Debates of the Senate  
3rd Session, 40th Parliament,Volume 147, Issue 57.
  Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Question Period: Indian Affairs and Northern Development

  Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

On March 4, 2010, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that the Government of Canada had promised $10 million to help address the human crisis in Canada concerning missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Honourable senators, it has been seven months since that announcement and honourable senators may be shocked to learn that none of the funding promised to address this national problem has been disbursed. Families of missing Aboriginal women have been waiting, living with pain and immense grief. They have been waiting far too long for government action.

Can the Leader of the Government in the Senate tell this chamber when the money promised for missing and murdered Aboriginal women will finally be disbursed so that Aboriginal families and communities will no longer have to live quietly in suffering?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, Senator Dyck is quite right; this is a very sad situation, which is why Budget 2010 committed to investing $10 million to address this problem. I believe this is the first time a government has ever made that kind of a commitment.

The Minister of Justice has been meeting with various sectors across the country including provincial and territorial justice systems, public safety agencies, policing and women's and Aboriginal groups.

I will be very happy to get an update from the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs on the status of this very serious file.

Senator Dyck: I thank the leader for that answer.

Native women's organizations are concerned that, if and when the money is finally disbursed, they will be unfairly put into a race against the clock because seven months of this fiscal year have already elapsed. They fear that if money is not spent within the fiscal year, the unspent money will have to be returned to the government.

Can the Leader of the Government in the Senate assure us that there will be a fair time allotment process so that recipient organizations or communities can continue to do their important work without fear that the rug may be pulled out from under them with regard to their funding?

Senator LeBreton: I wish to assure the honourable senator that those fears are unfounded. This was part of the budget process. The government is firm with its commitment.

Interestingly, the budget was strenuously opposed by the opposition in the other place and it took some time to get it through here as well.

When Senator Dyck is speaking with Aboriginal women's groups on this serious issue, I urge her to inform the groups that the government is extremely committed to disbursing these funds to help resolve this serious situation.

Senator Dyck: On April 21 of this year, Honourable Senator Lovelace Nicholas asked a question of the Leader of the Government about funding to the Native Women's Association of Canada with regard to the Sisters in Spirit initiative which was researching the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. At the time, the leader responded by saying:

The prudent way to proceed is to put some of this money to use in the communities and to work with our Aboriginal partners to resolve these matters, rather than to study what is known to be a terrible tragedy.

In other words, the leader said the government was tired of conducting research and wanted to do something active; they wanted to take action. It has been seven months and we do not see any action.

Which communities will be helped out with the promised funding? By the way, I am not in any way promoting fear-mongering with any of these organizations; I am simply trying to obtain answers.

Senator LeBreton: I absolutely understand and appreciate the honourable senator's motives and I do not question them for a moment, because she has worked extremely hard on these serious issues.

My words to our colleague, Senator Lovelace Nicholas, have not changed. I agree that there is only so much study that can be undertaken on a problem. There needs to be expenditure of funds to solve some of these problems.

I committed to the honourable senator in my last answer to obtain up-to-date information, because I know that my colleagues have been working on this serious issue on many fronts. I indicated to Senator Dyck that I will be happy to provide a full update for her as to what actions have been taken in the various communities, and what the various provincial and territorial governments have committed to. I will provide that update by written response.