Debates of the Senate  
2nd Session, 40th Parliament,Volume 146, Issue 17.
  Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Question Period: Justice

Violence Against Aboriginal Women

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, my question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. It is with regard to violence against Aboriginal women.

For those Aboriginal women who have been physically or sexually assaulted or murdered, the history across the country, including in Saskatchewan, has shown that the male perpetrators usually White men who go to trial receive sentences that seem to be too lenient for the crime that has been committed and for which they have been convicted. There have been two such cases in Saskatchewan. With the indulgence of honourable senators, I will go over them briefly to indicate the seriousness of the situation.

The first example we can refer to as the infamous Tisdale case. A 12-year-old Aboriginal girl was picked up by three White men who attempted to sexually assault her. One of the men was convicted and given a two-year conditional sentence, served at home; the other two were acquitted. They went to retrial, where one was re-acquitted. In a third case, the man was let go because the jury was hung, and a decision was made not to go to trial again. Justice was denied to the 12-year-old Aboriginal girl.

In the second example, in Regina, Pamela George, a 28-year-old mother of two, was beaten to death by two White men. They were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six and a half years in prison. One of the men was released after serving four years of his sentence. It was argued that the charge of first degree murder was not appropriate because Pamela George was a sex trade worker. Justice was denied to Pamela George.

How, then, does this government intend to toughen criminal legislation in order to protect Aboriginal women, who are five times more likely to die due to violence than non-Aboriginal women?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): I thank the honourable senator for the question. Violence against women is a very serious matter. I am well aware of the incidents that she has cited, including the treatment of the perpetrators by the courts.

As the honourable senator knows, the government takes issues of violence very seriously. The Minister of Justice is undertaking several measures to tighten up our justice system. We hear complaints throughout the country asking us to bring in laws but if they are not implemented they do not provide much satisfaction to the victims.

With regard to violence against Aboriginal women, I believe the honourable senator asked me this specific question last fall. At the time, I indicated that the government is building five new women's shelters for First Nations communities in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation have been working with the First Nations on these proposals. Physical construction of these shelters is expected to start this spring.

The honourable senator's specific question is complex. We talk about violence against women and places where women can go to seek safety, and then we have incidents such as the honourable senator cites where women are attacked in public. I will certainly bring to the attention of the Minister of Justice her comments and her desire to have the justice system further strengthened in order to protect these people.

Senator Dyck: I have a supplementary question. Given that the current crime bill before the House of Commons suggests that there be an automatic charge of first degree murder if a gang member kills a police officer, would that sort of strategy be considered for Aboriginal women who have been murdered?

Senator LeBreton: I will refer the honourable senator's comments and her question to the Minister of Justice. Within the Criminal Code, there are various penalties for certain crimes, and the criteria is obviously something that the Department of Justice is always looking at. I will be very happy to take the honourable senator's comments to the Minister of Justice.