Members of the committee, I see that we have quorum. Accordingly, I call this meeting to order.
We will start by acknowledging that in Ottawa, we meet on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on April 29, 2021, the committee is meeting to study the sex trafficking of indigenous peoples.
To ensure an orderly meeting, participants may speak and listen in the official language of their choice. At the bottom of your screen—this is important—you will see a globe. By clicking on that globe, you can select either “English” or “French”. When you are speaking, though, you won't have to change back and forth. If you are fluently bilingual, I applaud you, but you need to have the speaker selected on the globe. Speak slowly and clearly, please. When you're not speaking, your microphone should be on mute.
With us today for two hours are several expert witnesses. We have Coralee McGuire-Cyrette, executive director, Ontario Native Women's Association. Appearing as individuals, we have Courtney Sky, research fellow at the Yellowhead Institute, and Cherry Smiley, Ph.D. candidate at Concordia University. We also await Chris Stark, author and researcher.
Witnesses, we typically begin with your presentations of about six minutes, followed by rounds of questioning.
Ms. McGuire-Cyrette, would you like to start, please?
Welcome to the committee. Please go ahead. You have six minutes.
Good morning, Chair and committee members. My name is Coralee McGuire-Cyrette. I am the executive director of the Ontario Native Women's Association.
This year marks ONWA's 50th anniversary, making us the oldest and largest indigenous women's organization in Canada. With a mandate to address violence against indigenous women, ONWA works on such key safety issues as human trafficking, missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and child welfare.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the bravery, wisdom and leadership of all survivors on this issue, as they are the experts. ONWA has been working with survivors for many years. This experience forms the basis of our recommendations. Survivors and knowledge-holders have reminded us that motherhood is the oldest profession, and this is what we must reclaim in our work.
I'll be framing my presentation today based on three key points. While I do not have the time today to explore them in depth, it's imperative that they are kept in mind while we continue.
First, in 2019 the United Nations released guidelines on combatting child sexual exploitation. They state that a child under the age of 18 can never consent to any form of their own sale, sexual exploitation or sexual abuse, and any presumed consent of a child to exploitative or sexual acts should be considered “null and void”. Additionally, article 35 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that the government has a responsibility to ensure that children are not abducted, sold or trafficked. ONWA advocates that both principles must, without exception, be adhered to.
Second, the impact of colonization has caused the fabric of strong, self-sustaining indigenous communities to be eroded. Indigenous trauma, together with more recent constructs, has fostered conditions of normalized violence towards indigenous women and girls. Direct links have been drawn between the rates of violence that indigenous women continue to face today and the paternalistic policies emerging from colonization. This systemic discrimination has not been addressed adequately in Canada. This leaves indigenous women and girls at a heightened vulnerability to experience victimization, including human trafficking.
Article 18 of the UNDRIP affirms that “Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters...through representatives chosen by themselves” and to “maintain and develop their own...institutions”. From this, ONWA asserts that it is fundamental that indigenous women have the capacity to participate in a wide range of leadership efforts to support our communities, including leading the prevention, intervention and response to issues that we face.
Third, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities. By virtue of our gender and our race, we are, as indigenous women and girls, disproportionately experiencing the consequences of COVID-19. This results in an increased risk of indigenous women and girls being targeted for human trafficking, as well as worsening the situation for those already in trafficking situations. The pandemic has underscored that solutions to human trafficking must be part of an equitable COVID-19 recovery plan.
In 2017 we engaged with over 3,360 community members and service providers, including 250 indigenous human trafficking survivors. The storytelling that was heard resulted in the creation of a strategy, titled “Journey to Safe Spaces”, to address this issue.
Survivors taught us what trauma-informed care is and what systems need to be changed. Their intentions were clear. They wanted to protect other indigenous women and girls from trafficking. We also learned that there are often systemic failures that subject indigenous women and children to risk. The relationship between child welfare and human trafficking is complex. In our engagements with survivors, we heard many stories. In some instances, the abuse was not identified by any service provider, and children experienced horrific childhood exploitation. In other instances, sexual exploitation began after child welfare became involved.
Children must be protected from exploitation—period. This will involve systems working together to protect and ensure the safety of our children.
Our report provides clear recommendations for change. All changes must be underpinned by the fact that indigenous women have human rights. The recommendations from survivors provided the basis for our courage for change program, which provides the only long-term, intensive case management and support. Our program supported 176 indigenous women and girls to safely exit human trafficking from 2017 to 2019. Last year, in 2020, we saw a 37% increase in exits.
Before I conclude, I'll highlight five essential recommendations, many of which can be found in ONWA's “Reconciliation with Indigenous Women”. In this report, we recommend actions that are very specific and targeted to end human trafficking while supporting survivors. The missing and murdered indigenous women and girls national action plan does not include our report's recommendations sufficiently.
First, collaborative mechanisms must be put in place to allow for provincial and national data collection on the human trafficking of indigenous women that protects the privacy of survivors who access services with data collected by the legal reform.
Second, sustainable programs and services that address human trafficking survivor-specific needs, including wraparound support and 24-hour services for human trafficking in cities all across the country, must be implemented.
Third, specialized trauma-informed services for survivors who appear in court must be created. When charges are laid against a trafficker, survivor safety must be prioritized throughout the legal process.
Fourth, the federal government needs to clear the records of survivors of any criminal offences for prostitution-related offences and with debt forgiveness for student loans.
Fifth, additional funding is urgently required to address human trafficking well beyond the provision of funds for education-related activities only. This is to include comprehensive human trafficking exiting supports, such as mental health and addictions services, housing, specialized long-term healing and supportive services.
In closing, I encourage the committee to review our “Reconciliation with Indigenous Women” report and our “Journey to Safe Spaces” strategy in full, as they provide a road map to keep indigenous women and girls safe from human trafficking and to the supports needed to rebuild their lives.
Good morning, committee. Thank you so much for having me here.
My name is Courtney Skye. I'm a research fellow with the Yellowhead Institute, and I am Mohawk Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River territory.
I want to acknowledge the Algonquin territory, where many of you are sitting, and welcome you virtually to the Haudenosaunee territory, the homeland of my ancestors and our allies.
I want to share Cora's words in acknowledging the families and the women and people who experienced sex exploitation and the reason we're here to gather and discuss today.
My research centres around ending violence and the intersection between ending violence against indigenous women and girls and leadership and governance. I have a particular interest in research around Haudenosaunee governance and invigorating and revitalizing the traditional governance systems that are inherent with indigenous laws and practices. That includes looking at research and multinational approaches.
My work around human trafficking extends back to when I was a policy analyst with the Ontario public service, working on child welfare reform through working with indigenous women's organizations across Ontario and Canada, and then working internationally with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which looks at multijurisdictional responses and policy frameworks that address all forms of human trafficking. I have a particular interest especially in the interjurisdictional issues that often impact both the legislative changes and the policy changes required to end multiple forms of trafficking.
I think it's important in this conversation to remember that there is a spectrum. While we're here to talk about sex exploitation and trafficking, it's important to remember that there are spectrums of this conversation that often get conflated or misconstrued, both in challenging the legitimacy of sex work as work and also in the many different forms of trafficking that indigenous people may experience, whether it's trafficking for forced labour, trafficking for adoption or other forms of trafficking that are known to be experienced by people who experience the multiple forms of barriers that indigenous people face.
I'm happy to meet with the committee and talk about these issues. If there are any particular topics or areas that would be useful to your study, I am here and anxious to have those conversations.
As always, I want to be mindful of some of the issues that Cora raised as well around some of the failures to implement foundational human rights frameworks that are necessary to address the reason why indigenous women are more vulnerable to different forms of violence, but also that we look towards indigenous communities themselves, their human rights frameworks and their own inherent laws and jurisdictions. They need to be revitalized to address some of the underlying issues that raise a concern around the specific population that we're here to talk about today.
Thank you so much for having me.
Thank you for inviting me to speak on this topic and thank you for studying this very difficult issue.
My name is Cherry Smiley. I'm from the Nlaka'pamux Nation in B.C. and the Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States. I'm currently a Ph.D. candidate at Concordia University, where my research works to help end male violence against indigenous women and girls in Canada, including prostitution. I'm the founder of Women's Studies Online, a decolonizing educational platform for research, education and action.
As part of my doctoral project, I did field work in Canada and New Zealand on prostitution. Before beginning the Ph.D. program, I worked at a rape crisis centre and transition house for battered women and their children.
There is, of course, a lot to say. I know that my friends here today, and the others who've spoken before this committee, have given a solid overview of the dire circumstances of indigenous women and girls in Canada related to sexual exploitation.
I will address two topics today. First, I'm going to talk about the difference between sex trafficking, prostitution and sex work. Secondly, I'm going to talk about issues when it comes to doing research on sex trafficking. I'll conclude by making some recommendations.
Language matters. This issue is a controversial and political one. The term “sex work” implies that some women are obligated to provide “sexual services” to men for money. This is not a term I use and I hope most others don't use this term here either.
Janine Benedet has described the difference between prostitution and sex trafficking as follows: Sex trafficking always involves a third party—a trafficker, a pimp or a brothel owner—while prostitution can, but doesn't necessarily involve a third party.
Prostitution and sex trafficking are more similar than they are different. The impacts on women bought and sold are the same. The men who purchase sex acts from these women and girls are the same. The men don't care how she got there.
Secondly, sex work researchers try to make a distinction between chosen sex work and forced sex trafficking. This isn't a realistic or helpful way to look at the issue. What it ends up doing, actually, is harming victims.
Sex work researchers have adopted a very anti-woman and anti-feminist theory of sex trafficking that narrowly constructs a false perfect victim. It is a woman who, for example, may not speak English or who is kept locked to a bed in chains. There is absolutely no doubt that women are sexually exploited in this way. I've met women who have been exploited in that way. In the same way that patriarchy has constructed a false narrative of the perfect rape victim who fights off her rapist in just the right way, or the perfect battered woman who, of course, never goes back to her battering husband, few women, if any, would fit the definition of the perfect sex trafficking victim.
Does this mean that women haven't been sex trafficked? No, it doesn't. This means, actually, that there's a profound and, I would argue, deliberate lack of understanding about male violence against women and a lack of feminist research being conducted on this issue today.
We've already seen what's happened in New Zealand. A lack of understanding about male violence against women has resulted in the decriminalization of men who pimp and buy women. In turn, this means that women who don't very obviously and distinctly label themselves as trafficking victims and accept whatever help comes their way aren't trafficking victims.
Trafficking doesn't exist in New Zealand, according to the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective. This is an outright lie. Sex trafficking absolutely does exist in New Zealand, only the police have less ability to investigate potential cases of trafficking. Cases of sex trafficking are reclassified as family violence, for example, to bolster false claims that decriminalizing men who pimp and purchase sex acts helps women in prostitution. Women and girls who are in prostitution and who have been sex trafficked have no support services available to them. There are no exiting services in New Zealand. Services for women who have been assaulted by men in New Zealand aren't equipped to work with women who have been sex trafficked or prostituted, because they don't understand prostitution as a form of male violence. It's simply a job like any other.
I'll conclude by saying that sex trafficking and prostitution are linked. One of my recommendations, like that of Diane Redsky, is that we keep and improve on the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.
Buying sex must remain illegal, and women must not be punished for their prostitution. If PCEPA is repealed, we as a country say that it's okay to purchase that group of women in prostitution over there but not this group of trafficked women over here, and that's just completely unacceptable.
We also need a guaranteed livable income. We saw how quickly the government recognized the economic impact of the pandemic on Canadians and acted accordingly. A guaranteed livable income recognizes the economic impacts of patriarchy on women in Canada and acts accordingly. Women must have more economic options that don't include sucking dicks for 10 bucks.
The third recommendation I'll make is that, while culturally relevant services are essential, what's more essential is that non-indigenous organizations and indigenous organizations have a feminist understanding of the impacts of colonization on indigenous women and girls. There's a whole body of knowledge out there that feminists have created on male violence against women, and this is where we need to start.
Feminism is the only theory, practice and social-political movement that always prioritizes women and girls, and we need to learn about this and put into practice a feminist understanding of sex trafficking and prostitution. Without this understanding, it's too easy to blame and shame women and girls for their prostitution and too easy to let men off the hook for their unacceptable behaviour.
Without this feminist foundation, even culturally relevant services won't be of much service to sex-trafficked women and girls. As my friend Fay Blaney mentioned the other day, we need core funding for autonomous indigenous women's organizations so that we can do this work and do it more easily than we do now—on shoestring budgets or, in my case and in the case of many other women, with no budget at all.
Last, patriarchy and what Adrienne Rich and Carole Pateman call the “male sex right” are the sources of harm in sex trafficking and in prostitution. In addition to preventative programs aimed at girls and women, we need preventative programs aimed at boys and men to stop them from sexualizing women and girls, feeling entitled to do so and exploiting them in the first place.
Sex trafficking and prostitution are issues of sex-based inequality. Men are overwhelmingly the buyers, and women and girls are overwhelmingly the sellers of sex acts, so we need to approach this issue using feminist theory.
My final recommendations are to stop watching porn and perhaps, for example, to propose that MPs and others in government pledge not to pay for sex acts from any women or girl, trafficked or not. Treating all women with respect is a reasonable requirement of leadership in Canada.
I spent almost four months in New Zealand researching prostitution and the changes in the law they had there. They fully decriminalized. They decriminalized women in prostitution, but they also decriminalized the pimps, the men who sell women and the sex buyers.
The thing I noticed most in what I learned in New Zealand was that sex work does work if you're a man who wants to exploit women. It really doesn't work for women. I met with women who had tried five, six, seven times to leave prostitution and they couldn't, because there were no services that recognized the trauma of being in that circumstance day after day after day. You're being penetrated by however many men every day. That's your job. You do it, whether you feel like it or not.
Definitely Maori women have not benefited at all from the decriminalization laws there. There's ample evidence that you're seeing more Maori children or Maori girls entering into street prostitution at a younger age.
I know that there's a challenge coming. A Maori woman and an ally of hers are challenging the prostitution legislation, claiming that the prostitution legislation didn't consult with indigenous women before it was implemented—which they didn't.
In New Zealand, there's this cover.... There are so many people there who are afraid to say anything. They were afraid to speak with me. They were afraid that people were going to find out that they were critical of prostitution, or they had questions or doubts. It was incredibly difficult. You have the government. You have non-profit organizations. You have women's organizations. Everybody has kind of come together and decided that sex work is work, so there are consequences for women who have doubts about that.
What we hear coming out of New Zealand is overwhelmingly positive, but the reality is not that at all.
I don't know much about the hotline. I do know that it's beginning to collect data.
Really, the gap is if a trafficked woman or girl or child need to access services. That's the gap, all across Canada. There are no specialized services across Canada.
ONWA started up one of the first comprehensive exiting programs in Thunder Bay. When we began to do the work, we recognized, in Ontario, that there's a triangle of trafficking indigenous children and youth and women, from Thunder Bay to Toronto to Ottawa. That's the triangle, and that's just across the province.
Women call us all the time from other provinces, and there are no specialized services on the ground to help them. Nobody is reaching out to the youth to help them. The fact that children and youth have an expectation to keep themselves safe is a systemic failure in our communities and in our society.
I echo what my fellow leaders here are saying and speaking to. The violence against indigenous women and children has become so normalized that we need to have this conversation. Really, we need to make sure that this stays illegal, period.
Most trafficking victims are under the age of 18. Those who are over the age of 18 also need support, wherever they're at on the spectrum. There's no fine line between whether you're into prostitution or being trafficked. Each day it definitely does differentiate, but the main point is that we need to have supportive services. We have to change this here in Canada, and there is nothing on the ground.
Yes, I'm just about finished my doctorate, so hopefully I'll be a doctor in the next couple of months, but the platform I founded was actually a response to my experiences in university, coming from an anti-violent frontline worker background, being involved in feminism for the last, I don't know, 15 years and realizing that, in universities, there more places to talk about all kinds of theories and intellectual exercises but fewer places to talk about the material conditions of women's lives.
I created this platform as a way to teach, basically, radical feminist theory so that we can learn from all that knowledge that we've created and we can build on it. We can reject it or we can decide that it's great. We can decide that we like this part and not that part, but we can actually learn that theory before we dismiss it as being irrelevant.
I think there's a lot of really good stuff in there that we can build on, as well as do research on issues of male violence related to indigenous women and to make sure that this research is looking specifically at male violence against indigenous women and girls. Of course, there are other types of violence, but this type of violence is incredibly....
Globally, it's everywhere. It's systemic, but it also has particular histories for indigenous women in Canada. Because of those particular histories, there are particular solutions that we need to be looking at. It's very much keeping the focus on this type of violence and going from there.
Thank you for the question.
It's really important that we highlight the specific need to address the specific root causes of violence and colonial violence that indigenous women experience. If you look to some of the reports that have been developed around things like the homicide report that StatsCan produces, and you see a comparative study between aboriginal and non-aboriginal identified women within that study, you see, since 1980, a decrease in the overall number of women who have been killed, while the rate of violence against indigenous women has remained consistent across those years, and as a result, indigenous women represent an increased proportion of the victims.
That type of analysis or that type of information being made available really demonstrates that indigenous women experience different causes of violence and that the interventions that have been developed through feminist theory, through typical responses, haven't actually reached these populations, haven't supported them in the way that they need to be supported and haven't developed the same kind of access to services and supports that indigenous women require.
There are, of course, underlying human rights issues that underpin that. I appreciate that there is a need for a special response from government especially, to consider all the different populations that are impacted and all the different realities of people, to draw out strong policy responses that address, as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says, the need for special measures in certain circumstances. However, we also have to remember that there's a broad experience related to this issue that needs to be addressed. Any type of widespread legislation or national legislation has to consider and be respectful of many different experiences.
Yes, there are real service issues but also legal issues within the Canadian legal structure. Depending on where you live in Canada, different laws apply to you. There's an inherent unjustness in the experiences of Canadians where there are different legal frameworks and different legal recourses available to people, which are different province to province and city to city. That is a product of colonialism. What it also does is it creates a patchwork of services and service access, catchment areas and things like that, which create gaps. Also, there are disproportionate or inappropriate responses to people who may move or just have a need to have regular services and a base level of service from their government.
What happens is that we have certain cities, certain places, that do have more support than others and gaps in other parts of the country. This is why I was so interested in drawing responses or policy knowledge from other parts of the world, because there are jurisdictional issues and border issues that impact programming, laws and services in Canada.
I think we should be looking towards, when we're talking about national frameworks or federal frameworks, this understanding that there are root causes that need to be addressed. If we're concerned about vulnerabilities that result in exploitation, then we should be looking to things like guaranteed basic income, basic health services, a national dental care plan, accessible education and things that are going to make it systemically easier for people to access support and not be put in a situation where there's no other option for them but to submit to exploitation, if that's a concern of this committee.
We also need to have a really strong human-rights framework that upholds people's laws and case law around the right to sell sex.
For the past year, I've been supporting the Haudenosaunee Confederacy chiefs council, which is the inherent governance structure of the Haudenosaunee people. We look to our laws, our creation stories and the things that make us distinct, and we look towards how our laws set down governance structures.
I look to this federal government, and they have promised a nation-to-nation relationship yet have almost entirely ignored our traditional governance structure the entire time they've been developing laws and policies.
We look towards what it means to have human rights. It means to live under our own laws, our own jurisdictions and our own cultural practices. Without having that kind of respect for what indigenous nations bring to the symphony that is humanity, we're not going to address the governance issues, the structures and the systemic issues that create vulnerability, that create disunity and that create the lack of social cohesion that exists in indigenous communities.
There are really high-level, broad philosophical questions that then begin to impact people's lives on a day-to-day basis, where indigenous women are denied their basic rights and human dignity. This is especially true for me, because I come from a matriarchal culture where our clan mothers, who are the stewards of our land, are continually denied their right to exercise our laws and governance in Canada.
Those are the kinds of human rights we're talking about here. We've fundamentally failed to entrench that type of true nation-to-nation relationship in policy and law, and unless that's going to be addressed, we're going to continue to see indigenous communities that don't have, or are denied, the ability to participate freely in our modern society.
I want to say thank you to all of our witnesses who have joined us today and who already have given us so much to think about. I appreciate how honest and open everyone has been in talking about such an important and difficult issue—and the many issues, I should say, around this.
I'll start my questions with you, Ms. McGuire-Cyrette. You mentioned the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls action plan in your opening remarks. I'm from the riding of Kenora, just beside Thunder Bay, and unfortunately this is an issue that is deeply personal for a lot of people in my riding. I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but I have previously cited in the House and in other work that somewhere near half of the identified cases over the past eight years were in the Kenora region alone. It's a very important issue to many in my riding.
You mentioned, if I'm not mistaken, that in your view the action plan seemed to miss some key recommendations and missed the mark a bit. I know that you were pressed for time and weren't able to go into a lot of detail, so if you're able to, I'd appreciate it if you could expand on some of your thoughts on that.
Yes, definitely. Thank you.
We were looking for the national action plan to speak to indigenous women's safety. That's really what we're speaking about here. There is no investment in indigenous women's safety here in Canada—very limited.
When you're looking at the interconnection between human trafficking and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, the data tells you that for a large percentage of missing persons cases there's a high degree of probability that they could be trafficking cases. When you're looking at missing children and youth and you're looking at the interconnection between child welfare, missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and human trafficking, there is an intersectionality that goes on there.
What we were looking for from the national inquiry and the national action plan was that data that I believe Courtney spoke to around.... There are the homicide reports. We know for the coroners' reports, for instance, that they've given us their knowledge and recommendations around the fact that, I believe, it was that approximately half of the cases were domestic. The piece with that, which is really important to note, is that those were preventable deaths by having services and programs and having safety plans.
What we were looking for was really to tell the story around “how did the woman die and who killed her?”, that one part of the story, in order to have stronger policies to make sure that it doesn't happen again. The same thing is happening with human trafficking of indigenous women and girls. The root causes go back to colonization. Here in Canada, we sold indigenous children. The selling of indigenous people has a history of colonization here, and it has continued on to today into what we now call human trafficking.
That's part of the issue that we're really looking at. There are two major components where a high level of healing is needed. Indigenous women-specific healing is needed because, as Ms. Smiley spoke to, we're talking about indigenous-specific issues. When we focus on everyone, we focus on no one. When we're talking about safety issues like human trafficking and the missing and murdered, indigenous women's experience in those issues is very unique and, therefore, we need unique solutions.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for their testimony.
I'm coming to you from the Eskasoni reserve, a Mi'kmaq community. We have a community of about 5,000.
I don't want to paint all situations with the same brush because I know it varies, but one of the thoughts and one of the things that is noticed by indigenous leadership is that there is a lot of intergenerational trauma that exists currently in our communities from residential schools. This often leads to bad situations at home, and that often leads to people fleeing their home situations. Often, addictions are seen as the main cause of people getting into positions where sexual exploitation is possible.
I know there's more to the story, but is addiction too commonly used as the reason for sexual exploitation? Tell me a little bit about how the basic income guarantee would deter that if addictions are a problem.
Also—just because I know I may only get one question—with regard to funding autonomous women's organizations, which organizations are we looking at funding? Should we be funding the national women's organizations? Are we looking at funding the French centres or the rural support? In my community, we have the Jane Paul Indigenous Women's Resource Centre, which is set up in an urban location. What is the best, most efficient use of the money—the $2.2 billion—that we're putting towards missing and murdered indigenous women?
I want to start off with Ms. Smiley and then go to Ms. Skye, if I can.
It's an important point you're making about these kinds of connections between addictions and sexual exploitation. What happens a lot is that women are shamed and blamed in both of those circumstances. Engaging in addictions, perhaps as a coping mechanism; maybe because they started smoking crack when they were 10, because it's very normalized and they've grown up around it; drug dealing—these types of things are happening. It is very tied to sexual exploitation so it is true that some women turn to prostitution, of course, because they're in this cycle of addiction. It's also true—I think Cora mentioned earlier—that drugs are often used as a way to placate women, so the pimp will get her addicted to heroin or whatever so that it's easier to control her and make her continue in prostitution.
Women are blamed and shamed for their prostitution, and they're blamed and shamed for their addictions. That's where the connection lies.
When we're talking about services, harm reduction services have a place, of course, but what we see now is that you can go to a safe injection site and stick a needle in your arm in 10 minutes, but you have to wait two or three weeks to go to detox. I think it's so incredibly important that we actually have these services available so that people have what they need when they need it, and that these services are women only. We've heard lots of stories of women actually being targeted by men when they're in detox or recovery houses and being targeted again there for sexual exploitation.
In terms of the organizations that need to be funded, I really think autonomous women's organizations are so important. When you're part of a larger organization that's essentially male-dominated, there's value there for sure, but you are controlled in some ways. There is less ability to speak out on, for example, issues of #MeToo, like Cora was saying.
It's really important that these organizations are autonomous women's organizations. You could do that nationally, regionally, provincially. I think there's a lot of really amazing women doing a lot of really amazing work. The more we have, the more discussions we can have and the better solutions we can come up with.
It's become a misnomer that economic development actually leads to liberation. It actually doesn't. What makes the biggest difference in mobilizing and creating lasting or systemic change for people, and women generally, is political mobilization. That's the catalyst social change draws from in communities, especially within indigenous communities.
Making small investments, the “teaching someone how to fish” kind of examples, don't actually address any of the systemic issues that create multiple barriers to allowing people to work or be self-reliant. We're talking about broad, systemic changes and making space for women and their decision-making, leadership and governance. That is what actually creates lasting social change and creates safety for people. That's what works if you're trying to advance that.
It can't just be limited to socio-economic investments. It has to go much beyond that. Otherwise, it's just solving a small problem perhaps with one family or however many people you can get into a program with small service numbers or one worker limited to so many clients.
Without broader systemic changes, we're not actually going to be able to meet many people's needs and that's what we're trying to do here. We're trying to talk about lifting and supporting all people, which is why something like guaranteed minimum incomes and that kind of thing—providing a safety net—is really important. As a society, we're a very wealthy country where we believe in the value of every person. Every person is valuable and every person deserves dignity regardless of their circumstances.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I really want to thank you, witnesses, today for your extraordinary testimony, but beyond that, your extraordinary work, your research, your community service and your advocacy. It's really extraordinary.
I had a question about disaggregated data, but before I get to the question, I feel as though I have an obligation to highlight or at least address some of the fallacious comments regarding universal basic income that my honourable colleague just put forth. Iran is not the only country in the world with a universal basic income. Countries like Spain, France and Brazil have one, and so does Alaska. Alaska's permanent fund has alleviated extreme poverty almost entirely in Alaska, and versions of a universal basic income have been shown around the world to be extremely effective measures at doing exactly what our witnesses today have pointed out. On behalf of the committee, I apologize for that misleading statement, because it's not at all true.
My question today is about disaggregated data and how on the Parliamentary Black Caucus, we've committed to gathering more disaggregated data. While that might not have much to do with our business here on indigenous and northern affairs, I do think it's related to our ability to make decisions. We really can't change what we don't measure.
My question today is whether any of the witnesses—perhaps Ms. Skye, because, I believe, Ms. Skye brought it up first—can share with the committee their perspective on what is working and what's not in terms of collecting disaggregated data, specific data, and can provide some advice on how our government and other governments in Canada can do a better job of collecting and using this data to address some of these very sensitive issues.
If there's one thing I believe in, it's drawing strong policy from good data. It's critically important to know the populations you're working with. I echo what some of my colleagues on the panel here have said. In all of my work with indigenous women and people who've experienced violence, they want to know that we're actually ending violence. They want to know that women are actually being made safer, and if we don't have the data to back that up and show it, we're not actually going to deliver on the commitment that women and communities want and expect from their leadership. We have to be able to prove it.
I think it's really important that we look at and challenge the way that data is collected and the way it's reported, because especially with the work of the national inquiry, we found that there were a ton of gaps in information in terms of being able to identify whether or not someone was Inuit, whether someone was Métis, whether or not their data was being collected, whether or not their nationality was being properly recorded, whether or not white-passing or Black-presenting indigenous people are having their identities properly assessed, and whether or not there's been an effort to correct misinformation around people's identities, specifically around things like the way that Indian status is assumed to be patriarchal.
For people like my nation, which is matriarchal, we say that my status card says this but I'm actually this, because the way the federal government administers Indian status is completely patriarchal and doesn't include matrilineal descendancies. I'm enrolled under my paternal grandfather, as opposed to my maternal grandmother, the way it should be according to my culture.
Also there is the question of whether we are doing the work to respect people and their gender, and whether we are doing the work to identify trans people and their accurate gender, which is something that's completely lost in many of the forms, and a challenge that has been levied against some of the StatsCan data and the police-reported data around people who have been victimized. They don't actually have confirmation whether or not a person's gender identity has been accurately captured, and whether or not trans women are being accurately assessed and counted.
All of those things need to be addressed, but it starts with having a consistent expectation around, especially, how the police are reporting data, and standards and regulations around how they are assessing and directed on how to collect that data.
It's absolutely necessary that we keep that legislation. We can keep it and we can try to improve it. Of course, there's lots of room for improvement there, but the fundamental message the legislation sends is that it is not okay for men to purchase sex acts from women.
I would respectfully disagree with my friend here, Courtney. There is no right to sell sex, because there's no right to buy sex. That's not a fundamental human right.
If we get rid of this PCEPA bill, it really does open the door for traffickers, for pimps, for brothel owners. They come in and they set up shop. If you're are not targeting the demand for paid sex acts, you're not really going to get anywhere substantial, because there will always be women in the current circumstances in which we live who are poor enough and desperate enough and who just have very few choices available to them, so they will make the best of their circumstance. A lot of times we talk about meeting women where they're at, and that's fantastic, but we need to meet women where they're at and not leave them there. That's the second part.
The PCEPA bill is incredibly important in sending that message. If you're saying that you like to suck all the dicks, fine, but putting that aside, men do not have a right to expect sex from women and girls on demand and they don't have an entitlement to that simply because they have the financial ability to pay for it.
It's really important that we start there. We can move our way out and work with women, of course, where they are at. That's also why it's so important that we have a feminist understanding. If we look at battered women, for example, so often women will leave and go back, and they leave and go back, or I could think of women who are in the hospital with their throat slit open by their husband, saying “I don't want him to get in trouble, though. He really loves me.”
How do we understand these types of sentiments, because they don't really make sense? If we have a feminist understanding of male violence and how it impacts women, both materially in our conditions but also psychologically in the messages we're getting day in and day out, it's so important that we look at the root cause. The root cause of sex trafficking is the male demand for paid sex acts, so we need to start there and make sure we target that, because the men really don't care. They don't care if she has been trafficked or not. They don't care if she's underage or not. They don't care if she likes her job or not. They really don't care, so we really need to start there.
I was watching on Tuesday, and I know there is a lot of really good work being done in Manitoba—provincially there—with different exiting programs. There is a patchwork of programs here and there across the country, but we need a broader approach and a more holistic approach.
One thing that I think is a huge problem is that so much of the funding is project-based. The amount of time that it takes for a woman or a girl to recover can be a lifetime. It's not that she enters into a program and after a year she's good, she's done and away she goes. Maybe that's the case, but maybe that's not the case. We're putting these very, almost bureaucratic, in some ways, timelines on women's healing. That is something that I think we need to really look at.
As Cora was saying, these on-the-ground supports, the basic crisis supports, need to happen. Once you move through that, there is housing, which is so important, to have a stable base to work from. There's employment training and education. I know there was a mention on Tuesday about internships for women who have been sexually exploited.
All of these types of things need to happen, with the recognition of the ongoing emotional impact of being in that circumstance. That might show up six months later. It might show up 10 years later. There are women I know who, 10 years out, killed themselves because of that trauma. It doesn't just disappear. Investing in women and investing in indigenous women and girls, I can't think of a better thing to do, really.
Members of the committee and witnesses, Ms. Stark deeply regrets the technical issues surrounding her inability to connect. Apparently it was the kind of thing where they didn't check before digging, so her Internet service is not available. She was really hoping to joining us today.
As chair, if I may, because we won't have time for another full round of questions, could I ask each of you, in a couple of minutes each, as we approach one o'clock, to tell us what you would like to see?
You've brought forward your testimony. You've not only informed us; you've enriched us. I think all of us on the committee are really touched by the work, the effort, the intensity that goes into these dense and complex and personal problems, and that people are willing to work on them, such as you are. Hopefully we can meet some sort of expectation in the report that we'll put together with our staff and our analysts
I'll ask Ms. McGuire-Cyrette, Ms. Skye and Ms. Smiley, each of you, to just wrap up for us, based on your testimony, what you would like to see from us.
Ms. McGuire-Cyrette, would you like to go first?
Thanks for inviting me and for doing this study.
I think I would echo what Cora said about making investments in indigenous women and indigenous women's organizations. Having the space to heal, to learn from each other, to talk to each other and to do that on our own terms is incredibly important.
I also think what's important is that we have that space for healing but that we also have that space for politics: to be political, to be part of these discussions and to be able to do that amongst ourselves in terms of quickly organizing indigenous women so that we can advocate, not just for ourselves but for each other. I'm sure that has been the experience of the other witnesses here. For the women who we come across and work with, so often that's what they want to do: They want to help other women.
We need to be having these spaces for healing—it's very important—but we also need to be having political spaces for indigenous women to have debates and disagreements amongst ourselves and to be able to do that on our own terms. It is really important that we have women-only space, that we have indigenous women-only space, where we can begin and continue to build a political analysis from the commonalities and differences in our experiences. Those spaces are being eroded all over the place, and I think that if we have those places, it goes beyond just social services, which are needed, of course, but we need more than that. We need the ability to imagine a better world for ourselves and for our sisters and then to be able to act on that vision.
It really does, I think, pay out for the whole Canada. If we're given those opportunities, we will take them.