Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 148, Issue 117
  Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Question: Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women

.Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, last week the National Aboriginal Women's Summit was held in Winnipeg. The summit focused on the issue of the more than 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. The Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations have called for a national inquiry and a national action plan. Territorial and provincial ministers from Justice, Aboriginal Affairs and Status of Women participated in the summit, but the corresponding federal ministers did not participate.

My question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate is this: Could she tell us why Minister Nicholson, Minister Duncan and Minister Ambrose did not attend the summit, which was aimed at solving the problem of missing and murdered Aboriginal women?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): As honourable senators know, the government does attach a great deal of importance to this very serious issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The Ministers of Justice and Public Safety met in Regina at the end of October with their provincial counterparts where this issue was a major topic of discussion. The federal government and the ministries involved are working with our provincial and territorial counterparts to further develop strategies to coordinate efforts and share expertise on this issue.

I believe there is a high level of interaction and cooperation amongst all levels of government. As honourable senators know, in January of this year, a comprehensive missing women's report was released providing 52 recommendations. The provinces acknowledged that our government has already implemented most of these recommendations at the federal level.

Senator Dyck: I am glad to hear that the government attaches a great deal of importance to this issue, but I would like to ask if the leader could find out and report to this chamber what other activities the ministers were engaged in that took precedence in other words, took priority over attending this important summit on missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Winnipeg.

Senator LeBreton: With regard to the participants at the meeting, I am not absolutely certain how the meeting was structured, and I am not in a position to comment on the schedules of the various ministers of the Crown.

The honourable senator knows full well that this is an issue that I have spoken to many times in this chamber. We have done a great deal of work in this area, including creating the National Centre for Missing Persons, funding the Girls Action Foundation to support young Aboriginal women and, of course, supporting women's shelters through the Family Violence Initiative. Those are just a few of things that the government has done, among many.

Honourable senators would not expect me to know exactly what the ministers were doing at that time. I am not even sure of the structure of the meeting as to whether it was strictly provincial-territorial. I do not believe it was a federal-provincial meeting. I am quite certain it was not. I am quite certain it was a meeting of the provinces and territories. The ministers certainly are supportive and have worked very closely with the provinces and territories. As I have already mentioned, the provinces and territories have acknowledged that there have been great strides made at the federal level with regard to the 52 recommendations, most of which have been enacted.

Senator Dyck: I thank the leader for that answer. I am glad to know that the federal government is undertaking some initiatives, but the federal ministers were invited. My question was if the minister could find out and I do not expect her to know at this moment where they were and what they were doing, and tell us in this chamber what took precedence over their attendance at this important summit in Winnipeg.

Senator LeBreton: There is no doubt that this is an important summit, honourable senators, but I do believe that, for anyone who is in public life and who works on serious issues like this, it is not a question of finding out about their other activities. That is not the way people run their lives. They do not miss certain meetings because others are more important. There might have been other events; I do not know.

With regard to providing an answer as to what they were doing in other areas that may have been very important as well, I do not think it serves anyone's purpose to be stacking one organization up against another and then assuming that one is more important than the other. The important issue here is the full cooperation between the provinces and the territories, and the fact that the federal government is taking a lead role in this and that the provinces and territories have acknowledged it.

Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, I wish to thank the leader for that answer, but there were three federal ministers who could have attended: The Minister of Justice, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and the Minister of Status of Women. If this issue really were so important, one would have thought at least one minister could have attended. Does the leader not agree?

Senator LeBreton: Again, as I pointed out a moment ago, honourable senators, I do not think it is proper, nor would it be the appropriate thing to do, to pit any organization against another. Ministers of the Crown have many responsibilities, senators have many responsibilities, and members of the House of Commons have many responsibilities. To assume that because a certain individual was unable to participate in a meeting and participated in another meeting would then make one more important than the other is, I think, improper and incorrect. I will not go back and start comparing what ministers do and, somehow or the other, leave the impression, unfairly, that they do not take this matter seriously.