Debates of the Senate  
3rd Session, 40th Parliament,Volume 147, Issue 92
  Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Question Period: Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. For the past year, this government has been telling us that they are serious about the disturbing issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. They announced in Budget 2010 that $10 million would be put towards reporting services, community healing centres and education about missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

For the past year, myself and other honourable senators have continued to ask this government where this $10 million initiative was going. Finally, we were told that money was not going towards the Sisters in Spirit initiative that has already laid the groundwork on the issue but, instead, to the RCMP to set up their own database for missing persons that may not collect information that identifies victims by their Aboriginal identity. Reports now indicate that this database will not be running until early 2013.

Why has the government decided not to use the database belonging to the Native Women's Association of Canada to mark progress on whether or not the government is eliminating violence toward Aboriginal women and, instead, to start a new database with the RCMP that will not be operational until 2013?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, this is a serious issue, as has been mentioned before on both sides.

The Minister of State for the Status of Women and the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, the Honourable Rona Ambrose, spoke today at lunch and at a recent performance of the Atlantic Ballet of Canada on the subject of violence against women. She outlined many of the things the government has done.

We take the issue of violence against Aboriginal women seriously. It is a serious problem. We are addressing family violence by supporting prevention and providing shelters on reserves.

Over the last year, my colleague Rona Ambrose, as Minister of State for the Status of Women, has committed over $1.8 million for projects working to eliminate violence against Aboriginal women. The government is taking several concrete actions to address the disturbing issue of missing and murdered women. The $10 million investment announced in October will create a new RCMP centre, which the honourable senator mentioned, for missing persons. It will also be used to improve law enforcement databases to investigate missing and murdered women; boost culturally appropriate victims' services; support the creation of Aboriginal community and educational safety plans to enhance the safety of women; and create a national website for public tips to help locate these missing women.

Obviously, honourable senators, the RCMP, as our national police force, are well equipped and have committed themselves to being part of this program. I think one of the problems was that often it was felt these cases did not receive the attention they deserved. With the Status of Women Canada now working with the RCMP and this new database, hopefully this issue can begin to be addressed because it is impossible to ignore the gravity of this dreadful situation. However, I believe the government is moving in the right direction.

Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, Aboriginal women are the heart of First Nations families and communities, yet sadly we know that, although they make up only 3 per cent of the population, they make up about 29 per cent of the federal prison population and about 90 per cent of the provincial prison population, especially in the Prairies.

The government has a tough-on-crime agenda, but what are they doing to alleviate the effects of such a tough, heartless agenda on the most vulnerable of Canadian citizens, Aboriginal women?

Senator LeBreton: I would hardly characterize the concern and the efforts that the government is making in this regard as a "tough, heartless agenda." Our tough agenda is directed at perpetrators of crimes, not the victims of crimes.

With regard to the measures the government has taken, the Native Women's Association of Canada received substantial funding, $1.8 million from our government, for their new Evidence to Action II project. Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said, "It is our belief that this announcement proves the strong commitment of the federal government to end violence against Aboriginal women and girls."

I would hardly think that the honourable senator's comments square with the comments of the head of the Native Women's Association of Canada.