaign tries to raise awareness of this issue of violence against indigenous women and girls, and it is for men to have this issue raised among ourselves because it is not an issue of women who conduct the violence, it is an issue of men.

The father and daughter were out shooting a moose over a decade ago and they managed to shoot one. The father at first did not want to keep the hide, but his young daughter Raven, who was only around 10 at the time, said, “Dad, we can't throw it away. We need to use the entire animal.” He said, “What do we need a hide for?” She said, “Let's raise awareness, because we are not far from the Highway of Tears, and do something about the missing indigenous women and girls.”

This is an extremely important bill because it would rebalance the scales of justice. It is fair to say that being an aboriginal female is a unique circumstances. The combination of being aboriginal female and living in a colonial society has devalued and dehumanized our women, and they are seen as inherently less worthy than other women. Worse yet, the stereotype of aboriginal women as loose and sexually available still persists and makes them more vulnerable to unwanted and, unfortunately, more violent sexual assaults and more gruesome murders.

I heard from an elder in Quebec. He described where the word, the derogatory term, “kawish” comes from, which is used sometimes in Quebec to describe indigenous people. In fact its base is “awas”, “away” in Cree. According to the elder, it means to push someone away and it is from the sexual advances often made against indigenous women by non-indigenous men.

In addition, the so-called subtle discrimination against aboriginal women and girls in the justice system minimizes the grievous harm done to them, which can result in leniency in sentencing of the offenders. Bill S-215 would increase the likelihood that the consequences of assaulting or murdering an aboriginal woman or girl are appropriate and meaningful.

Bill S-215 obviously would not fix all of the complex issues of the criminal justice system, and that is not the goal, but this justice system has failed Cindy Gladue, Helen Betty Osborne and many other indigenous women and the bill is a step in the right direction toward reconciliation. By including aboriginal females as a specific aggravating circumstance—that is, a protected category of persons—we would acknowledge the historic roots that have led to their over-victimization and the systemic discrimination against them in the justice system.

Bill S-215 would amend the Criminal Code in two places. First, the bill inserts a new clause at the end of sections of the Criminal Code that outline the murder provisions. The new clause reads:

239.1 When a court imposes a sentence for an offence referred to in section 235, 236 or 239, it shall consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the victim of the offence is a female person who is Indian, Inuit or Métis.

Second, the bill inserts a new clause at the end of the sections of the Criminal Code that outline the assault and sexual assault provisions. This new clause reads:

273.01 When a court imposes a sentence for an offence referred to in paragraph 264.1(1)(a) or any of sections 265 to 269 or 271 to 273, it shall consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the victim of the offence is a female person who is Indian, Inuit or Métis.

The tragic phenomenon of the high numbers of missing aboriginal women and girls is undeniable. The homicide rate of aboriginal women is 4.8 times higher, or 4.8 per 100,000 people. The corresponding homicide rate is 3.2 for taxi drivers, 2.6 for police officers, and 0.8 for non-aboriginal women. Aboriginal women and girls are victims of more violent offences and go missing at far higher rates than other Canadian women. Bill C-215 would address this inequity by specific considerations of their greater vulnerabilities as an aggravating factor in sentencing.

Thus, if an aboriginal female is a victim of sexual assault or murder, her identity is an aggravating factor. Such a move would send a clear and strong message to the court system, to justices, judges, and the public at large, denouncing the violent targeting of aboriginal women and girls. Proclaiming the bill into law would demonstrate that we value indigenous women just as much as we value other women, taxi drivers, public transit operators, police officers, police dogs and other service animals.

The laws of our nation must reflect our values and the values of all our citizens. Terry Audla from the ITK stated, “we will be judged as a society on how we treat our most vulnerable.” We have an opportunity to truly make a great difference in the lives of more of our fellow citizens.

An eagle feather weighs not very much, but on the scales of inequality in Canada, it can help to readjust the scales of justice so that lady justice is not blind to the suffering of her fellow citizens. We all deserve justice in our country. We deserve justice because this is what we aspire to as a nation. We desire and deserve basic respect and indigenous women need our protection at this time. They need our protection at this time because no one else is giving it to them. Many in our society still consider them less than valuable, less than human. If we cannot protect our most vulnerable citizens, then how can we send a message around the world? How can we stand tall as a beacon of hope and democracy and proclaim our charter as protecting all of us?

It may be difficult to single out one group, but we have done this for taxi drivers, police service dogs and police officers. For a short time, until our society has caught up to what it truly means to have a charter of hope and true equality, it is time to protect our most vulnerable, indigenous women and girls and to take a stand in Parliament to complete the work that was done on behalf of all Canadians in the Senate, which has already looked at the bill and sees it of value. Now it is time for the House of Commons to consider it, weigh it and hopefully tip the scales of justice to a greater level of equality and justice.

[Member spoke in Cree]

Business of Supply November 19th, 2018

Madam Speaker, the flip side is the Conservatives’ hidden agenda. To achieve a balanced budget, we would need to make cuts to indigenous infrastructure, as well as the Canada child benefit and affordable housing, which would affect Canadian families.

Doug Ford and Manitoba’s Brian Pallister also have similar hack-and-slash agendas. That is the Conservatives’ hidden agenda. We might even have to make cuts to official services in French, the language of Molière. French is important, not only here in Quebec and Ontario, but across the country. Perhaps a Conservative government would make cuts to every service of any importance of these communities across the country. The hon. member knows this all too well.

Budget Implementation Act, 2018, No. 2 November 6th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, when I was on the finance committee, I was adamant and always fighting for the people of my riding, as well as people across Canada, who are very poor. One of the issues was the Canada child benefit and how those benefits are clawed back from people on social assistance. I was very proud of our minister when he came to our committee more than two years ago and talked about how he would ensure there would not be a clawback from these people, our fellow citizens who too often fall through the cracks because they do not often have representatives here in Parliament who have been in those situations.

There is mention in the budget about ensuring that if one receives social assistance payments under certain programs, that will not preclude one from receiving the Canada child benefit. That is in the budget. However, I would also like to highlight that in Manitoba, there is a continued clawback by the provincial government of federal funds for young children who are in the care of the state in the child welfare system. The province is actually making a profit off the backs of our most vulnerable children instead of ensuring that those funds go to their long-term education and are built up in a fund so they can receive a long-term benefit. The Province of Manitoba continues to claw back that money to balance its budgets on the backs of our young children. I hope the minister could talk a little about that.

Elections Modernization Act October 30th, 2018

Mr. Speaker,

[Member spoke in Cree]

[English]

I am very happy to have the chance to speak at last on Bill C-76, an act to amend the Canadian Elections Act.

I remember meeting time and time again citizens from my riding, from my city, and more generally from my province of Manitoba in 2015 who were absolutely sick of the Harper Conservatives. They were sick of a government that was trying to take away their democratic right to vote and putting in place an ideology of winner takes all. The Harper Conservatives did everything in their power to bend the electoral laws to their ideology and ignored the concerns of others. They used voter suppression, but people stood up in true Canadian fashion to fight for their rights.

I met young people in my riding from the University of Winnipeg who went out on the day of the election to vote en masse. Even though sometimes they did not have identification, they went out of their way to get the identification to ensure that they could vote. I met homeless people who raised enough money by begging on the streets to get enough money, the $20, to get voter identification from the province to be able to vote on that day. I met indigenous people who lined up around the street.

However, I still met people who were not able to vote and were turned away from the polls, because they were not allowed to exercise their democratic right. Other young people, other indigenous people, and some from the inner city of Winnipeg were told, unfortunately, that they did not have the proper ID and could not vote.

While some people were able to vote, others were turned away. This was voter suppression, because the Harper Conservatives were afraid of the public. They were afraid of others coming out to exercise their democratic right to vote. The Harper Conservatives spent a lot of time attacking the Chief Electoral Officer and non-ideological, non-partisan, non-political role of defending Canadians' rights to a proper democracy.

Lastly, when election time comes, it is up to Canadians to stand up for their rights and to use every chance to exercise their democratic right to vote. We all benefit from voting in our elections, and never again will a government take away our right to vote and to exercise our inalienable right to our democratic and human rights.