Debates of the Senate  
2nd Session, 40th Parliament,Volume 146, Issue 35.
  Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Question Period: Justice

Violence Against Aboriginal Women and Children

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. As honourable senators may imagine, I wish to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and children. I suspect that everyone in the Senate chamber who has been watching the news recognizes this picture of Victoria Stafford, a young child who went missing about one month ago on April 8. She is a Caucasian girl. We have all seen the picture on television.

The Hon. the Speaker: I regret to interrupt the honourable senator, but props are not permitted in the chamber.

Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, I was trying to put a human face to the issue.

I doubt that anyone has heard of or remembers Tamra Keepness, who went missing five years ago when she was only 5 years old. Coldly, it is still called a "cold case." As I have said in the chamber in the past, the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and children has not captured the hearts, spirits and minds of mainstream Canada.

This issue has come to my attention again because three young women have gone missing in Manitoba over the last three years. My questions are: When will this stop? What will the government do to protect Aboriginal women and children? What will the government do to stop Aboriginal women from going missing and being murdered?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): Honourable senators, Senator Dyck has raised this serious matter before. All honourable senators are horrified by the level of violence and tragic loss of family members in Aboriginal communities and the severe impact that it has on their communities.

The honourable senator asked when this will stop. I wish I had an easy answer for her. There is no easy answer to such a question. I have to believe that the government, including the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Health and all those who work directly with our Aboriginal communities, are doing and will do everything humanly possible to increase the level of support for our Aboriginal communities and to treat crimes against Aboriginal Canadians in the same way. We have to believe that a crime is still a crime and that it makes no difference to policing officials because a victim is still a victim.

I am able to offer only assurances on behalf of the government that matters such as those raised by Senator Dyck are treated seriously. If the honourable senator or anyone else has information or a way to offer assistance as to what more can be done, I would be happy to communicate that to my colleagues in government.

Senator Dyck: On a supplementary, I am gratified to hear that the government considers it a serious issue. The government held a forum in Ottawa on March 27 and 28, 2006, which brought together the territorial, provincial and federal ministers on the status of women. Can the honourable leader tell the house what action has occurred following the recommendations of that forum? What has the government done in that respect?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I am not aware of a follow-up action, although I am sure it has been considerable. I will take Senator Dyck's question as notice and refer it to my honourable colleague Helena Guergis, Minister of State for the Status of Women. As well, I will apprise my other cabinet colleagues of the seriousness of this issue.

Senator Dyck: Similarly, there was a "Walk for Justice" that originated in Victoria. Aboriginal women walked across Canada from Victoria, B.C. to Ottawa in September 2008. They presented a petition to a member of the government, who promised they would provide a response with regard to their request for justice on this issue. To my knowledge, that member of the government has not responded. I want to know who received the petition and what the government intends to do with respect to the request from this group?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I remember the walk because I could not imagine walking that distance. I will ascertain exactly who, on behalf of the government, received this petition and what, if anything, has been done upon its receipt.

Senator Dyck: In October 2008, Amnesty International, with respect to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, recommended the federal government in Canada lead a coordinated effort to address violence against indigenous women in Canada. What has the government done to address this particular recommendation?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, on the issue of violence against women, in September, the ministers responsible for the justice portfolios discussed the whole issue of violence against women, missing persons and missing Aboriginal women. A working group of senior criminal justice officials was established to review the criminal justice system to improve the system to respond to cases involving killers who target vulnerable women. I believe the intention of this working group was to report this spring. I appreciate the honourable senator bringing this issue to my attention because their intention was to report about it now, so I will find out if and when we can expect to receive it.

Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, the most important people to consider are the families of the women and children who have gone missing or have been murdered. What will this government do to help support those families as they go through the process? Will the government provide resources to them to put up posters and to support them while they go through the court system, when they must face daily the people who are charged with the murder of their loved ones? What resources have been provided to those families?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, one initiative, I believe, was called "Sisters in Spirit." That initiative was undertaken by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs and Minister Chuck Strahl. I speak from memory here, but I think Sisters in Spirit was an organization set up in cooperation and collaboration with the Native Women's Association. I remember talking about the organization and hearing about it. I do not have at my fingertips the mandate or what the Sisters in Spirit and the Department of Indian Affairs are doing under this particular program, but I will be happy to find out.