Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, my question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In a press release last week, Mr. Maurice Vellacott, MP for Saskatoon ? anuskewin, said that he was appointed chair of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Committee by the Prime Minister. Mr. Vellacott is well known in Saskatoon and probably throughout Canada for his far right-wing views. What is most disturbing to many is his refusal to acknowledge that some members of the Saskatoon Police Force had been dropping off inebriated Aboriginals on the outskirts of the city, even in the dead of winter at temperatures below minus 20. Sadly, several Aboriginal men were found frozen to death in the same area on the outskirts of town.
In an interview reported in The Globe and Mail on April 18, Mr. Vellacott now claims that the practice of natives gathering to drink in a shack outside of town was likely the main reason people were being found on the outskirts of Saskatoon . This latest claim once again reveals Mr. Vellacott's lack of understanding of Aboriginal issues and, like his previous claim, that these men were being asked to be dropped off rather than the police dropping them off, is offensive.
Therefore my question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate is: Has the Prime Minister been made aware of Mr. Vellacott's history with respect to his views on the freezing deaths of Aboriginal men and the Saskatoon police?
Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): In answer to the honourable senator's question, for which I thank her, I have no way of knowing if someone explicitly made the Prime Minister aware of the comments of an individual member of Parliament. However, I certainly was aware of some of them from reading the news. Beyond that, I have no further comment to make on any comments made by an individual member of Parliament.
Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, the objection from the Saskatoon community to the possibility of Mr. Vellacott being made the chair of the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Committee is exemplified by the headline in the local paper in Saskatoon , "Hard to imagine worse choice than Vellacott." Furthermore, the public outcry has resulted in an on-line petition, which, by yesterday at 12 noon, had received 1,216 signatures.
My question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate is whether the Prime Minister would be open to re-evaluating his presumed nomination of Mr. Vellacott as chair of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee, and will he instead name someone else as his preferred choice?
Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for that question. The direct answer is that the Prime Minister did not name Mr. Vellacott as the chair. The chair of the committee will be elected in the committee by members of the committee.
Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, it is interesting when reading the newspapers ?and this is Mr. Vellacott's history of issuing releases ?it seems clear that he says he was appointed and later it says no, he was not appointed, but he was encouraged to run. What is the real story here?
Senator LeBreton: Far be it from me to say anything about the media, but I tend to believe only 5 per cent of what I read and 100 per cent of what I see.