Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.)
That, in the opinion of the House, the tragic and inequitable issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls is of critical importance for all Canadians; that the government has failed to provide justice for the victims, healing for the families, or an end to the violence; and that the House call on the government to take immediate action to deal with this systemic problem and call a public inquiry.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to my private member's motion about the overwhelming number of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada and the urgent need to ensure their safety and well-being.
My motion calls on this House to recognize that the tragic and inequitable issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls is of critical importance for all Canadians and that the government has failed to provide justice for the victims, healing for the families, or an end to the violence.
It also calls on the House to urge the government to take immediate action to deal with this systemic problem and call a public inquiry.
Aboriginal women in Canada experience rates of violence that are three times higher than they are for non-aboriginal women. Young aboriginal women are five times more likely to die violently than other women.
The disproportionate number of aboriginal women and girls who go missing or are victims of homicide has been an issue that has spanned many decades and many governments. That is why, in 2005, the previous Liberal government invested $5 million to fund a project called Sisters in Spirit, run by the Native Women's Association of Canada. The goal was to conduct research and raise awareness of the alarmingly high rates of violence against aboriginal women and girls.
In 2009, Sisters in Spirit released a report, “Voices of our Sisters in Spirit”, which identified almost 600 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. The reprehensible response of the Conservative government to this worrying evidence of the scope of the crisis was to end the funding of the project.
The Sisters in Spirit report and the disgraceful government response led to the Liberal Party's call for a non-partisan, independent national inquiry in 2010.
Last year, the RCMP released an even more disturbing report, which identified almost 1,200 aboriginal women and girls who had gone missing or had been murdered since 1980.
Despite representing only 4% of women in Canada, aboriginal women accounted for 8% of the female homicide victims in 1984 and a staggering 23% by 2012. Think of those shocking statistics. The aboriginal proportion of female homicide statistics has been steadily rising, and as of 2012, this 4% of the female population accounts for almost one-quarter of women who are murdered.
These statistics are eye opening, but we must also remember that they represent real people. They are daughters, mothers, sisters, and aunties. They leave families in unimaginable pain, and we are deprived of their tremendous potential contributions to our communities.
Canadians are beginning to take notice. From the NWAC Faceless Dolls Project started years ago—in which the missing women and girls were anonymous to most—recent victims have become household names. Loretta Saunders and Tina Fontaine are now symbols of the many other aboriginal women and girls who have been failed by Canadian society.
This is not an aboriginal issue. It is not a women's issue. It is a continuing Canadian tragedy.
Despite this new broader awareness, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development recently quoted unpublished statistics about the ethnicity of some of the perpetrators to cynically insinuate that this is an aboriginal problem. He irresponsibly referred to statistics without any context of how they compare to the general population. He also neglected to note the RCMP finding that aboriginal women are less likely to be murdered by a spouse or an intimate partner than non-aboriginal victims.
These disgraceful political games are why we need an independent and comprehensive public inquiry. It is also important to understand that a national public inquiry is not only a matter of seeking justice and reconciliation for past injustices, but it is critical if we are going to address the systemic problems underlying this ongoing crisis.
A properly conducted, adequately funded inquiry has the potential to teach us both about the causes of the violence and how to prevent it from recurring. This is a point I want to emphasize. If we are to truly end the violence, we must find ways to prevent it. It is not enough to just better respond to crimes after they have been committed.
For an inquiry to be effective, victims' families and aboriginal organizations will need to be involved not only in the inquiry's work but in the design of its mandate and its operations. It must engage the broader public and facilitate a much wider understanding of the issues through its very operations. It must involve civil society, welcome independent research, and make it clear that all evidence it hears will be valued.
Grieving families, indigenous leaders, victims advocates, civil society, the international community, and every provincial and territorial premier have all urged the government to call a national inquiry; yet despite this overwhelming consensus on the need for a national public inquiry, the Prime Minister stubbornly rejects it out of hand. The Prime Minister refuses to acknowledge that this ongoing national tragedy represents more than a series of individual crimes that can be dealt with by law enforcement alone. In fact, last summer, in the wake of Tina Fontaine's murder in Winnipeg, the Prime Minister insensitively said, “We should not view this as a sociological phenomenon”. He dismissed root causes being any significant part of the broader issue, calling the murders of aboriginal women and girls crimes that should be dealt with by the police. Last December, he even admitted to a national TV audience that this issue was not high on his government's radar. The Prime Minister is simply on the wrong side of history.
The Prime Minister's government tried to explain the rejection of a national inquiry by asserting the need for action, instead of study. These are not mutually exclusive measures. The urgency of this crisis requires the development and implementation of a comprehensive and multi-jurisdictional national action plan, like they had in Australia.
The effectiveness of such a national action plan depends a truly coordinated approach involving the many relevant federal departments, the provincial and territorial governments and aboriginal leaders, an approach that focuses on preventing these senseless deaths and putting an end to this senseless violence.
Such a plan should be rooted in a comprehensive, non-partisan study of this ongoing tragedy that goes beyond establishing the raw statistics.
However, there are concrete steps that could be taken immediately. Additional funding for inadequate shelter spaces on reserve and in northern communities, addressing the horrifying numbers of aboriginal children in foster care, real approaches to keeping families together, better funding and support for aboriginal policing, and better co-ordination among all levels of government would all be positive steps. Unfortunately, the federal government's response to this urgent crisis has been complete inaction.
The government's action plan, which members opposite will undoubtedly shortly point to, is no more than a repackaged inventory of inadequate federal programs and funding that existed before last fall's announcement. The $25 million highlighted as new money simply maintains the existing insufficient funding levels from 2010. Many of the broader initiatives noted in the larger strategy are not even directed at aboriginal people at all.
The epidemic of violence must end, and the Conservative government, which claims to be tough on crime and to stand up for victims of crime, cannot continue to ignore this appalling situation.
Only a national inquiry would have the credibility, scope and resources to address the systemic problems underlying the violence. It would provide the accountability to ensure implementation of its recommendations, and bring justice and reconciliation to the victims and their families.
I urge all members to support my motion, and I thank so many of the aboriginal women and girls who have helped us on this journey and who still suffer so much.
Subtopic: Missing Aboriginal Women