Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 148, Issue 138
  Thursday, February 14, 2013
Question: Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women
Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Honourable senators, today I would like to address again, as you might imagine, the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. We all know that the Native Women's Association of Canada has done a tremendous job of documenting the nearly 600 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. We should note that if we convert those numbers to non-Aboriginal women it would be over 20,000 other Canadian women who would be missing and murdered now. That is the huge extent of this problem.

We all know that in B.C. the Oppal commission made it clear that there were serious shortcomings in our policing and justice system, which have too often failed to protect indigenous women and girls. In the last day or two we have seen a report by Human Rights Watch entitled Those Who Take Us Away, which has uncovered one allegation of rape and others of assault by the RCMP against Aboriginal women in rural and northern British Columbia. This is absolutely terrible. Human Rights Watch is calling on the federal and B.C. governments to participate in a national commission of inquiry into the matter.

My question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate is the following: What is the federal government going to do? Will the Harper government call a national commission of inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, taking into account the most recent allegations that the RCMP themselves have not only not protected but have actually abused Aboriginal women?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): I thank the honourable senator for the question. She just pointed out the report of yesterday, where this organization brought forward very serious allegations. As we have no information regarding these specific allegations, the government has asked the independent Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to look into these matters. Of course, we urge upon anyone with information on these specific allegations to bring it forward immediately and report it to the appropriate authorities.

Senator Dyck: This new report reveals the contempt and stereotypes that continue to undermine the relationship between the police and Aboriginal communities and their women that makes them more vulnerable. The government has always prided itself on responding to crises of violence against Aboriginal women apparently by increasing the number of police and its so- called tough-on-crime agenda, yet we see in this report that increasing the number of police is not the solution; sometimes they are even the cause of violence against indigenous women and girls.

What actual, concrete actions will the government undertake to stop the assault, rape and murder of Aboriginal women in Canada by men and, in particular, by the RCMP?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I wish to emphasize that in terms of yesterday's report by Human Rights Watch, again, it is very important that organizations with specific allegations to make bring them forward and report them to the appropriate authorities. On the basis of this yesterday's story, as I just reported, the government has asked the Commissioner for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to look into these serious allegations.

There is no question and I know the honourable senator does not question this either that the death of these women, in the eyes of all of us, is a great tragedy and has caused deep pain and concern for their families and communities. Obviously, this situation is absolutely unacceptable.

We will continue to move forward with a vigorous criminal justice agenda to address these issues. Of course, I have put on the record in the Senate, in the past, the government's actions to date in this regard. We take this seriously. This is unacceptable, and the government intends to do everything possible, as we go forward, to ensure the safety of all our citizens, but most particularly Aboriginal women and children.

Senator Dyck: I thank the honourable leader for her answer and am glad she takes this issue seriously.

We know that the Public Complaints Commission is not an independent body. In fact, when people complain about the RCMP to the commission, it is like having one of your own investigate one of your own; it is not completely neutral. Is there another route the government could take that takes it out of their hands completely, an independent authority that has no roots or connections to the RCMP?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP is in fact independent, and of course they report on many findings.

Again, with regard to yesterday's Human Rights Watch report, it is important that these specific, serious allegations are brought forward to the proper authorities. In addition, the government has asked the independent Commissioner for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to look into this matter.

Senator Dyck: I thank the leader again for her answer. I agree with her that the complaints should go forward to the appropriate bodies. However, we must recognize that when those women are threatened, it makes it very difficult for them to come forward with a formal complaint. I think that would be the reason they have not come forward so far. However, that may come.

I will now ask the leader a couple of questions that women from my community have asked me to make on their behalf.

Remembering our murdered, missing and hurting sisters on this Valentine's Day, when we should be feeling love for each other, what is the RCMP doing to address issues of racism and sexism within their own ranks? What types of education about colonialism are included in their recruitment and professional development training? I would add the following: What role should the government be playing in ensuring that appropriate training is given to members of the RCMP to eradicate a culture of sexism and racism?

Senator LeBreton: As honourable senators know, there is a bill before Parliament with regard to the RCMP. I really hope that in this country we do not have a situation where any Canadian but most particularly our Aboriginal women and children would not have faith. Granted, some concerns have been raised. We have a bill before Parliament. Obviously, the Commissioner of the RCMP is addressing these things. However, as an individual Canadian woman, I cannot believe that if a person is in severe difficulty or in trouble they would be afraid to call the authorities in their own community. While there are incidents, by and large the people who serve in our police forces are solid, outstanding individuals who take their responsibilities very seriously in terms of the safety of the citizens they serve.

With regard to the specific questions on this Valentine's Day, we as a government have taken many measures. I would be happy to put them on the record again, but the honourable senator is well aware of them. There are measures being taken as we speak and there is a bill before Parliament. We have a report that came out yesterday or today; I am not sure exactly what time it was released. We have Commissioner Paulson acknowledging some of the issues that the RCMP has to deal with.

I think the honourable senator would agree with me that it would be incorrect and totally unfair to judge the whole RCMP by the actions of a few, just as it would be unfair to judge any organization by the actions of people in their midst.

At the heart of it all, with regard to those who serve in our police forces or in public service in any number of ways, I am absolutely confident that 99.9 per cent of them are there for all the right reasons and take their responsibilities to their fellow citizens very seriously.

Senator Dyck: I thank the leader for that answer. I certainly do not think that all RCMP members are the type that will sexually assault or beat up Aboriginal women. That would be outrageous.

There are bad apples in every organization. It is not unlike here in the Senate where we have some people accused of doing things that are wrong, but that does not mean we are all doing it. I certainly do not believe in stereotyping the RCMP or members of the Senate.

I will proceed with another question from a community member:

Eight months after the 2010 budget release of promised funding, Minister for Status of Women Rona Ambrose announced the money will be spent on seven different initiatives: the bulk on a national police support centre for missing persons.

She goes on to say:

While we have three missing person liaison officers in Saskatchewan, who are all former victims services workers, we will not know that such services exist since there is no promotion of this service. They do not even know that it is up and running. The Saskatoon-based person will only join our public activities upon invitation. In other words, they are acting in isolation. These officers are required to provide services to the province, and I requested which officer would assist with her missing family members and she has never received a response.

Her question would be this:

As far as I am aware, the RCMP chief superintendent has not made any statement on dedicated services or activities to missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Saskatchewan. Given that this is one of the provinces with the highest number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, what is going on? Why have they not contacted the families and groups involved with missing and murdered Aboriginal women?

I have a series of questions, and if the leader wishes to take these as notice I would be pleased.

Has there been any training for the RCMP under this new initiative? Is there a new database? If so, where is it?

She concludes with:

We demand an update and report on the $10 million that was allocated in 2010 and what the present outcomes are across Canada. It has been nearly three years. What is going on? Where has the money gone? Why do they not see anything happening?

Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator for her hard work in this area. She certainly is an outstanding spokesperson on these issues.

Again, we have Bill C-42, the enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police accountability act, before Parliament. When it comes to the Senate I am sure many of us will participate in that debate.

I will be very happy to get written responses to the specific questions with regard to these specific cases in Saskatchewan.

Again, I will put on the record the things we have done with regard to the very serious issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

We established the National Centre for Missing Persons. We improved law enforcement databases to investigate missing and murdered women. We created a national website to help identify and find missing persons. We support the development of school and community pilot projects aimed at reducing vulnerability to violence among young Aboriginal women. We have supported the development and adaptation of victim services so they are culturally appropriate for Aboriginal people. We have developed a comprehensive list of best practices to help communities, law enforcement and justice partners in future work they have to do in terms of working together to resolve problems. We have worked alongside Aboriginal communities to develop community safety plans. We have supported the development of public awareness materials to help end cycles of violence affecting Aboriginal women.

Clearly the honourable senator will not have me disagree with her: There is a great deal of work to be done in this area, and it is a very sad state of affairs that these numbers are so high.

I believe, however, that with the changes being made at the RCMP, the report that was released, I believe last night, and also the bill we have before Parliament will go a long way to shining the spotlight and addressing these serious issues.