Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, the first Senate Liberal open caucus was held last Wednesday on the important topic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. This issue has received a lot of national media coverage in the last few weeks due to the tragic death of Loretta Saunders, a university student who was writing a thesis on missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
As you know, Aboriginal women in Canada are three to four times more likely to be victims of violence and to be made missing or murdered. Despite calls for a national commission of inquiry to understand the root causes and find ways to prevent the increased vulnerability of Aboriginal women, who are more likely to be made victims of violent acts, the federal government has refused to launch a national inquiry.
The speakers at our first Senate Liberal open caucus were Sue O'Sullivan, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime; Maryanne Pearce, author of An Awkward Silence: Missing and Murdered Vulnerable Women and the Canadian Justice System; and Irene Goodwin, representing the Native Women's Association of Canada.
Honourable senators, the speakers affirmed the need for a national commission of inquiry, fully funded so as not to fail, and a national action plan to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The speakers noted that a national inquiry is essential in order to identify and understand the factors, processes, systemic racism and structures that underlie the increased vulnerability of Aboriginal women. The speakers affirmed the need for a reliable and comprehensive database of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
It was noted that there was a need for a yearly forum, a special Senate committee or a joint working group, and it was also noted that there should be some kind of reconciliation committee that includes all necessary parties who are involved in cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, such as victim services, social services, the family, friendship centres, the RCMP, police, band councils, educational authorities, ministers in the provinces and territories, and so on.
It was noted that there is a need to address the systemic barriers, the racism which leads to increased rates of violence against Aboriginal women. And it was suggested that relaunching a special parliamentary committee will not work. The evidence is clear, but the Harper government refuses to take it seriously.
A novel suggestion was made by our esteemed colleague, Senator Serge Joyal, to initiate a Supreme Court challenge based on the violation of section 25 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, proof of systemic discrimination. A favourable decision would initiate a national commission of inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and would outline remedial actions.
Honourable senators, if ever there was an issue of protecting minorities that the Senate should seize upon to remediate, it is this issue — the tragedy of the epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.