Good morning, everybody. Thanks for having us attend this particular committee.
Domestic violence is a major concern for the Edmonton Police Service and the community, affecting all aspects of society. Violence in the home is a leading cause of injury, and children who grow up witnessing this violence are often affected for life. The EPS is committed to providing the most appropriate and effective response to domestic violence.
Edmonton Police Service members are consistently reminded that some victims might require more information and assistance specific to their situation and that in some cases unique specialized support may exist.
The following are examples of concerns aboriginal victims might have and/or misunderstandings: resources may be limited; a support system may be in the specific community in which they live; the suspect could be an important member of the community; the suspect may have possession of the family home; suspicion about the justice system may discourage many aboriginal people from viewing it as a viable option; victims may be reluctant to send a suspect into a system that is viewed as racist; many victims in cases of domestic violence fear police will apprehend their children; and in some communities, culturally appropriate services may be limited or not exist at all.
Within the Edmonton Police Service, our policy defines domestic violence as any use of physical or sexual force, actual or threatened, in an intimate relationship. It may include a single act of violence or a number of acts forming a pattern of abuse through the use of assaultive and controlling behaviour. The pattern of abuse may include physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, stalking, and threats to harm children, other family members, pets, and property. The mandate of the Edmonton Police Service's domestic offender crimes section is to provide a timely response to the investigation of serious or complex cases of domestic violence and to provide victim-based intervention and advocacy services cooperatively with partnering agencies.
Understanding that intimate partner violence is one of the most common and potentially lethal problems dealt with by police, the domestic offender crimes section endeavours to apply risk and threat assessment strategies identifying important victim vulnerability factors in each case.
Some of the risk-enhancing factors, which we consider but do not limit ourselves to, include the following: a lengthy history, both with regard to the relationship as well as offender-specific; victims, including children, who are fearful; a significant or imminent risk of harm; issues that are culturally sensitive; a recent breakup, separation, or divorce; high-risk stalking behaviours; criminal harassment and/or breach of a court order; mental health concerns and/or a pattern of irrational or violent behaviour; recommendations from the Integrated Threat and Risk Assessment Centre, I-TRAC, respecting a safety plan or offender considerations or concerns; concerns from other sources, including community agencies that have intimate knowledge of the victims or the offenders; and concerns and recommendations from the crown.
Briefly, our investigative response starts with patrol divisions that are responsible for the initial response in all cases of domestic violence. If doing so is deemed necessary, a detective from the domestic offender crimes section can respond and assume the primary role of the investigation. Detectives from DOCS are available on a call-out basis for incidents that occur outside of their normal working hours, and the assigned on-call DOCS detective is available 24/7 for consultation on domestic violence issues or concerns. There are five detectives assigned to the domestic offender crimes section within the city of Edmonton.
With regard to advocacy and intervention initiatives, the Edmonton Police Service and the City of Edmonton community services department have established intervention details to provide services to individuals involved in domestic violence. The details comprise a divisional constable and a registered social worker. The details are responsible for the review and assessment of intimate partner domestic violence cases. Registered social workers assigned to the details may perform a risk assessment on selected cases. Intervention is tailored to meet the individual needs of the victim and/or offender of domestic violence. Intervention may include further investigative strategies addressing issues or concerns not highlighted in the original investigative report; developing a comprehensive safety plan with the victim and proactively working with other divisional members, victims services unit, and other community agencies in an effort to provide appropriate responses to cases of intimate partner domestic violence. There are five domestic violence intervention teams that work under the domestic offender crimes section.
Decisions to provide intervention may be based on but not limited to the following risk-enhancing factors: incidents involving repeat calls for service relating to couples in an intimate partner relationship; reports of domestic violence where no charges have been laid; and domestic violence cases where a common assault or assault causing bodily harm with or without a weapon charge has been laid; or in any of the above situations where children are present and exposed to domestic violence; cultural sensitivity issues, patterns of violence or abuse, including threats that appear to be escalating; financial strain; addictions and/or other stress factors; and the age of the victim or offender is under 21 years of age.
Public education is provided by the domestic violence intervention team members to a variety of professionals in agencies, services, and institutions. These include hospitals, post-secondary programs, schools, ethnic associations, churches, neighbourhood groups, business groups, and others.
The domestic violence docket court is a team that we also have within our section, and it is comprised of a constable and a City of Edmonton social worker. They attend domestic violence docket court daily in Edmonton. In consultation with the assigned crown prosecutors, the teams will review cases and perform the following duties: interview victims, the accused, family members, defence counsel, and other community agencies; assess concerns regarding family dynamics, release conditions, and counselling services, which may be required for the victim and/or accused; make appropriate risk-reducing recommendations regarding the victim, release conditions, and any other variances in previous court orders; follow up with other assisting agencies and coordinate plans for family reconciliation and safety.
Under our section we also have the elder abuse intervention team. That team is comprised of a constable from the Edmonton Police Service, a social worker from the City of Edmonton community services department, a Victorian Order of Nurses nurse, and Catholic Social Services. The team is responsible for assessing information from investigative reports about elderly adults aged 65 years of age and older to determine if they are in an abusive situation or care, and if required, provide intervention.
I'm from the Awo Taan Healing Lodge in Calgary, a 27-bed emergency shelter for abused women and children. We provide a broad continuum of support services guided by aboriginal traditional teachings—including prevention, intervention, and healing—to anyone affected by any form of violence.
There are two components to our program. First, we have the residential program, which is a 27-bed, full-service emergency shelter. We operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have a 24-hour crisis line. We provide emergency health care—we have a nurse practitioner on board with us—as well as health intervention. We provide a child support program, transportation and meals, and cultural and elder support.
In our non-residential programs we provide outreach. Outreach is for moms and children who have left the shelter and are transitioning back into the community for healthier, violence-free lives. We provide a youth and family program. This is an early intervention program for our youth and pre-teens, which looks at healthy relationships, including dating relationships. We have an anti-bullying program with our partner school, Piitoayis Family School. We have a triple-P parenting program. We have healing and peer support circles for women, men, and children. We have a cultural enrichment program, as well as an elder support program.
We all know that the extent of violence against aboriginal women is huge. I took this quote from Dr. James Waldram to further enhance this point:
Among the most serious health problems affecting Aboriginal people in the decades since the end of the Second World War...are injuries sustained as a result of accidents and violence.
As for a definition of family violence, I wanted to bring it from a historical perspective to contextualize the reality of aboriginal women today. Family violence is a consequence of colonization, forced assimilation, and cultural genocide, the learned negative multi-generational actions, values, beliefs, attitudes, and behavioural patterns practised to weaken the aboriginal people.
In 2001 there were just under half a million aboriginal women in Canada, representing 3% of the total female population. I won't go into the statistics because we've already heard some of those.
One of the other points I wanted to make is that a research project by the Canada West Foundation stated that more aboriginal people live in urban centres than on reserves, especially in western Canada. Two-thirds of urban aboriginal people live in western Canada, primarily in Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver.
I won't talk about the various barriers faced by aboriginal women. Rather, I will move on to the Awo Taan Healing Lodge and the composition of our clients coming in. In the past 10 years, we have served 2,500 women in the emergency shelter alone; that's not counting our other programs, which I mentioned earlier. Our statistics show that approximately 50% of the women coming in have been first nations women. What that means is that the burden of the service needs of first nations and aboriginal women coming into the city is on some of our aboriginal organizations. There is a need to increase support and funding for our agencies.
In the province of Alberta, from March 2009 to March 31, 2010, Alberta domestic violence centres, including Awo Taan, accommodated 6,169 women and 5,601 children provincially. That's among 43 emergency shelters in the province of Alberta.
In that same year, the shelters were unable to accommodate 10,364 women and 6,474 children. We know for sure, from the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters' statistics, that 67% of the women entering emergency shelters in this province are aboriginal women.
I just gave you the number of the women and children that we've turned away. We think approximately 17,000 people were turned away in Alberta, and 67% of those are aboriginal women and children. What does that mean? What about the women who are not accessing shelters? Where is their safety? Where are their cultural supports? Where are their healing places to go to?
We are severely lacking supports and services for aboriginal women in this province, and I'm sure across the country as well. Our statistics indicate that the rural and urban migration is increasing at a rapid rate, yet the dollars are not matching the needs for service. Therefore, we can assume from these numbers that thousands of aboriginal women in this province are not receiving the care, the intervention, and the safety required to live violent-free lives in this province.
My recommendation from the Awo Taan Healing Lodge, based on the 20 years of service that we have put into advocacy for aboriginal women, is to develop a comprehensive strategy to develop a research agenda for aboriginal women and children. This would take a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to the issue of violence against aboriginal women.
Good morning. I am the executive director of the Métis Child and Family Services Society in Edmonton. Our agency delivers 10 community programs to the citizens of this city, specifically to the aboriginal community.
Violence against aboriginal women begins at an early age. We deliver 10 programs. I'll speak about five of those programs because they affect violence, certainly family violence and violence against individuals at all levels.
We look after the aboriginal family violence program in Edmonton. Kari is one of the outreach workers. She also works with our SNUG and community outreach program on the street. In that program we have currently more than 430 women on our database, working girls. We try to provide the best support we can to them.
We also work with the protection of sexually exploited children—this program was formerly called protection of children involved in prostitution—and we've been involved in this program since 1998. Unfortunately, many of these girls, who we started working with at ages 14, 15, and 16, are now adults of 24, 25, and 26 who are on the street and can't exit that lifestyle.
Our aboriginal child and family support program provides in-home family services, and we've been doing this for about 25 years.
The other program we deliver is foster care. That's the most troubling one in our community right now because 65% of the children in care in this province are aboriginal.
We also deliver what I call the Choices school program, where we hope to keep our children in school and make life a little easier for them. We have five registered social workers working in five public junior high schools.
Each of our programs deals with the different issues and allows us to work with all groups in the community that experience instances of violence, from the girls on the street to moms and children in the family as well as children and youth in the schools and the community. In the last 21 months we've served more than 700 families that have experienced issues of family violence of one kind or another. We've documented 745 cases of physical abuse, 253 cases of sexual abuse, as well as financial abuse and spiritual abuse. Also, more than 200 of our girls on the streets have experienced physical abuse and beatings in the last two years. In fact, in the last two days—that's why we're running a little bit late—we've been conducting a street outreach program with our partners from the city police, and seven of the girls who were brought in that we had interviewed and tried to provide some support to had reported bad dates where they'd been beaten. The strange part was that only one chose to lay charges and report the incident. And I think it took Kari some time just to convince her that maybe she should report it, because not only was she beaten but she was cut up.
Last year we did a research project funded by Public Safety and interviewed more than 309 working girls. Our findings on that really didn't surprise us. We found that they were all abused at a young age by a family member or friend. Currently, all are abusing drugs. They said that it was these two factors that really allowed them to be coerced or forced or persuaded to do the life on the streets.
We have provided support and help to all of these individuals as best we can over the past 25 years. Unfortunately, it's not getting any better. There's lots of work and lots of support that needs to be done in this field and there's lots of opportunity at the front line. Unfortunately, there are lots of people who want to advocate for our community. They like to meet, they like to talk, they like to plan, but it doesn't appear that they want to get down and actually do the front-line work. I find this frustrating as a member of our community because resources and funding are very limited.
Not a day goes by that we don't have some individual who has been beaten, has had her house ripped up, and has had her possessions taken. Then she has to go back to try to find support or help within the community.
We commend the city police, because they have worked very diligently with all of our units and agencies in the city, but we need other supports. For example, if you're given a move or they help you move and relocate, you can only do that once.
I had a case last week where a women's mate had come in, beaten her up, thrown her out, smashed up her house, and left the water running. We tried to get her relocated, but because she had already had one relocation three years ago they would not consider it again.
Those are some of the issues that affect our community, and they're not getting any better.
We're prepared to answer questions later on.
My name is Jo-Anne Hansen. I'm a registered social worker and I own a little company called The Spirit of Healing. I'm here to represent Little Warriors. Little Warriors is an organization that's pretty new, and it's to support victims of sexual abuse.
I'm from northern Alberta. My father was Carl Frank Hansen-Halcrow, and my grandmother was Sarah Halcrow. I'm passionate about this work because of where she came from. My grandmother married my grandfather when she was very young, 16 years old, when she was stripped of her treaty status. She was beaten pretty much until she died at 47 years old. I'm here to represent my heritage. I'm first nations, Métis, myself.
Seven minutes isn't very long, so I have only two things to address that I've learned from my counselling with residential school victims--because that's what I do. One is codependency. Codependency is the key and probably worst effect of residential schools, because children were forced to keep the peace just to survive. It doesn't surprise me that there's so much abuse in aboriginal communities because of that. The other key that's important is bullying. I learned a long time ago that the only way to protect yourself against others is to know yourself well enough so that others can't use you against yourself.
I wanted to make an impact from a traditional perspective using my music, so I wrote this song to address that. There will be little bits and pieces where you'll see that I imagine my grandmother being beaten and then trying to figure out how she was going to survive the next day. I wrote this song for that.
Bear with me. I've never done this before in public--not this way, anyway. But it's very important to me, so I'll take a few chances and see what happens:
In the night after I wake up,
And feel the teardrops in my eyes,
For a moment I am startled,
What's in dreams that made me cry?
So I crash through the shadows,
Stumble through the empty halls
Turn the radio on softly
I want to make sense of it all.
Call into the night, hear the voices.
Hurting image on the wall.
Each is my memories, echoing I am nothing at all.
The images are scaring me, like I have no control.
Don't forget they are just shadows; they don't have any power at all!
So I crash through the shadows,
Stumble through the empty halls
Try to find a warm steady heart beat,
In the cold, steel concrete walls
The steel guitar is screaming
Stings the center of my soul
Overwhelmed that I am not dreaming, fighting my way to stand up tall.
The struggle is drowning a voice of reason;
The tears are me believing
That all this is me! “Realizing,” that it “Really, isn't me, at all!!!”
So I crash through the shadows,
Stumble through the empty halls
Turn the radio on softly
I want to make sense of it all.
Then the voice starts with humming, harmony to my soul
Resonating a common moment as she takes my hand in her palm.
Saying, “It's not your home, not your friends nor your lover,
The truth is it's in your song.”
“We all need a little help.
When our walk feels like a crawl!!!”
I'm not crazy, I am healing and can rise above despair!
This is real and I'm not dreaming!
The truth is, “I really care!”
I'm not crazy, I am healing and can rise above despair!
The tears are real, and I'm not dreaming
The truth is, “I really care!”
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you all very much for being here this morning. We've been travelling the country with this committee, and I think all of us have been quite overwhelmed by what we've heard. We're realizing that what we have taken on is significantly more than we might have anticipated.
Ms. Hansen, thank you. This morning you captured something in your song that other words have not been able to bring together. Thank you very much.
I'm not sure quite where to begin; I have lots of questions.
Ms. Nepinak, you indicated that you have a number of statistics that you aren't going to read into the record. Will you ensure that our clerk gets them so we have them for the report and the discussions that will follow? That will be very helpful, thank you.
I want to start with the police. I hope I won't be rude; I don't mean to be.
We have been hearing almost everywhere we've gone about the systemic racism of institutions in dealing with aboriginal women--their fear of going to the police, non-aboriginal organizations, and social service organizations for help.
One community I was in--not the committee--told me that their women did not feel they had any protection from their police force. From what you've presented today, you're clearly making an effort. You have a comprehensive outline of programs and activities.
What are you doing differently? Would you say that there are people who will not come to you because of fear of racism? If so, how are you dealing with that?
I'm not sure of the question to ask. I want to know what you're doing, because on paper you seem to have a lot going on.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thanks very much to our witnesses for being here today. This is our last stop, but probably the most emotional. I do not know if whether it is the fatigue, or whether we have seen so many people, but I know that you have played a part in it, Ms. Hansen. Your song put us all on an equal footing this morning. You opened our hearts. If we really want to solve the problem of violence against aboriginal women, I believe that we will not do so with our heads but with our hearts. Because of you, we are speaking from our hearts now, not from our heads, and I thank you for that.
Mr. Langford, I appreciated your testimony very much. But, at the same time, I despair when I see that children who were involved in prostitution 10 years ago are still involved in it today. What makes 14- and 15-year-old children become involved in prostitution, and stay involved, for such a long time? Why is there no way out of this problem? Why?
There is. We do have a program called PSECA, which is to try to disengage the individuals out of prostitution. But the sad, unfortunate reality is that we have girls who are second and third generation from family members coming down, and for a lot of them, because of the high capacity of sexual abuse they endured at very young ages, the horrible attitude and concept in their world is, “I never had an opportunity. I never said I wanted to lose my virginity. I did not want to become a prostitute. But when you're violated over and over again, you might as well start to charge for it rather than give it away for free.”
That was the mentality. We've reshaped it in many forms where those gals who started at such a young age unfortunately just could not shake the whole reality of being able to square up their lives. It was a scary world, and they felt there was very little support. But we do have programs to help our underage ones, and also the over-18 ones, the program that I assist with running as well.
Many of these gals don't feel they're worth enough to be anything other than working out on the streets and being degraded. Many of them don't believe they're worthy of getting compliments, worthy of being treated with respect. So it's something that we as a group are constantly doing, reinforcing that they need self-empowerment. It's extremely detrimental within their teachings...so we do have many capacities where we intervene.
It's not always under an arrest where we deal with these women. When we are doing the streets it's literally to see how they are doing--if there have been any bad dates, if there have been any occurrences of violence.
The changeover has been overwhelming. I will honestly say that 10 years ago we never had women reporting bad dates. There was a trust factor between the police and the individuals who were working. Literally we have built a bridge where the officers are being requested by the working girls who have been assaulted, saying that there is enough trust now that they are actually reporting bad dates to them. Where we never had that 10 years ago, we have an overabundance now, which is self-empowering.
For the women who do leave, we have peer supports on those nights of operational and non-operational nights to let the girls know, “Yes, you are worthy. You can make it. I did.”
So we do have success cases, but unfortunately for those who....you know, their demise was unfortunately met out there. I personally have two family members who are still missing. We are presuming that they've been killed, or that they're no longer with us, due to the lifestyle of prostitution.
Thank you for the question. That would include health care, justice, shelter, a cultural program, and education. That would include systems that have historically been involved with aboriginal people, including our spiritual leaders in our communities as well, and the development of a comprehensive strategy to address the areas.
We do have a medical clinic right in our facility, and one of the issues we have seen at Awo Taan in Calgary is that of the women who are coming into the shelter, 75% have not seen a medical doctor in six months. We have children who have not been immunized. We have multiple health issues involving ear, throat, nose, upper respiratory, gastrointestinal. So a multidisciplinary approach would include all of those areas. Another piece would be around the research.
The issue of family violence is very broad, and I think as far as identifying what the need is goes, it's safe to say there are many at the moment. But it is such a huge issue, how do we then chunk the work out so that it is possible to do it?
On the main root, the research and the literature support the fact that colonization and assimilation policies have contributed greatly to the issue of family violence in our aboriginal communities. Colonization, as we know, is the forced destruction--for lack of better words, I guess--of aboriginal families and forcing children into residential schools as well. Residential schools have stripped away the spirit of the child--or have attempted to--in removing that child from, in many cases, a nurturing and loving environment.
We see the multi-generational legacy of the residential school. For example, I am a fourth-generation person who has been impacted by the residential school, but I have, however, built up some resilience to the issue.
In addition, policies, programs, and supports for aboriginal families have not met the issues in a way that is conducive to promoting family functioning, healing, and wellness in our aboriginal communities.
Up until recently, aboriginal women have not had culturally appropriate services for family violence in this country. Awo Taan Healing Lodge in Calgary has in the past 20 years developed programming that is framed from within what we call a “western” methodology as well as a cultural enrichment program. By combining the two interventions, we're finding that aboriginal women and their families--and their partners--are healing and moving towards a more violence-free life.
I think the biggest thing right now is poverty.
I think this is a great sitting, because my boarding school, when I was in care, was just kitty-corner from here. Ironically, that's where they built children's services.
I come from a family of residential school survivors. My wife went into residential school when she was six and came out at 14. I think the thing is that it's continuing today with the apprehensions and foster care.
Personally, I can relate to these children, because once you are apprehended, no matter how your family is and whatnot, you do feel that sense of abandonment. You feel that sense of betrayal. You feel that sense of loss. Ironically, all of these kids in care, when they finally age out, go home. So something is wrong with that picture. They have to quit apprehending our kids and they have to start working with our families.
It's in those families where the family violence starts. It's frustration. It's poverty. It's addictions. You know, you use what you've got.... And they're all depressed.
I want to thank the witnesses. I particularly want to thank Ms. Hansen. I think Ms. Demers is absolutely correct that one of the ways we can perhaps open another door is through music. The information we're being presented with is not new information. What you are telling us, we're hearing.... I haven't been part of the panel, but I'm the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP, and of course I'm very familiar with the issues around violence against aboriginal women. One of the things that often gets left out of this conversation, and you have mentioned it, is that violence against aboriginal women is not just against aboriginal women; it's against children, it's against the families, and it's against all the relatives. One of you talked about codependency. The stats on codependency, of course, say that for every person who is touched, there are at least seven other people who are influenced by this.
Ms. Nepinak touched on the issues around assimilation, colonialism, and cultural genocide. Mr. Langford added to that by talking about foster care. Many people believe that what we are actually doing is continuing that pattern of assimilation, colonialism, and cultural genocide through the foster care system. For the province where I live, British Columbia, 52% of the children in care are aboriginal children. And we know about the overrepresentation in prison of aboriginal people, particularly in western Canada.
With those depressing stats, what I'd like to do is ask each organization to tell the committee of one or two key things that you think are immediate and pressing that we need to take on.
I'll start with Ms. Hansen.
We live in the aboriginal community. I think we know just about every aboriginal person we read about in the newspapers. We have to start working with the families. We have to start with the individuals. We have to provide that support to them. We're not doing enough of that. That's where it has to start. It has to start at a young age.
We have great early childhood programs--Success by 6, Aboriginal Head Start--but we lose that when they go to grade one. We have nothing after Success by 6. We have to stay connected with these children because we have to start with the young generation. A good example is when they brought the dental program into Saskatchewan many years ago, they started it at grade one. So everybody in grade one got a dental exam and their teeth fixed. Then they maintained them when they went to grade two, grade three, and grade four, and everybody else who came in at grade one received services. In 12 years they had a complete, dentally fit group of young adults.
I think you can introduce programs like that. You have to find a base place to start. The base place is with the very young, because little children.... I have 10 grandchildren. They're very honest; they tell me everything. They tell their teachers everything. Once we engage the families of the young children, then we have to stay with them and provide that family support. When you maintain relationships, it's relationships that are key. You have to build that relationship with that parent and that family and maintain it.
I believe one of the areas I would certainly look at is developing community capacity. I believe that any community, whether it's a very remote and isolated community or a major urban centre such as Calgary, should be resourced and equipped, staffed, and financially resourced to build the community from ground zero, so that aboriginal families learn the skills to.... I should go back and say that most families have those skills. But how do we support families and communities, including our elected officials, to work together to begin to talk about the issue of family violence?
Family violence in our aboriginal communities continues to be a very painful subject. Many of our leaders are not talking about the issue, and we need ambassadors from our leadership to talk about family violence and to build communities that are adequately resourced.
We receive families from many remote and isolated communities from across the province, from Saskatchewan and across the country. Taking these families from their cultural community and bringing them into a jungle like Calgary is very traumatic and difficult for them.
Another thing I would recommend very quickly is that the three levels of government--the federal government, the provincial government, as well as the municipal government--need to talk to each other to support these initiatives and strategies that are happening, because we need to move away from the jurisdictional issues and be able to challenge that as well, to say that our women are dying--they're dying on the streets, they're dying wherever they are--and we need to take some action around it.
Ms. Nepinak, you ended where I was going to begin in terms of the interjurisdictional issues.
Mr. Langford, one of the things that I was particularly interested in that you commented on in your opening remarks was the fact that you have social workers in the public education system.
I have spent many years involved in the Winnipeg school division as a board member, and I have been very immersed in aboriginal matters. While the school system has its own social work component, it does not have--and I may be out of date--an aboriginal-based agency providing support to it in a very concrete way.
Could you tell us a little bit about that? It might be something we can build on.
We've been running our Choices school program for 17 years now. We have aboriginal social workers. They're in the five highest needs schools in the city, where there are large numbers of aboriginal children. We provide a morning snack, and it allows the children who have issues or difficulties to come and get a snack and maybe talk to the social worker and set up a chance to come back and discuss what's bothering them. A lot of it is family violence--addictions issues, peer pressure, run-ins with the law, the justice system--but we do a lot of cultural stuff.
Right now in my five schools I've had a couple of young aboriginal role models, James Jones and Linsay Willier, the next best model in Canada, who is on that dance program. They're aboriginal and they go into the schools and do an hour and a half presentation to the kids, just to show them what is possible. James is a graduate of Amiskwaciy Academy, which is the aboriginal high school in the city here.
There are lots of these little aboriginal programs and cultural ceremonies, and jigging. We teach jigging. I have a music teacher. We have over 200 students. We teach fiddle and guitar in five different schools. We teach it three days in the office and we do an outreach program at Sacred Heart Church. If you want to learn fiddle and guitar, it's free. We'll give you a little meal. We'll teach you how to jig. That's part of the culture.
In Aboriginal Week we set up our teepee and our aboriginal tent at all these schools, and we bring our jiggers. We have the world champion junior jiggers out of our office--and they jig.
We do a lot of that cultural stuff to get the kids interested.
For me the biggest gap seems to be in the spirit of healing counselling program I have. There's not enough funding for front-line workers to work directly with aboriginal people who are survivors of the residential schools.
The Aboriginal Healing Foundation is slowing down now and closing things down, but we still have IAP clients who are coming to do their settlements. There's a huge gap in support for those people, with their lawyer, with their families, because the IAP process has opened up a wound and there's no support for those people. That's affecting families.
I can name several people who have not survived due to suicide. Their addictions have increased because of this wound that has opened from the IAP.
I appreciate the funding I've been given to continue to support IAP clients. I am very proud to have been a part of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. But there needs to be more support for those clients and their families, because a lot of people are being hurt out there due to this process.
Certainly, I believe there's a lot of hope in our aboriginal communities across the country and there's a lot of wisdom. I think we're building on those areas and certainly keeping families together. Can you imagine a mother losing her two or three children and being told that she's not a good parent?
To me, being a mother, I could never imagine that. But imagine what that would do. In this province, 64% of the children are aboriginal children, and in some places, such as Manitoba, I believe that as high as 80% of our aboriginal kids are in care. So, yes, we've eliminated the residential schools, but we see the legacy of that, which continues. Now we're going to see another legacy of our children who are in care.
If we take the time and invest in our families to keep them together, then we'll be a lot further in society, I bet you, 20 years down the road. So we need to work to keep the families together.
Yes, I probably have a different outlook on this situation because I've been involved in this sort of work for many years, on the child protection side and now in domestic violence. I believe we have to address the issues of vulnerable persons in our community. Violence is still considered a viable option in peoples' lives, and there has to be some sort of paradigm shift. There has to be some educational component that tells people to stop, that it's not appropriate.
As a policing organization we have become desensitized because of the volume of work that is out there, because of the level of violence that we see perpetuated against people day in, day out. We've grown accustomed. We've made allowances. We've had to set thresholds with respect to what we'll investigate and what we won't investigate. We'll investigate assault causing bodily harm, but we can't look after assaults. You know what? We'll do the aggravated assaults, but we won't do the assaults with a firearm.
This is the world I live in now. It has become so complex and so busy that we have to make certain allowances within the confines of our own organization because we don't have enough resources. Do we need more resources? I'm not sure. I think there has to be a bit of a paradigm shift in terms of what we believe is important to us as a community. If the focus is vulnerable persons and family violence, I think that may alleviate a lot of the issues that we see, that we're dealing with now in the long term. I maintain this fact, and I've maintained it my entire career as a police officer for 25 years: you spend 85% of your time going into people's homes. It's not responding to bank robberies and the calls that maybe police officers think they're going to answer when they're young and impressionable. When they get old and bald like me, they realize that it's really important to learn how to talk to people.
So I think we have to get back to basics. You win the hearts and minds of people through their trust.
I think one thing that really prevents us from being able to stop the cycle of violence is that there's a lack of education within the court system itself, and I say that with the utmost respect. We continuously arrest individuals and bring them before courts, and often what's relied upon in assessing whether or not a person should be released back into the community is their criminal record. But we know that some of the most dangerous and high-risk situations involve individuals who have no criminal record. We apply or attempt to apply science, in partnership with the University of Alberta psychology department, to form risk assessments and to provide these risk assessments to the courts before these individuals even get to trial. So our most dangerous time is when somebody is brought before the court to speak to bail. If the person is released, a whole number, a plethora, of negative events can happen.
So I believe we need, perhaps through the federal government, to start some legislation along the lines of encouraging the court systems to rely upon science rather than on old criminal records, which really are useless.
We were just working on a case yesterday in which an individual had no criminal record, but in which, in consultation with a doctor from the psychology department at the U of A, we were able to develop a risk assessment tool that we provided to the courts. That individual is still in jail, and we know that is probably going to save a woman's life.
I just want to touch on something Ms. Nepinak mentioned about the three levels of government and jurisdictional issues. Of course, we see this over and over again. Right now, in fact, some of us would argue that there is forced assimilation going on as people are forced to leave their home communities, their reserve communities, and are forced into large urban centres, where there is certainly inadequate funding from the federal government to deal with urban aboriginal peoples. Oftentimes the government will say that now that you're no longer on reserve, you're a provincial responsibility, and in some provinces you actually have become a municipal responsibility, because in some provinces social services have been downloaded to the municipal level.
Given that your recommendation is that the three levels of government find a way to work together, can you make any suggestions? It's a mess. We see it in all kinds of areas. We see it in health care. We see it in education. We see it in the criminal justice system. The federal government is very happy--and this is not a partisan comment, because this has been going on for decades and it's not new--to offload it to the provinces and tell them it's their problem.
Do you have any suggestions?
Good morning, and thank you, Madam Chairman.
I'm very pleased to have been invited to have this opportunity to meet with you. It's an honour to be sitting here with the aboriginal women who are representing their communities.
I want to address specifically the violence in urban areas, and I want to do so based on three of my experiences, which I think bring me as a qualified speaker.
First, I have been a university professor now for some 30 years, working exclusively on issues dealing with aboriginal women across Canada. I'm both an anthropologist and a professor of women's studies currently at the University of Lethbridge.
Second, for a long time I have been a member of aboriginal communities as an anthropologist and through extended kinship networks. I seasonally live on the Highway of Tears in northern British Columbia and have lost people who are very dear to me, and I have suffered the pain of seeing young children violated by members of urban communities because they know these children are vulnerable and they can count on people not caring.
Third, I believe I can speak to this issue with a great deal of knowledge because I have just recently completed studies in urban areas specifically dealing with the reception of first nations women as they leave reserves and move into urban areas. Over the past 10 years, I have witnessed this transition and the responses of urban communities when aboriginal women, and most specifically first nations women from reserves, move into their neighbourhood.
When I look at the violence, I am concerned about the violence that is not perpetrated within the family. You heard very eloquently this morning about family violence. I'm concerned and wish to speak to you today about the violence that aboriginal women and young girls experience at the hands of outsiders to their community. The downtown east side, where I resided once, is perhaps the most infamous example of what happens to the most vulnerable when they move to the cities.
There are a number of reasons why urban aboriginal women are so vulnerable. We have to remember that 72% of aboriginal women are urban residents. In fact, the urban areas have higher rates of violence against women than in other communities.
The most compelling reasons that I think we need to deal with in order to understand the violence in urban areas are, first of all, prevailing attitudes, failure of authorities, and the wide public indifference to aboriginal women. We need to do nothing more than look in this room at the empty space for the media to realize that that indifference is writ large.
It's absence, total absence of media, and I know that's not been the only experience you've had where the media have not paid attention. And it's impoverishment.
To begin with the issues of public authorities, we heard this morning about the very difficult and painful job of policing where there are high levels of interpersonal violence, and we know that this can, in fact, desensitize, as was expressed by the representative of the Edmonton police. But that desensitization is only part of the problem. In research on all levels of official interaction with communities--whether it's health, education, the correctional system, the courts, etc.--we find that aboriginal women are discredited. Our research shows over and over again that they are not seen as valued citizens. This attitude is picked up and expressed over and over again in media.
When women go missing on Highway 16, if it's a young, blonde woman...as was the case in my home community, where one of my neighbours lost a child just recently, and that child's picture was on the first or second page in every paper in the nation for days. At the same time, one of my extended family members was found dead, and the only comment in the paper was that she was found dead where prostitutes were known to be. Well, thank you just the same, but it's also where I walk my dog and play with my granddaughter and have other family activities. The fact that it was a public park was never mentioned. Her name was not mentioned--a grievous problem with media, public education, and the authorities that so identified her. Her name has not been in the papers again. Interestingly enough, she was related to a young child who was savagely beaten by a former judge of Prince George who'd had a reign of terror over aboriginal women and their girls for years before he was brought to justice.
Finally, I want to talk about impoverishment. I want to talk about impoverishment on three levels. First, and most significantly, is the impoverishment of Canada consequent upon the colonialism, the biases, the outrageous discrimination. There's an impoverishment of imagination. There's an impoverishment of understanding citizenship. There's an impoverishment of recognizing what aboriginal women have contributed and can continue to contribute to our country. And there's an impoverishment of empathy for the vulnerable.
There is a money impoverishment that makes their transitions to cities so difficult, when it is so necessary. I'll give you one example. In the city in which I'm doing research about a transition home, women attempted to set up a transition home to bring women in to upper education programs and children's education programs from a nearby reserve. They have literally been harassed and run out of the community, and the mayor of that city recently said, “We must take back our communities and parks.” It's attitude. We need education programs across the nation, very broadly, and we need government action that takes responsibility for directing the citizens at large.
I am a Cree and Mohawk woman from the Michel First Nation. My colonial name is Suzanne Dzus, and I am the founder of the Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women in Calgary. I'm also a program coordinator and a facilitator within the Treaty 7 region.
We are an organization whose objectives include raising the awareness of peoples across Turtle Island in addition to honouring those women who have been taken long before their time. This morning I asked the Creator and my grandmothers to join us today that I may speak what needs to be said, but also that they aid this committee in hearing what must be done in order to incite true change.
Much of what I know has been given to me through stories shared by families and other women, as well as through my own experience. The stories have many similar elements: the lack of education, the lack of appropriate and accessible services, racism, normalization of violence, sexual assaults, and the acceptability of sexual assault. There are levels, and it has become unmitigatingly devastating for most young women.
The apprehension of our children that began with the sixties scoop still continues today. There's the marginalization, and there is the continuous and bombarding media that not only objectifies our women but sexualizes them at an extremely early age. All of these pieces are and have been controlled by Canada's nation state.
What I bring you here today is nothing that you don't already know and have not been told by many people long before me. Cases in point are the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1966 and the Amnesty International report Stolen Sisters in 2004. They speak volumes to the root causes of violence against aboriginal women.
There's the continuation of supported racism and sexism our women experience daily at the hands of society and government agencies, such as the RCMP. When the organization charged with protecting us displays a blatant disregard for our safety and well-being, how can the resulting ripple effect in our society be anything but detrimental to our aboriginal women?
I do not believe this committee requires any more information. It is required to take action and no longer contribute to the continued victimization of aboriginal women. What I ask of you today is the commitment to incite true change. If band-aid solutions are all this research is willing to propose, then we're wasting our time and precious energy.
The first point of action is that all policing organizations be held accountable for their handling of investigations into the disappearance and murder of all aboriginal women. Saying “Sorry, we handled that poorly” is no longer acceptable. The apologies that went with the Pickton case were an aberration. The fact that he was allowed to continue for as many years as he did speaks volumes to the lack of respect and the lack of.... I've lost the word, but it speaks to the willingness of our policing systems to look at aboriginals and portray aboriginal women as second-rate citizens. That ripple effect is felt throughout our communities all across this country. This is not a new piece, and if you speak to aboriginal women on the streets, they know it and will share it with you. They don't go to the police because they'll get it worse there. I've heard that from them. They will not go. It's easier to handle what's going on themselves than to phone and be disregarded again.
On the second point of action, perpetrators must be held accountable for the violence against women and the parameters and description of violence to truly reflect the abuse women experience. Violence against women is not simply the hitting, slapping, punching, biting, shooting, beating, and raping. It's also about the words and descriptions we use for those women. It's our disregard for their human lives. That has to be addressed.
Finally, services must reflect the true needs of aboriginal women in Canada, both urban and rural. I ask today that you move forward and incite true change.
Yes, I do. I'm Chief Superintendent Mike Sekela. I am presently the criminal operations officer in Manitoba, but I believe I was invited because I am one of the co-founders and the team commander of Project KARE, as well as the team commander of the High Risk Missing Persons Project that was created in 2002. I also participate in the coordinating committee of senior officials for the missing and murdered women working group and with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police working group for the national missing persons program.
I've submitted a document to this committee that goes into great detail. However, in watching the committee involvement in Manitoba, I quickly realized that I wouldn't have enough time. I'll give a shorter version. The document is available in both official languages.
I'll explain what Project KARE is. It is a Royal Canadian Mounted Police-led initiative derived from a multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional joint forces operation called the High Risk Missing Persons Project. Project KARE has the Edmonton Police Service as a full-time partner, while enjoying secondments from most other police agencies in Alberta.
Project KARE is the third phase of the High Risk Missing Persons Project. It was formed not only as a result of work completed in the preceding two phases, but as a proactive response to the climate that existed in Canada following several high-profile serial offender cases, such as those of Robert Pickton and Paul Bernardo.
Project KARE has four objectives. Interestingly enough, its first objective, which serves as a continued improvement to the community, is to formulate and implement strategies that would minimize the lethal risk to the high-risk individuals.
The second objective, which is also a service to the community, is to investigate, identify, and apprehend the person or persons responsible for the murders of high-risk individuals, consisting predominantly of sex trade workers located primarily in Edmonton.
The third objective, which serves to enhance communications within and cooperation among agencies, is to establish an integrated Alberta-based homicide unit that has the capacity to investigate high-risk missing persons, unsolved homicides, and serial offenders.
The fourth objective that was created relates directly to the development of creative and innovative approaches that promote quality and excellence in law enforcement and a template of best practices for other projects, locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. Presentations on the Project KARE model and its operations have been provided to all major police agencies in Alberta and to many other non-police groups from across Canada and elsewhere.
The purpose of the High Risk Missing Persons Project was to identify, collect, collate, evaluate, and analyze high-risk missing persons and unsolved homicide cases in Alberta, and it was expanded to the region to determine if there were any potentially linked cases. It was divided into three phases.
Phase one was the collection and collation. Phase two was the analysis of the results to determine whether one or more serial offenders existed. This involved ViCLAS--the violent crime linkage analysis system--as well as conducting duplicate analyses on cases to determine the presence of any linkages.
A significant number of findings were documented, ranging from the acknowledgement that cases were positively linked, potentially linked, containing other entities or matches. As a result of phases one and two, there was a need for an investigational phase, which is phase three, or Project KARE.
Several creative and innovative approaches or best practices promoting quality and excellence in law enforcement in other areas have been created or used by Project KARE. Several existing partnerships with non-government agencies, police agencies, government agencies, aboriginal groups and persons, academic institutions, stakeholders, and clients were enhanced, while many more developed, in partnerships with agencies such as the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, with Ms. Muriel Stanley Venne, and the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation of Edmonton, with Ms. Kate Quinn and Ms. Kathy King. There was also a collaborative research project by Dr. Sandra Lambertus, “Project Lifeline: Addressing Violence Perpetrated Against Aboriginal Women in Alberta”.
These are just a few examples that Project KARE participated in. There are other innovative examples, such as the Pro Active team, which relates to goal number one: minimizing the risk of having more high-risk persons murdered.
There's an elaborate social agency fan-out system. There are victims' services, a family liaison plan, and a missing person unidentified human remains website. I also have two separate international best practice workshops. Improvements through the Alberta missing persons and unidentified human remains site and the Pro Active team are the ones that most relate to these hearings today. I believe we set a standard through enhanced communications within and among agencies.
In conclusion, I believe Project KARE is an excellent example of how services to the community have been continuously improved upon and continue to be improved upon when we are dealing with these very important issues.
Thank you again for the ability to speak to you today. I'll answer any questions you have as well as I can.
Hello, everyone. My name is April Eve. My traditional name is Medicine Spear Dancer. I'm from the Mikisew Cree First Nation, which is about 1,000 kilometres north of Edmonton. I'm the mother of a beautiful nine-month-old baby girl. I'm also the founder of the Edmonton Stolen Sisters Awareness Walk.
I'll give you a bit of background. In 2007 a small group of concerned citizens emerged in response to the hundreds and hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous aboriginal women across Canada. We started a grassroots movement, and from that an annual walk was created, the Stolen Sisters Awareness Walk. We are not funded by government or business. We are strictly a grassroots community-based volunteer group of everyday people. Many of us, including myself, have family members who have been taken, who are missing, or who have been murdered.
Many of us have a common life experience that consists of various forms of abuse, exploitation, etc., but we are not victims. We are survivors. We recognize that all cases of missing and murdered women are important. But the fact is, in Canada, in our communities, there are predators among us who are preying specifically on our women and children.
The statistics speak for themselves. These are some of the current research findings by the Native Women's Association of Canada. Some of you are already aware, I'm sure, of these findings, but it's important to recognize the harsh reality of targeted violence against aboriginal women and children. Aboriginal women, aged 25 to 44, are five times more likely to die of violence than are other Canadian women of the same age group. We experience violence by both aboriginal and non-aboriginal offenders. Our women also report experiencing more severe and potentially life-threatening forms of family violence than do non-aboriginal women, such as being choked, beaten, having a gun or a knife used against them, or being sexually assaulted. Aboriginal women and girls are also at an increased risk for homelessness. We are more likely to be killed by a stranger than are non-aboriginal women and girls. The majority of reported cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women involve young women and girls. Many are mothers. Most occur in urban areas, and nearly half the cases remain unsolved. In our group, we believe there's a strong link between domestic human trafficking and the cases of these missing and murdered women and children.
The Native Women's Association of Canada's mission is to help empower women. They identify that changes are needed to increase safety and lessen vulnerability of aboriginal women and girls. They believe that the violence against women ends with restoring a sacred position of aboriginal women as teachers, healers, and givers of life, and we couldn't agree more. With the Stolen Sisters Awareness Walk, we are trying to do our part to help raise awareness and to give a voice to those women and children whose lives have been taken, to those who are being sexually exploited, and to those who are still missing. In my own way, I am trying to help break the cycle of family violence, racism, and addiction.
We have been saying for the last few years that we would like to be more proactive with these causes and unite other organizations and people doing similar initiatives, so I'm honoured to share this with you today, on behalf of the Aboriginal Women's Professional Association, the City of Edmonton and the City of Edmonton's naming committee, the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation of Edmonton, the Memorial March for all the Missing and Murdered Women of Edmonton, the Stolen Sisters Awareness Walk, the Boyle Street Community League, the Edmonton Community Foundation, Edmonton city councillors Karen Leibovici, Ben Henderson, Linda Sloan, Kim Krushell, Mayor of Edmonton Stephen Mandel, and last but not least, the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister for the Status of Women.
We have all worked together and created our own committee to give a downtown avenue in Edmonton an honourary name to honour all missing and murdered women. The name chosen by the group is O Kisikow Way, o kisikow meaning “angel” in Cree. Syllabics for the Cree word o kisikow will be used in addition to the name to honour the past and present usage of the Cree language. The City of Edmonton's naming committee also supported the request to place a plaque along with the signage to educate and enhance the awareness of O Kisikow (Angel) Way.
The signage and christening for O Kisikow Way will be unveiled in May of 2011. This is in response to the request sent out from the City of Iqaluit, Nunavut, which was the first Canadian city to name a street Angel Street. Iqaluit is encouraging all capital cities in Canada to have a street named Angel Street to honour all the women who have been victims of violence. We are proud to say that Edmonton is now the second.
Thank you for the opportunity to be with all of you here today. We are hoping the federal government will do more research into the possible links between domestic human trafficking in these cases of missing and murdered women and children. We would also like to see a public service announcement that would be televised possibly across the nation to show and identify to the general public the dangers out there experienced by aboriginal women and girls.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
And thank you all for coming.
We've been on the road at hearings, and we think we've heard it all or that we have the story, and we come to one more meeting and we learn more and there are different perspectives. So I thank you very much for coming and sharing with us.
My second question, which I'll come to after, is a question about the Native Women's Association and Sisters in Spirit. That will be my second question.
And I don't mean to pick on you, sir, but I am going to focus on the police, because it has been very much a recurring theme in what we've heard as we've travelled, and we heard it today, right now. It is the fear of many young and not-so-young aboriginal women to go to the police. As I said at the previous panel, I was in one community of probably 30,000, where the women gathered there said to me they don't bother anymore. They don't feel that there's any protection from the police. They don't feel protected.
So you're here and you've got a project and you've got a model on the missing women, and we've all been calling for an inquiry into the missing and murdered aboriginal women, but my real issue is this. What's going on in the RCMP, from your perspective, that women are afraid to come forward and report what they're experiencing? It's not confined to one community; it's almost like a disease.
In Project KARE we have the Pro Active team. I explained the first goal and objective, which is to minimize the risk of having further high-risk persons murdered, and that includes aboriginal women, but all high-risk persons.
We have a 90% compliance rate of registering with Project KARE, so that means there are over 900 high-risk persons who are voluntarily giving their information, coming to police, and interacting through places like PACE, the John Howard Society, Crossroads, and actually contacting us. That is why this project is a unique opportunity in the investigational world of policing, to build that trust. It's a trust issue, in my mind, and by being out there with the Pro Active team in its non-enforcement component of Project KARE, which is very interesting as well, we go out and talk to the high-risk persons, gather all their information, and they are part of the project.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thanks to our witnesses for being with us this morning.
Mr. Sekela, unfortunately, I have to get on your case as well. It looks like you are the only one in the group who thinks that things are going well. You are confident about the work you are doing, but Ms. Dzus, Ms. Wiberg and Ms. Fiske are telling us something very different.
In the 82 cases you studied, have there been any convictions? Have the proactive teams of investigators prevented any aboriginal women from going missing or being killed? Have they found those responsible in the cases of the women who have gone missing? Have the tools you have developed produced results any quicker? Ms. Fiske told us about an aboriginal woman who was found dead. Have your tools been able to find that woman's killer any faster?
I can say yes, we have had success in our second goal and objective, which was to implement strategies to capture the person or persons responsible.
Thomas Svekla was convicted of murder and is now declared a dangerous offender. Another Project KARE-mandated case, involving Mr. Joseph Laboucan, who murdered a young lady, Nina Courtepatte, is presently before the courts. There is another charge in relation to homicide, so I can't speak in great detail in relation to that. But, yes, we have success in the second goal within Project KARE.
Back to the first goal, I can tell you that in June I asked the same question: are we making an impact? Is the Pro Active team actually doing something other than having a 90% compliance rate. The numbers gathered then indicated there were 43 registered high-risk persons located after having been reported missing to Project KARE. There were 39 individuals with mental health issues on the street who we have assisted to get off the street, and we have 54 individuals recorded as having left the street for a permanent extended time.
Again, we don't do this in isolation. This is multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency, and integrated. What we do with the 900-plus registered and the program.... The Project KARE Pro Active program has expanded to places like Red Deer, Fort McMurray, and Grande Prairie. Other agencies from out east have come out as well.... I'd have to go through this material. I know they have. I'm thinking it's the Peel Regional Police, from my memory. Toronto has a similar program now.
Is there more we can do? I'm not going to sit here and say no. There is always more we can do. If we stop striving, there is no sense being here, but this is the measurable impact we have had.
When I look at what needs to occur within the Treaty 7 area or within the province of Alberta for us to see a difference, and the fact that we have a huge number of women who choose not to engage with the police at all...there needs to be trust built and it has to come from the top; it has to. I don't know how else to put it without saying that it needs to be mandated.
When I talk to aboriginal women and people who are employed by the Calgary city police, I hear consistently that there is a huge piece of racism involved within that organization that goes to the top of that organization. There are people who are employed by them who say that if they raise a stink, they are told very clearly that they will be at the bottom of the ladder very, very soon. They have to choose whether they're going to stay employed or move forward with filing any kind of complaint against superiors about racist actions within the police force. When I see that, I know that has to change for us.
One of the other things we look at.... I talk to women and their families, and I see the impoverishment, as Jo-Anne mentioned. We have a huge number of aboriginal women living in urban centres who have no idea how to access services. There may be services there, but they're not accessible for them. If they don't know they're there, then they're absolutely useless, and that is huge. So the services need to be appropriate.
We're looking at healing these women. Between the residential schools and the sixties scoop, which was the apprehension of children, which removed children permanently from their homes...again, I look at the destruction of family circuits. You're destroying the family units. Without support, those families can never grow. They can never become whole and healthy again.
I look at the family from which I came, and it is so fractured. It is so fractured. I have eight aunts. Every one of my aunts was raped, more than once, and it was okay because it happens to everybody. Really? Does it need to? When we talk about those kinds of acceptable numbers.... My daughter is 15, and if I have my way she will never be raped, ever, because it's not acceptable, and that's what I'm asking from you, that those pieces of violence are no longer acceptable.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
After sitting here...I don't know where to start and where to end. I'm listening to your stories and I feel the pain. No human being should be living in fear. Violence against aboriginal women is a very serious issue, and I think serious attention needs to be given to this issue.
Let me reassure you that our government considers ending violence against aboriginal women a top priority. We're dealing with an issue, however, that's a shared responsibility among all levels of government, whether it's the police, whether it's the justice system, whether it's aboriginal peoples, or whether it's civil society as a whole.
Our committee has previously heard about the need to address this issue of jurisdiction and whose responsibility it is to provide services. I think it is important that the federal government articulate a vision for all Canadians and that it establish guiding principles that will aid all players in dealing with this very terrible problem.
I have a question for each one of you: what suggestions can you offer for helping government deal with violence against aboriginal women?
Let's start with Jo-Anne.
I think this is really important, and I want to speak to the position of the police as an example. I want to remind the committee that they are not the only example, but they are here today, and we tend to emphasize who is amongst us.
To my mind, no matter how hard Mike works to address the issues throughout the ranks of the RCMP, he is not going to be successful if in fact the character and behaviour that he is asking of his members is so contrary to the public behaviour and the socialization in which those members must work. When they end up in the small communities in northern British Columbia, they are going to be lonely if they cannot socialize with the dominant community around them. And when the dominant community around them is downright racist, discriminatory, and contemptible of aboriginal women, it is extremely hard for those individuals, who are posted there for only short periods of time, to walk a line between those communities.
So what can the government do? I think first of all the government has to have a very strong education campaign on the human rights of aboriginal women. It needs to carry forth a very strong campaign such as the excellent example we just heard of, the streets of angels, but a campaign that goes beyond that to address the serious problems of bias and prejudice and vulnerability, recognizing that aboriginal women are citizens who contribute and who deserve the full protection of all levels of government.
I would not be so despairing if my research showed only the police as carrying this dilemma, but it is every level of government. Every little piece of work I do in education--gambling research, health research, etc.--shows that the same problems run right through. Aboriginal women are discredited at every level: their citizenship is denied. Public education programs are needed.
I think government members need to speak out every time we see the media carrying the lurid conversations it does about sex trade workers. This immediacy of listing mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and daughters as sex trade workers or people at risk--it's got to stop. The minute that taint comes out, there's a huge public reaction that these women got killed because they deserved to be.
You can be on Highway 16, our Highway of Tears, very briefly, and it's palpable. As I say, my neighbours lost their child very recently, a blond Caucasian child. No word of question about the dignity and integrity of that family showed up anywhere in the press. The people who were investigating two missing aboriginal women, one who was found murdered within 24 hours of the young girl, were called off the other cases even though the arrest for the first young girl was made simultaneously to finding her body. The other two women's cases were dropped.
We need a government with a strong, consistent, absolutely repeated message at every level of every service, because it's not just the police the women are afraid of. They are afraid of the hospitals because they're afraid the hospitals will report them to the police; they're afraid of the social service workers; they're afraid of going to get a driver's licence because they're afraid something might be on their record that will take them back to the police. They live in fear because there is an intertangled domination of discrimination.
I believe that Jo-Anne speaks very well and covers many pieces.
When I look at all of these pieces, I've heard stories of women who will not go into a homeless shelter because they're no longer safe. So when I listen to that, I need to know the same thing she does from the start, from the top; the message has to be clear all the way.
It's the same for me as a parent in my family, that there will be no swearing in our household. As a parent, I not only need to be a role model for that but also to enforce it. And I'm looking at the Canadian government and saying, you need to be a role model on this, so that this racism and sexism and the marginalization of aboriginal women will no longer continue. You need to be a role model for it and enforce it all the way down the line, right from you down to me—and that's it, that's how it's going to work.
I want to thank you all for coming.
I'm actually going to continue along Ms. Grewal's line of questioning.
I just have a quick comment first. I think most of us can talk about the endemic discrimination that is present throughout institutions—schools, hospitals, the justice system, and the social services system—and I think all of us can tell pretty terrible stories we've heard from friends, family, and loved ones about how they've been treated when they have dealt with the system.
Ms. Fiske, you started outlining some of what you see as important. It seems to me, pretty clearly, that government leadership is absolutely critical at all levels of government.
Ms. Wiberg didn't get an opportunity to respond to that.
I guess what I'm really saying is that we all acknowledge there are significant resources and support and cultural awareness that need to go toward first nations, Métis, and Inuit. I think that's agreed. It seems to me, though, that until we start dealing with the non-aboriginal community, it will be very difficult for the healing to happen, because you're still going to bump up against those institutions every day, no matter how healthy your community becomes—and people will gather strength by pushing back.
But if you were going to tell the committee the one or two things you thought were needed to deal with the non-aboriginal community, what would they be?
I grew up in rural Saskatchewan, and my sister and I were the only aboriginal kids in the whole school. I think—and my sister could agree—there was a lot of racism, not just by the children at the school but the teachers. I think if there were more education from the beginning of a child's education, with more focus on aboriginal awareness, that would be a great start.
I also know that various organizations in Edmonton have talked about something like a pilot project for aboriginal victims' services. Because so many of our people are living in urban areas, I think if we had aboriginal victims' services, just to start, in each major city in Canada, it would help bridge the gap between the aboriginal community and the police services.
But when you talk about all levels of government, I think quite often we leave out our own first nations governments, and they, too, should be held accountable; the responsibility should not just be left to non-aboriginal organizations. It really has to start in the home, it has to start in the schools, and it has to start in our communities.
Absolutely. If there is any incidence of that nature, it is immediately and swiftly dealt with. We do have processes in place, as do all other government institutions and organizations, but again, it's not tolerated.
I'd like to go back to your first comment, if you don't mind. The definition of high risk we use involves anyone--not just aboriginal women but anyone--whose behaviour, lifestyle, or circumstances place them at high or extreme risk of being a victim of violent crime. So that's critical, and that covers off your concern in relation to the university student. An example l can give is the file of a young lady who went missing in 1982 or 1983, I believe. She was a young girl, Caucasian, coming from school. Her lifestyle didn't put her at high risk, as would, say, a sex-trade worker's lifestyle, but the behaviour did in the sense that she was walking down a highway and she disappeared. It was the circumstances and what was left behind for police to review.
All of those things are taken into consideration. I just wanted to make sure...it's not a minimizing definition and it's not.... I know language is so important in these things, so I just wanted to make sure I cleared that up. It's regardless of gender or ethnicity. It's the circumstances, behaviour, and lifestyle all combined.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm just sitting here trying to think which question to go with, because there are so many.
On the missing and murdered aboriginal women, Ms. Fiske, you talked about living on the Highway of Tears. I was up in Prince George last year. I've travelled very substantially, and I have worked with the women in Manitoba a fair bit. Two or three of you are involved in marches for the women.
What we haven't talked about very much is the impact on their families. When I was in Prince George I met with the Highway of Tears governing council, and there were some family members there who were profoundly eloquent in expressing their sorrow, the impact on them, and their messages to me.
What would your message be to the families who were left behind by the murdered and/or missing aboriginal women?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. Fiske, in some of the places that our tour, our mission, has taken us, we have seen the most atrocious systemic racism on the part of government agencies, police services, doctors, even the entire population of a town. I cannot believe what I saw in Williams Lake. It is the most horrific place we had to visit. People there have not the slightest bit of respect for aboriginal communities.
You mentioned the mayor who said that a city had to take back its communities and parks. You would think we were in the southern United States in the 1960s. What is going on? What kind of country are we living in? Here we are telling the people who lived here before us, who welcomed us and allowed us to live on their land, that we have no use for them any more. We do not respect them, we do not give them what they are owed, we let them die, we let them be beaten, we let them go missing, and we do nothing. So what does that say about us? Whatever the members of this committee decide, whatever they recommend, what will it change?
Ms. Fiske, you have seen more than we have. Are we going to be able to change anything?
Canada has a very sad history, and Canada faces a huge challenge in our future. One of the biggest challenges we face is from those who would hear us today and deny the extent of the systemic racism.
You mentioned Williams Lake, and it brings tears to my eyes, because my husband and I moved our stepson from Williams Lake because of the racism against aboriginal children. We raised him away from there so he would be safe. So it's close to my heart.
I would say that this committee has the opportunity to make a difference. That difference will not be abrupt--it will be glacial--but it will be significant. I firmly believe, when I look at all of the research from around the world, when I look at the plight of the aborigine women of New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Latin America--and in December I was in Asia, looking at issues in Asian countries--that the most important thing this committee can do is go back to the Conservative government and tell them we need funding for the leading organizations of aboriginal women across the country. NWAC is, of course, with Sisters in Spirit, the most dramatic and best-known example. I could name many other aboriginal organizations here in Alberta.
We need to put them out front on this issue. By our actions we need to show that we trust them, recognize their rights, and have faith in their ability to take leadership and represent the women as their citizens. We need to hear them and respond to them.
We cannot continue to go on, as Caucasians who are part of this sordid history, berating ourselves, as I do, and expecting to still take the leading voice on it. We must show by every action where the leadership is, where the power is, and where the dignity is, because until we as a society put those women forward, we cannot protect them or value them.
I have just a quick comment before I go to Gloria.
Ms. Dzus raised something that I think gets neglected. People talk about residential schools, and that's not the end of the legacy around children. There were the residential schools. There was the sixties scoop, where children were removed from their homes and put in non-aboriginal homes. Now we have the ongoing 27,000-some first nations, Métis, and Inuit kids in foster care. So that has continued. I just want to put that on the record.
I also want to acknowledge a number of people who have spoken and said it's enough, no more reports. We want to see some concrete action that will make a difference in the lives of aboriginal women, their children and families, and non-aboriginal Canadians, because I don't think we can collectively heal until this happens.
Ms. Neapetung, you haven't had an opportunity to speak, so I would like to use my time to turn it over to you.
My name is Gloria Neapetung. I come from Yellow Quill, Saskatchewan. I'm an activist artist. I'm also a street survivor. I was drug-addicted, alcohol-addicted, and abused from the age of one or two. I worked on the street from the age of 13 until I was 34, dealing with violence, prostitution, and drug addiction. I did a lot of things when I was young. I also had six children.
I put my children in care because I knew I wasn't healthy. My children needed to grow up knowing they didn't have to deal with a drug-addicted mom and a father who was as well. I stayed with my husband for 18 years.
In 1992 I had an encounter with a serial killer in Saskatoon. In 1993 the RCMP came to see me in Regina. I took a lot of risks with my life when I stepped into vehicles. But in 1993, that's when I felt the RCMP didn't hear me or believe what I was saying to them. In 2004 I was arrested for accessory after the fact to murder. My co-accused murdered two men that year, and I was sent to the Edmonton Institution for Women.
I learned to manage who I am today and grow as a person, but I think back to working on the streets, getting into those vehicles, and not knowing who I could go to for help. There is SWAP in Regina, EGADZ in Saskatoon, and PAAFE here in Edmonton. There is Sage House in Winnipeg. I know about all these organizations because I wanted to work with them with the institution here. A lot of the women come from those places, and I wanted to let them know they are not all about condoms and needles, because that's why those women go to those organizations.
They don't know that they have programs or things to help them get off the street. I lived there, and that was the ugliest place I ever lived. I was numb through those years of not knowing who I was. Today I'm a beautiful artist. I lived through damage, and the Creator walks with me today.
Going back to Saskatoon, until I started doing these walks with different organizations and working with homeless people and being homeless myself, I never realized that my life was important. With these organizations I work with, I feel devastated for the families, because my family would have been devastated if I had gone missing in 1992.
People who work with the sex trade workers or alcohol or drug addiction...when they talk about the family, the government should be working with the children and the family, because the children are addicted as well as the parents. To keep them off the streets is why I brought those organizations into the institution, and I'm doing it again this year. This is something I do on my own, because these women in the institution need to know there is help out there and we can stay clean.
It took me a long time to get this far, but thank you for listening.
I want to thank the members of the standing committee for the opportunity to present the findings of a research study I completed a few years ago. The information I'm presenting is based on a province-wide study of aboriginal women's experience of violence in Alberta. I made the report public in November 2007. I've since confirmed that the information is still current and relevant, and indeed some of the situations have actually worsened.
I want to point out to the standing committee that it's only been in the recent past that the proclivity toward aboriginal women's victimization in Canada has been acknowledged in statistical surveys and that the gap in information at the national level has naturally led to similar gaps at the provincial level, Alberta being no exception. The availability of statistics combined with political drive plays an important role in the determination of program availability and sustained funding. So when there are no actual statistics available, you can see how reticent politicians are to approve programs and to continue with funding for proven programs. Yet even without the quantitative information, front-line workers across the province knew experientially that aboriginal women have been overrepresented as victims of violent crimes for many, many years.
Some of the key points from the study that I'd like to make include the following.
Much of the violence involving aboriginal women, I found, does come from domestic violence as well as the sex trade, but ultimately, most of the people involved in the sex trade did experience some kind of family violence.
In Alberta, aboriginal women are more likely to experience converging intersections of risk factors for victimization, including poverty, social and geographic isolation, homelessness, lack of education, substance addiction, prostitution, and family dysfunction. No other category of women in Alberta experiences such a multitude of interwoven risk factors for victimization.
Flaws in the criminal justice system are probably the most insidious of the systemic factors that subvert aboriginal women's safety, because aboriginal women are often encouraged to access police and the courts to help them. The stories of the women reveal how the criminal justice system plays a role in their continuing victimization.
There are some patterns that the study revealed. For example, in families and communities where aboriginal women are frequently victimized with little or no redress, the children are often at higher risk for victimization and the community is usually unstable.
Chronic familial dysfunction that has not been effectively addressed is another one of the roots of aboriginal women's victimization. The roots of crime are also embedded in the violence that has not been addressed in communities.
Current crime prevention strategies to protect aboriginal women are not particularly successful, because the roots of crime are so pervasive and largely beyond the women's control. The women's suggestions and acknowledgement of services that made a difference to them centred on things such as empowerment, understanding, dignity, respect, compassion, and trust. These women are not asking for anything more than the basic necessities for healthy relationships and productive functioning in society.
The violence experienced by aboriginal women is largely outside their own locus of control, and that was a central finding of the study. Addressing this effectively requires commitments from all levels of government, the court, their communities, and their families. More needs to be done to strengthen services to victims in the short and medium term. But the long-term goal should be healthy and safe families and communities.
Programs to improve prospects of aboriginal women cannot be provided in isolation from what is also needed by their families and the communities in which they live. Programs must include counselling, healing, recovery, and skills training. It should be anticipated that in some communities significant change will take more than one or two generations. Ultimately, eliminating the victimization of aboriginal women is dependent upon efforts directed towards health, economic independence, and self-sufficiency for all aboriginal people. The long-term goal should be to create healthy families and safe communities. This is where aboriginal women and their families will probably thrive best.
Thank you very much.
I just want to thank the committee very much for this opportunity to speak to you today. It's a real honour.
I'm an associate professor in the faculty of law at the University of Calgary. I'm also a former crown prosecutor. I worked for many years in the Northwest Territories, and I dealt with many cases of violence against aboriginal women at that time. That's the experience I bring to these discussions. Because my research focuses on legal responses to violence against aboriginal women, that's going to be the focus of my submission today.
I'll begin by placing the issue of legal responses to violence against aboriginal women in a bit of a factual context. I then have three main submissions to make, which I will illustrate with a concrete example. I'll then conclude by providing some recommendations that are related to my submission.
I know that you've heard many, many statistics as you've been travelling across the country looking at this issue of violence against aboriginal women, and I think it's important, for me anyway, to summarize those into two main points. First of all, violence against aboriginal women is more prevalent than violence against non-aboriginal women and violence against aboriginal men. The other thing is that there are distinctive forms of violence against aboriginal women and distinctive impacts that violence has on aboriginal women, and that sometimes requires distinctive kinds of solutions. For example, aboriginal women are three times more likely to be victims of spousal abuse compared to other victims of spousal abuse.
My own research shows that we often see the involvement of aboriginal women in the criminal and civil justice systems as disproportionate to their numbers in the population. We have about 5% aboriginal people in the population of Alberta. My research on Calgary's specialized domestic violence court shows that about 11% of cases heard by the court involve aboriginal victims. That's two times higher than their overall numbers in our population.
Similarly, my research on provincial family violence legislation shows that a disproportionate number of aboriginal women—22%—are involved as claimants in applications for emergency protection orders. That's more than four times the number of aboriginal women in the population.
At the same time, and you heard this, this morning, from the Edmonton Police Service, there's no requirement on the police to gather information about the ethnicity or race of the people they're seeing. I think that's one example of a very concrete recommendation that this committee could make. It's critically important for us to be able to measure the impact that the justice system and its response has on aboriginal victims of violence. Police need to be gathering that information so we can measure that impact.
Aboriginal women are also at a higher risk of sexual violence by a factor of about seven times and are at a higher risk of homicide by a factor of eight times. It's excellent to have the Statistics Canada reports on family violence that come out every year, but again, those reports don't always break down the level of violence that is being experienced by aboriginal women. So I think another concrete recommendation that this committee could make would be to have Statistics Canada always show in its reports on violence—whether that's family violence or sexual violence—what's the particular impact on aboriginal women that we're seeing.
When we take into account the fact that violence against women, including aboriginal women, is vastly underreported, these numbers we're seeing are really only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the prevalence of violence against aboriginal women, as I said, it's also important for us to recognize that certain forms of violence may be uniquely experienced by aboriginal women, and these forms of violence are related to ongoing colonization and the oppression of aboriginal women in Canadian society. So I think we can consider the horrible phenomenon of missing and murdered aboriginal women to be a form of violence that is really uniquely experienced by this group of women, and the same is true of the abuse of aboriginal women in residential schools.
That factual context leads me to make three main submissions. First of all, we must acknowledge that aboriginal peoples live under continuing conditions of colonization and oppression in Canada. This has an impact on the levels and kinds of violence that are faced by aboriginal women and on the solutions that are appropriate.
Second, it's critical that the voices of aboriginal women and their representative organizations be given prominence and priority in proposing responses to the violence they face, and I agree with the comments that Jo-Anne Fiske made on that matter earlier this morning. The involvement of aboriginal women is critical, whether we're talking about aboriginal solutions to violence, pursuant to self-government or aboriginal justice kinds of initiatives, or whether we're talking about responses that fall within the realm of Canadian law and policy.
Third, as long as Canadian laws continue to apply to aboriginal peoples, the development and implementation of those laws must always pay special attention to the needs and concerns of aboriginal women and their communities.
Just as a bit of an aside, I want to say that one of my proudest moments as a Canadian citizen in recent years was to watch the apology the federal government gave to survivors of residential schools in the House of Commons and to see Bev Jacobs, who was at the time the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, stand up and make a response to that apology. That was the first time the Native Women's Association of Canada has ever been given that sort of formal voice as citizens of Canada, and I think that was a real turning point. Aboriginal women were not able to participate in constitutional reform negotiations; they're often still excluded from discussions that take place about the sorts of laws and policies we should have in Canadian society, even though those laws are going to impact them tremendously given the prevalence of violence against them; and it is absolutely critical that aboriginal women and their organizations always have a voice around that table.
Do I still have a bit of time? I'm cut off.
First I want to thank all of you, as my sisters. You've come together to implement the standing committee. That is to be noted with much appreciation by myself, as the president of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, vice-president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, and chair of the Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights and Justice.
I've been around so long that it scares me, actually. I've seen over the years how both Conservative and the Liberal governments have deliberately underfunded the aboriginal women's anything. We've done reports and reports in this province—and I have to do my reading notes, too. But it was $150,000 for aboriginal women. It was the only program that ever existed for aboriginal women, $150,000 for the province of Alberta. They used to give us half because we're a bigger organization and we reach out to a wide area of women, but now they've divided it up into little pieces so that nobody can accomplish anything.
I must present my written paper.
I want to say that we have made our submission to you, and I have received recognition, the Order of Canada, and been cited at the United Nations for my work in the area of helping aboriginal women, children, and families. I'm very proud of that, but it hasn't changed anything. It has not changed anything. It has not given us one penny more to work with. It has not done a thing, even though I wrote to the minister, and I copied all the ministers, and I pleaded with him to realize the enormity of this situation--the enormity. I'm sure you've heard everyone talk about the enormity of the problem of aboriginal women being denigrated, killed, mutilated, left on a road or in a bush or in a motel or wherever. The slaughter of aboriginal women is what we're talking about, and it comes from the hatred.
I want to give you this example before I go on. The Saskatchewan Police College released posters to be used for target practice by the police in their province. This is a college. It was the image of an aboriginal woman. This was published in the National Post on February 19, 2001. To the uproar that came from many people about this poster that was used for target practice by the police, the response was, “No, no, it wasn't the image of an aboriginal woman; it was a Caucasian lady.” That should all make us feel good, right? They actually put the image of an aboriginal woman on a poster for target practice, and we have the bullet holes still where they had used it. Anne McLellan was the Minister of Justice. I phoned her and she phoned me back and assured me that those posters were removed.
That is the hatred against aboriginal women in a real-life demonstration. That's what we're up against. What I have learned over more than 30 years of working, as I am.... I was left for dead in the back alley of my home. I know whereof I speak, and I can tell you that my conclusion is that aboriginal women live in a country that is hostile to their very existence. That's shown in every statistic you would ever want to look at. And yet the enormity of this situation is not realized.
I want to see--I haven't got to my presentation yet--that every parliamentarian acknowledge that aboriginal women are the victims of the policies of this government, this government and every other government--not only this government but every other government. When I brought to the attention of the minister who responsible for Status of Women--I'll remember her name--I told her that the aboriginal women's program has not received an increase in 30 years, and actually was cut when Paul Martin did the cutting, and she turned to her assistant and said, “Oh, do we have that?” And she said, “Yes.”
She didn't even know there was this tiny, little aboriginal women's program across Canada.
I want to say there was a recommendation to increase the money to the Native Women's Association, but let me tell you, that is not enough. The money needs to go to the communities where the women are suffering; it needs to be brought to where the women are.
As you can see, I am not an impartial or a cool presenter, but I demand that this government and this committee, made up of women whom I consider my sisters, do everything in their power to bring this forward in every possible way.
I had asked Rona Ambrose to be the champion; we have no champion in Parliament. We have no one standing up and saying that aboriginal women must be considered. I had asked Ethel Blondin to be our champion.
Why is this? Would it deter their ability to get promoted? I don't know.
I wanted to spend as much time—
What is basic or fundamental to violence against aboriginal women in this country is the lack of funding to the women, to our organization and to every other organization in this country, to be able to be full citizens. They're not full citizens; they take the brunt of the hatred that pervades....
I urge you, I beg you, to make the strongest possible representations to the Government of Canada, because we have the programs. We are the experts. We know what needs to happen, but we don't have the money to go for that.
In the 16 years that we've been in existence, there hasn't been one year that we haven't struggled to keep our doors open, and it's because of the way in which aboriginal women have been treated, categorically, across this country.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, the three of you, for being here most of the morning.
I'm going to direct my questions primarily at you, Jennifer. I'll put my questions out and you can answer however you want.
I'd like to know what recommendations of yours you didn't get to.
I'd also like to know if you have done any work on the current government's crime bills and their impact on women. We've asked for some information, which we've not received yet. We're looking at it through Parliament, but I'd be interested to know if you've done anything on them.
Thirdly, one of the issues that has come up in the discussions is that there are many aboriginal women who are incarcerated, and I want to know if you have done any work on whether the reason for their incarceration is in response to violence against them.
I'll let you go with those.
I think I'll start with your second and third questions and then come back to the first one about my recommendations.
I haven't done specific research on the impact of the government's new crime bills on aboriginal women, but I do think it's fair to say the following, because aboriginal women face violence more often and in unique forms.
Every single time the government passes a law that has any relation to violence against women, or even violence more broadly, that law is always going to have a specific impact on aboriginal women. That has to be acknowledged, and aboriginal women therefore have to have a role in the development of that law and in the implementation of that law, because it is always going to have a specific impact on them, given what we see in the statistics.
Again, I haven't done specific research myself on the incarceration of aboriginal women, but I think there is research out there that shows that aboriginal women who are incarcerated are victims of violence themselves. Even if the particular incident that led to whatever placed them in jail was not one in which they were defending themselves, overall they are still experiencing colonization and oppression, and it is reactions to that colonization and oppression that end up with their being criminalized. I think the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada has done some really excellent work on that topic, and works closely with aboriginal women in doing that research.
As far as my recommendations are concerned, I've already talked a little bit about the importance of information gathering. I think mandating police as well as Statistics Canada to collect that information is key. I've talked about the importance of ensuring that every time legal responses to violence against women are made, aboriginal women have to be involved in those developments and in the implementations of those laws. They have to have adequate funding to enable them to have that consultative role.
It's important that there be specialized education and services for aboriginal women to assist them in navigating the civil and criminal justice systems, because we know that crime is underreported. There is the fear of racism within the criminal justice system, and if aboriginal women have actually taken the step of engaging with the justice system, adequate supports need to be in place for that to happen.
On the jurisdictional front, the issue of how governments can work together to try to solve some of these issues came up earlier this morning. I think there are strong models already in place for that kind of approach. The federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of justice sometimes combine their efforts to deal with particular issues, and I think the issue of violence against women is an area in which it's critical for all levels of government to come together with aboriginal leaders and aboriginal women's organizations to try to achieve those solutions.
I think I'll leave it at that so that other people can....
I'm pleased to agree on the screening of judges—and they should be screened before they become judges—and also police officers in recruiting. Especially police officers should be screened as to their prejudices and their biases and their discrimination against aboriginal women.
We did research with the Edmonton Police Service and the RCMP, and we asked them very simple questions about whether they had taken training, and of course they hadn't.
The Edmonton Police Service changed our survey, which made the survey invalid, because they weren't the same questions. They changed it despite our protests, and one of the respondents told us to save our money and give it to the Indians on welfare, because we couldn't even do a survey. In some ways it did us a favour, because it brought out the racism against us.
But this can be found out in the screening process. You can find out the prejudices at every level, and that may be one of the concrete ways in which the government at all levels can address racism.
Well, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women has been pleading and asking for stable funding, core funding, any kind of stable funding that will keep our doors open, because we have 16 chapters, but one of the greatest difficulties we face is that we have projects. Projects, projects, projects. So the project starts, we have to write the proposal, we do the work, we write a report, and then we can't get the same project. We can't continue what we started. We are constantly being told that, you know, the criteria have now changed. So they do not respect the aboriginal women's organizations such as ours to be able to address the needs, and we can do it. We can do it.
What has happened is that we have a project, we go out to the women, and we talk to them. We get them all involved and so on, and then our project ends and then we have to dream up something else or do something else. That is an absolutely direct message to the present government, and it was done by the Liberal government too. It stops us from becoming, as I said before, full citizens. We do this dance. We contort ourselves into all kinds of shapes to receive money on a project. So if we could look at a 10-year-plan, as we have declared the Decade of Difference for aboriginal women—which is included in my report—if we could look at some stability in which we could build the confidence in the communities and work with the women, they wouldn't go into the justice system. They wouldn't be arrested by the police. They're definitely afraid of the police, and the police are not their friends. It's the way it is. All the statistics prove that to you.
I think the wonderful thing would be to review the whole way in which aboriginal women are funded, direct them to the organizations that can reach them in the communities, because it's not good enough just to have a community organization. You have to have the leadership at the top to bring information, share information, work with the women, and have the confidence of the women. That's what's missing.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Nice to see you.
I want to thank you as well for coming and listening to a lot of the testimony. I have a brief comment before my question. It actually saddens me to hear what you're saying, because back in 2004-05 a number of us sitting at this table on the status of women committee did an extensive study on what women's organizations—it was broadly women's organizations—needed in order to continue to provide the very good work that they were doing, and the clear, consistent, strong message was that they need core, consistent, sustainable funding. And here we are in 2011 hearing exactly the same message from you, all these years later, and what we know over the last five or six years is that women's organizations have in fact been weakened even further. So I think it's a very grim fact that we're hearing that message once again.
My question is this. I wonder if any of you are aware of anyone who has taken a look at how the Indian Act contributes to perpetuating the ongoing victimization of women?
Sandra, could we start with you and then just go across?
I first want to compliment the government on endorsing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is, to my mind, a very hopeful and very real opportunity for all of us as Canadians to address the needs of aboriginal women in full consultation with them.
For every aboriginal woman I know, the Indian Act was very harmful. It went from denying their rights to be an Indian to denying their own identity to everything else that's included in that act. I have stated many times that every single act of discrimination against indigenous people has been legislated by the government. There is no other way to state that. Everything that has been done has been legislated by the government. When they were taking away the children, by law they had no defence. We as Canadians need to address the horrific outcome of legislating against, as Madam Demers said, the people of this land.
I'm not saying you're guilty. I'm saying we need to address it in a very wonderful way. Canada can become the best country in the world if it addresses the needs of aboriginal women, because on the international, on the national, and on the global scene, Canada has not treated aboriginal women right.
They are the blight on Canada, and will continue to be the blight unless some real things are done. It can be done. This is what keeps my hope up. Yes, there are measures that can be taken in the communities and by our leadership, by every parliamentarian, and at every level to identify this and to take it on as Canadian leaders so that this can happen.
So I ask you, as the leaders of our country, to address this in every kind of passionate way.
We had a declaration on the Decade of Difference for aboriginal women, which we proclaimed in 2005. A man and his wife drove all the way from High Prairie, Alberta, which is quite a way up north, to be there. What he said to me, and I admire him for his courage, was, “The woman goes in for treatment for 28 days, and when she comes out, the man is just the same.” He said he was trying to start a men's group in High Prairie. He was talking to the men and trying to convince them that they should come together and talk about the violence, but he was having a really rough time.
My thought is that this man was very courageous, very determined, and that's where it has to happen. It won't happen by women's organizations saying, “Oh, you men, you have to do this.” That won't work. The men themselves have to do this, with our support, of course, but not with us taking the lead.
I wanted to bring up one quick example. When the massacre of women happened at École Polytechnique, one of the mothers came to Edmonton to one of the ceremonies, and she said she had tried to get any women's organization to look at the role of men and how men were being brought up. She, as a mother, said, “We have boys; we need to nurture them.” She was totally blocked. No women's organization would listen to her. But I think she needs to be listened to. Even though it's several years now, I think nothing has improved, so the idea that the government may consider assisting men who are dedicated to changing their attitudes and the lives of the women they are with, that may be a startling new initiative that could happen.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Jennifer, I would like to go back to Bill C-31. That is where we see the importance of the education and awareness that you were talking about earlier.
After having consulted Quebec Native Women and all the aboriginal women's groups in Quebec, our caucus had decided to vote against Bill C-31. A few weeks before the final vote, aboriginal women's groups contacted us and said that they had changed their minds and that we had to vote for it. They said that, even if the bill affected only one or two children, at least they would be accepted and recognized by the community and would become full members of it.
It is very difficult. All through this mission that we have set for ourselves, we have heard a lot of stories that have made us understand how important it is for mothers and grandmothers to see that their children are accepted by the community. That is why we rose to vote for the bill.
You are telling me today that we should have voted against it. But we voted for it because that was what the communities wanted.
So where should we get our information from? How are we supposed to react? How do we know that we reacted correctly? I just don't know any more.
Personally, I do not like making decisions for other people. I would like to be sure that the decisions that are made come from the people I represent, and not from me.
The amount of money is not sufficient; $23 million is nothing. Divide it up across the country and you have nothing. The question, as I understand it, was how can we better appropriate the funding to realize some results. Number one, stop the $10,000 to $20,000. They have denied totally the cost of administration. So my question was, do we run it out of the parking lot? I think there needs to be a national strategy and a coming together. We did have the aboriginal women's summit, which nobody seems to know about or read about. I don't think it's even been brought to the attention of Parliament, although it was hosted by the premier of Newfoundland and the premier of B.C.
I think there is a mechanism, which I would love to be a part of, to assess the long-term value and the long-term progress that needs to be made. But I must say I liked the ideas that have come before me, which is a national campaign, national awareness, national acknowledgement of the aboriginal women in this country—who are brilliant, by the way. I hope and pray that you will read my presentation, because we have done that. We have the Esquao awards. Esquao is a beautiful Cree word for “woman”, which has been stylized, and we honour our women. But we are very different in our honouring. We have no jury. The communities nominate the women and we honour them. It has created such goodwill in this province among the women because there isn't one woman in this province who will not be honoured. If their community, or their mother, or their son, or their father nominates them, they will be honoured. So they get their 15 minutes of fame on television.
I would love to be part of a campaign to bring this forward to the Canadian people, because we also have social justice awards in which we have honoured, for instance, Irene Khan, who was the secretary general of Amnesty International, who did what we couldn't do, which is bring the issue of the deaths of aboriginal women to the international scene.
There are exciting ways to address this issue. The incidents are horrific, but that does not mean that we cannot progress in this country and make it welcoming to aboriginal women.
I'm going to apologize, because I have to bolt. I have a plane to catch.
I wanted to comment, Muriel, that I absolutely have read the summit reports. I attended the second summit and I agree there has not been any action.
My question, Jennifer--and you and Sandra raised it a couple of times--is around the need to examine the impact on aboriginal women when policies and legislation are developed. I think you only have to look to matrimonial real property to see how that hasn't played out. There was a ministerial representative's report; Wendy Grant-John did a very good report, which was disregarded when the legislation was developed. The Native Women's Association and other organizations did a minimal consultation process because they weren't funded and there wasn't enough time, and their findings were largely disregarded, so even when people are asked for their views and opinions when the legislation is developed, it simply doesn't happen.
In theory, departments do a gender-based analysis, a GBA, when they examine any legislation, but we know from witnesses who came before the status of women committee in 2004-05 that it's largely lip service: “Let's check--yes, we did it.”
If the gender-based analysis could be implemented in a more meaningful way and have the impact on aboriginal women incorporated into it, do you think that would help?
But I think you also wanted to know if there was a
woman, and I think it was answered subsequently in different venues that there is no one women, no more than we would expect that for non-aboriginal women we're going to find one women to represent them all. I think it's about looking at communities.
I wanted to ask a question since we have about four minutes left. We were discussing amongst ourselves last night because we heard so many things that are really overwhelming. We're hearing them, and they are beginning to filter in to some really common issues that we can see—systemic racism, etc., and all those kinds of things. Then we said, but what do we do? What is it we can do? Many of them are so terribly complex.
When you talk about things—and I'd like to direct part of this to Jennifer, as a constitutional law expert—when you talk about taking children away from their parents, we hear this is a provincial jurisdiction. This is a question. How do we do something, as a federal government, when it is within provincial jurisdiction?
We have also heard, for instance, that if you wanted to take the man and move him out of the offending home—the violent man—in fact, you might be able to do it in urban areas or off reserve, but on reserve it is sometimes impossible, again because of ownership of the home and a whole lot of other things. Also, where does he go in the community if you kick him out? So quite a lot of times the women run away into the cities, where they're again under provincial jurisdiction. For many of us, the apprehension of children was a seminal problem, really, because it continued the violence generation after generation, knowing that about 45% of all children in any violent household either tend to become violent themselves or marry or hook up with people who are potentially violent.
So my question is this. How do we break the cycle? The cycle breaking is the first thing. I want to hear from you, Jennifer. Under the Constitution, does the province have jurisdiction over aboriginal peoples to that extent? Has the federal government a role to play in taking care of this issue and looking at apprehension of aboriginal children and stopping it, or whatever is necessary to do? That is a huge piece that I have not understood.
What is the role of the federal government and what is its responsibility toward aboriginal people, both off reserve and on reserve? You might have some answers for that.
Secondly—and I know we've talked about this around and around—the social worker is saying, “But I have to protect this kid because there's violence and the mother is addicted, cannot look after the child, is neglectful, and doesn't have a place to live.” I mean, we know the answers: give her a place to live, etc. The question is, what are the things we can do that are concrete, that can get to the heart of this whole vicious cycle of apprehending children and of trapping women in violent situations with no way out?
I think it would, if the law was seen as being aimed at aboriginal peoples and your jurisdiction there. I think that would be fine.
At the same time, though, I don't know that it's necessary to go to that stage of passing a specialized law. I think what's important is for there to be cooperation between the governments. We've heard a little bit about that in other venues this morning, but there have been instances where the federal, provincial, and territorial ministers have gotten together and developed common protocols and common policies to try to deal with issues like domestic violence and child sexual abuse.
I think the area of violence against aboriginal women is an area where there really is a need to have that sort of cross-jurisdictional response, so it's great that the federal government has this committee doing its work. But it needs to now be coordinated with provincial and municipal levels as well.