Debates of the Senate  
2nd Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 149, Issue 18
  Tuesday, November 26, 2013
 
Speech: Response to the Speech from the Throne 2013
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, first I want to thank Senator Cowan, who was intending to speak today, for allowing me to speak instead.

Honourable senators, I intend to focus my remarks on the Speech from the Throne on the section which mentions missing and murdered Aboriginal women. As you know, many people have called for a public inquiry to find out why over 600 Aboriginal women have gone missing or been murdered over the last 30 years. A public inquiry would recommend ways to put a stop to it. Unfortunately, the federal government did not commit to a public inquiry, and the way in which the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women was mentioned in the Speech from the Throne was disconcerting, to say the least.

Honourable senators, just a few weeks ago, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, called on the government to set up a national inquiry into the disturbing phenomenon of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The UN rapporteur's comments echoed numerous calls from Aboriginal leaders across the country, parliamentarians, human rights groups and all provincial premiers for the federal government to step up and establish a national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. However, the federal government did not commit to do so in the Throne Speech.

Under the section entitled "Supporting Victims and Punishing Criminals," there's only brief mention, just two sentences, about the tragic issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. All it states is this:

  • Aboriginal women are disproportionately the victims of violent crime. Our Government will renew its efforts to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

These two sentences are immediately followed by two other sentences:

  • Canadians also know that prostitution victimizes women and threatens the safety of our communities. Our Government will vigorously defend the constitutionality of Canada's prostitution laws.

As I said a few weeks ago during Question Period, I was appalled to hear the issues of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and prostitution spoke of one right after the other in the Throne Speech. It gave the impression that missing and murdered Aboriginal women and prostitution are causally related. Connecting prostitution and missing and murdered Aboriginal women without mentioning other factors does not represent the true or complete story of Aboriginal women who have been disappeared or murdered.

As I said in Question Period a few weeks ago, first the Throne Speech juxtapositioned missing and murdered Aboriginal women with prostitution, and then the Speech from the Throne continued with two sentences about honouring police dogs. It says:

  • Finally, our Government recognizes the daily risks taken by police officers and their service animals. It will bring forward Quanto's law in honour of them.

Honourable senators, some of you may know that Quanto was a police dog who was killed while on duty. To sum it up, missing and murdered Aboriginal women, prostitution and dogs were all mentioned, one right after the other, in the Throne Speech; and the dog got top priority.

Aboriginals and other Canadians men and women have told me that they were shocked, insulted and angry at the way the Throne Speech mentioned missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Several people commented that the dog, Quanto, was referred to by name but the women were nameless once again; and the dog fared better than the women. Quanto the dog will be honoured with legislation, but not Aboriginal women.

Honourable senators, here are some reactions that were shared with me on the way in which missing and murdered Aboriginal women were addressed in the Throne Speech:

Person one:

Is this a direct quote?! Aboriginal women, prostitutes that should go to jail, and dead police dogs all at the same time!!!!! Are you kidding????

This is the reality of how we are seen by our government, how we are treated by our government and where we sit in our government's list of priorities. Even the dog got a name...

Person two:

"Disproportionately" gives short shrift to the historical and contemporary colonial racist societal socio- economic policies treatments and attitudes that put every Aboriginal woman at higher risk than all other women in every other group in Canada.

And to pile all women in one category and three sentences later NAME a police dog by NAME!?!?! Why is there not a law to honour these women?!?!? Why cannot ONE of them be named!?!?! Out of the hundreds of names that have been brought forward, our PM lumps their bodies in a pile and then speaks of a police dog by name prefaced by "Finally!"

SO APPALLING!

I am blown away, myself.

Person three:

It is amazing how the government can move forward Quanto's Law so quickly, but needs to "renew its efforts" to address the "issue" of missing and murdered Aboriginal women! The word "honour" is also associated with the dog, but our women are seen as issues...

Person four:

For the Throne Speech to point to "prostitution" rather than the structures of racism and exclusion is another absolutely disgusting point.

Person five:

Oh My gosh I felt my stomach drop. It was unbelievable.

Person six:

Thrown in there with the dogs! I can't believe it! I don't even know how to react??? I am filled with emotion. I simply cannot believe it.

Person seven:

With respect to the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, we would hope that the "renewed efforts" referenced in the throne speech would include a rethinking of the process for how this issue is addressed heeding to the calls for a national inquiry (which is supported by a majority of premiers across the country) would be a good start. Furthermore, if some wisdom could prevail, the large volume of data collected through Sisters in Spirit could serve as a foundation for creating the national inquiry.

Honourable senators, those are the reactions I received. The reactions to the way in which missing and murdered Aboriginal women were mentioned in a Speech from the Throne were clear: People were upset and appalled by its lack of empathy and its insensitivity.

Louise Halfe wrote a poem in response to it. It is my honour and privilege to read into the record her poem. Louise Halfe is an internationally known Cree poet and former Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan. Louise retains copyright to the poem.

Where violence lives

My mother drank a bottle of perfex,
Her arm hung loosely in a home-made sling.
A rib protruded from her chest.
We watched, my little sister and I,
Frozen to our seats,
Her being pounded against the fridge,
A broken sealer slashed at her face.

We lived on a small hill Surrounded by trees, sloughs and Prairie
Miles from another family
Whom we never visited.
A mile or so From my nohkom and mosoom
Who thought that mother's beauty
Should hang like dried-bark.

Who would hear the loud silent screams?
Screams, that fifty years later witigo
Gnaws, still frozen, their small eruptions
Crawling inside my skin, doing squats against
My chest, doing jumping jacks against my back.

I never knew mother to sell her beauty
On a busy street and she never laid among
The dogs. Yet, today, October 17th, 2013
The Speech from the Throne said:
Aboriginal women are disproportionately
The victims of violent crime. Our government
Will renew its efforts to address the issue
Of missing and murdered Aboriginal Women.
Canadians also know that prostitution victimizes
Women and threatens the safety of our communities.
Our government will vigorously defend the
Constitutionality of Canada's prostitution laws.
Finally, our government recognizes the daily risks
Taken by police officers and their service animals.
It will bring forth Quanto's (police dog) law
In honour of them.

Oh, mother, my poor mother.

Honourable senators, the missing and murdering Aboriginal women and girls and their families deserve better. It was disappointing that the Throne Speech did not commit to a public inquiry, and this was amplified by the disrespectful manner in which missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls were mentioned. At the very least, they and their families deserve an apology from the Prime Minister's Office. There may have been no intention to offend the missing and murdered Aboriginal women, their families and others who care about them, but that is the unfortunate outcome.

Surely the Prime Minister's Office and the government don't want to leave Canadians with a false, overly simplistic impression that prostitution and the missing and murdered Aboriginal women are closely connected. Surely the Prime Minister and the government don't want to leave Canadians with the impression that it is all right for police dogs to get higher priority with the promise of legislative honouring, while the missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls don't.

With all due respect, on behalf of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women, I ask for a statement of clarification, regret or apology from the Prime Minister's Office.