Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place and discuss an issue of such gravity to the Canadian public.
In doing so, I want to begin by saluting the work of my colleague the member for Churchill, who just made another passionate speech. I cannot remember how many times she has spoken out on this issue in the House; I have lost count. It is always moving when she does so.
I want to say that, if there is any issue that is nonpartisan in nature, it is this one. I want to, therefore, salute the member for St. Paul's and the member for Labrador. Both members have spoken eloquently in support of the motion by the member for St. Paul's.
I want to just read the motion:
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;
Who could oppose that?
...that the government has failed to provide justice for the victims, healing for the families, or an end to the violence;
That would also appear to be uncontroversial.
...and that the House call on the government to take immediate action to deal with this systemic problem and call a public inquiry.
It would appear that the last part is what may separate the government from the opposition on this motion. I say it “may” because I note that the motion by the member for Churchill was defeated, Motion No. 444, a motion that would have done exactly what this motion calls for, an inquiry, but also a number of other measures.
It was defeated with every Conservative member except one voting against it. It talked about prevention. It talked about support for research, advocacy, and the like. To everyone's surprise, that was defeated by the government in this place.
Why is this important? Why do we continue to talk about something that has drawn shame for Canada from across the world? When the United Nations came in 2008, the committee for the elimination of discrimination against women, it invoked what is called an optional protocol to conduct an inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls.
Finally in 2015, it came into Canada to investigate. In its report, to our embarrassment as Canadians, to our shame, it concluded that Canada's ongoing failure to address the extreme violence against indigenous women and girls constitutes “a grave violation” of their human rights.
As a Canadian, I know that anyone watching will share the sense of shame that I feel, the embarrassment, that our country had to be called out by a United Nations agency for its failure in this respect. More than 1,000 people are affected. They are of aboriginal ancestry, but they are fellow Canadians. That is why I think we all stand together and say this is just a shocking stain on our international reputation.
I am proud to say that the Leader of the Opposition has committed publicly, on more than one occasion, that within the first 100 days of forming government, he would call a national inquiry. Surely, it is long overdue.
He has recognized, as so many have in the debates over this topic, that this is a systemic issue. Two words strike me. The first is epidemic, because it is an epidemic of violence. These lost souls and their loved ones and the suffering they are going through is an epidemic
The second word is systemic. It is a systemic problem, because it is rooted in poverty and what goes along with poverty: poor health, mental health issues, homelessness, lack of justice, addictions, low educational attainment, and so forth, the very precarious nature of the lives of so many people whose fate we are discussing in this place tonight.
It is interesting to hear the parliamentary secretary stand in this place and talk about why this is so unnecessary and so forth, that everything is just fine, that we have repealed section 67 of the Human Rights Act, and that is going to make things better. It is not.
What has the government done but cut funding? I can remember a day when the court challenges program was set up in 2006, which would allow litigation under section 67 of the Human Rights Act that might have addressed these issues.
What did the government do? It killed the funding for that program entirely, as if aboriginal people, already poor, are going to have the wherewithal to advance their causes in courts or in human rights tribunals. It sounds just great until we go a little further.
In 2006, enormous cuts were made to Status of Women Canada. Most of its regional offices were closed. It did great work to support aboriginal women in causes like that. However, once again, when the funding is cut to these organizations, it should not surprise any Canadian that we will have problems.
I was at a meeting this morning in which a number of groups came together and produced a report called “Dismantling Democracy: Stifling debate and dissent in Canada”. Cindy Blackstock, a passionate aboriginal advocate for children, spoke about the harassment the Privacy Commissioner of Canada had found she faced as she tried to go about her business in advocating for aboriginal women, and the surveillance she had undergone.
In the context of that, the report talks about the cuts that the federal government has made to support indigenous voices. According to the report, between 2012 and 2015, the federal government cut approximately $60 million to indigenous leadership organizations. The Assembly of First Nations, which analyzed these budget figures, found that these cuts constituted a 59% drop in funding.
When the government cuts the funding for organizations that support aboriginal women in their quest for justice, when it cuts the court challenges program, when it cuts the Status of Women budget and then says that it is no problem that we have a section in the Human Rights Act so all is well, it is cynical in the extreme.
The quest for justice is taking place across the country. For over 20 years, people in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver have been marching to address the issue. We had the horrors of the Pickton affair. We have the Highway of Tears. A lot of this happens in my province of British Columbia.
Year after year, the New Democratic Party members have been calling for an inquiry. I salute the member for St. Paul's for coming to this issue, but this is one that we have been addressing for so many years.
In my particular part of the world, Victoria, I want to talk about the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. Jeannette MacInnis and Paul Lacerte, the leaders of that organization, have something called the Moose Hide Campaign. I attended one of their annual events not long ago in Victoria. It is about aboriginal men talking responsibility for violence. It is a very moving thing to do to go through one of their days, as I did not long ago.
I want to salute the work of Victoria Pruden, of Bridges for Women, who has been so strong on this issue. Also, the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre has drawn the attention of its clientele to the issues we are addressing tonight.
The member for Labrador pointed powerfully to something that deserves repetition. She pointed out that recommendation 41 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was that there be an inquiry into the murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. She pointed out that it was tied to the legacy of residential schools, the effect of which we see in all the communities across Canada affected by the scourge of that racist system and what we now have to deal with as a consequence of that misguided Government of Canada policy from so many years ago.
How many Canadians will forget the picture of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development sitting in the room when Justice Sinclair was making his call for that inquiry. He was sitting when everyone else was applauding. That picture is indelibly marked on my memory for sure. I was so ashamed to watch that today.
The government calls the Tina Fontaine issue not a sociological problem, but just another crime, another criminal issue. It says that going after the root causes is not high on the Prime Minister's radar, as he himself said to Peter Mansbridge. It should be high on the radar of Canadians. It should be high on all our radars.
It should be shocking to Canadians to have an international UN agency come to Canada and call attention to the discrepancies in our legal system and our failure to address the large percentage of our population. That over one-third of prisoners in women's prisons are aboriginal is a shocking statistic that all Canadians should pause and note.
I speak in strong support of the motion and commend it to all members of the House of Commons. It is long overdue that we do the right thing for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.