In Debate: Government Should Listen to and Support Native Women's Association of Canada

Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for responding to the very important matter of funding decisions regarding the $10 million promised in budget 2010 to address the issue of violence against aboriginal women.

On October 1, I asked the Minister of Justice to tell the House when we could expect to see a plan set in place for the investment of the $10 million promised in the budget. By October 1, it had been more than seven months since the money was promised and the government had yet to disclose a plan. Again, not surprisingly, I was told by the minister that the government would reveal its plan in due time.

Well, we have all read or at least seen parts of the recent research from the Sisters in Spirit initiative, which shows that nearly 600 aboriginal women have gone missing or have been murdered. This number of missing or murdered aboriginal women is the equivalent of more than 19,000 women in the non-aboriginal community.

While it was reassuring that the government seemed to have finally noticed the importance of this issue, it now appears the government's announcement was more of a political diversion than concrete action.

Organizations on the ground have had the solutions necessary to start addressing the issue of violence committed against aboriginal women for quite some time. All that was missing was the funding and the political will from the government to act responsibly.

We need action to stop the overwhelming violence being experienced by aboriginal women. However, when the government finally did make its funding announcement in Vancouver on October 29, more than 40% of the money was dedicated to groups other than aboriginal women.

While we can all see the value of instruments and investments announced in Vancouver, the funding for them should have come from moneys other than those promised to aboriginal women. For example, $4 million of the $10 million promised to address violence against missing and murdered women went to the creation of a national missing persons database.

This creates significant concerns because such a database does not focus on aboriginal women alone, but rather will track both men and women from across Canadian society. While this is also necessary, aboriginal women are at the greatest risk of experiencing violence and should therefore have a specific database, such as the one developed by Sisters in Spirit. That information is already available and must be acted upon.

I also wonder about the way missing persons reports will be filed. In my conversations with Sisters in Spirit, it was revealed that part of the issue related to the fact that police reports did not indicate the ethnicity of the women. Police only report if the subject is white or non-white. This is extremely problematic. Had the government consulted Sisters in Spirit, it would have learned about the problem and could have ensured that ethnicity was addressed in the database.

We have also learned from Sisters in Spirit and from the Native Women's Association of Canada that they were not consulted by the government. How could the government make plans concerning the well-being of aboriginal women without consulting the largest group in the country?

Why did the government fail to consult with aboriginal women before making a funding announcement? Why has it managed to fund something that it will not address the issue facing women in our communities?

Mr. Daniel Petit (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the member's question shows that there is misinformation out there right now about the government's response to the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women. I would first like to thank the opposition member for giving me the opportunity to correct these misunderstandings.

I think that this issue is much too serious to be politicized, because young women have been brutally killed and families are still ravaged by pain. That is why I will answer this question very carefully and try not to leave anything out.

On October 29, the Minister for Status of Women announced the seven components of the most recent investment by the government in response to the unacceptably high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women, as indicated in the Sisters in Spirit reports.

We expect that these investments will enhance law enforcement and justice system interventions. This approach is in line with our throne speech commitment to “address the disturbing number of unsolved cases of murdered and missing Aboriginal women”, which we consider to be an urgent criminal justice matter, and our budget commitment to take “concrete actions...to ensure that law enforcement and the justice system meet the needs of Aboriginal women and their families.”

This is why a portion of the money will be allocated to creating a new national police support centre for missing persons. In addition, funds will be used to ensure that police officers on the ground across Canada have easier access to comprehensive information about missing persons so they will know immediately whether a person detained for any reason has been reported missing. This measure responds to the concerns expressed in the report by the Native Women's Association of Canada. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution calling on the federal government to show leadership with respect to missing persons, and the federal-provincial-territorial working group on missing and murdered women recently published a report.

The new national police support centre for missing persons will help all Canadians. Permanent staff will include members of the RCMP's national aboriginal policing services to ensure that missing aboriginal women remain a top priority. The new centre's mission will be to create connections among the five police intervention units currently responsible for solving cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and to provide specialized services to regional and local investigators.

Five of the seven measures announced focus on these other aspects. Funds will be channeled to the western provinces, where Sisters in Spirit has reported the largest number of missing or murdered aboriginal women, to help them better adapt their victim services to aboriginal culture. There are also funds available for front-line aboriginal groups and organizations to create victim support services that meet the unique needs of families of missing or murdered women, which is important. This measure will help aboriginal victims and their families.

Some funding will also be allocated to help aboriginal communities work together to develop community safety plans that focus on and meet their needs, one community at a time, to bring about change—

The Deputy Speaker:Order, please. The hon. member for London—Fanshawe.

Ms. Irene Mathyssen: Mr. Speaker, the government has said repeatedly that the Native Women's Association of Canada is supportive of its plan. That is not true. Let us set the record straight.

On November 9, 2010, the Native Women's Association of Canada made the following statement:

NWAC originally sent out a press release saying that we were supportive of a decision being made about the $10M allocation of funds from the Department of Justice Canada on the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. However, at closer inspection, NWAC and Sisters In Spirit have serious concerns of how this money is allocated...

This quotation makes clear that NWAC does not support the government's plan. The Conservatives are ignoring aboriginal women and further marginalizing them. This can be clearly seen with the government's refusal to continue the Sisters in Spirit initiative. The government does not actually care about aboriginal women. They are just a pawn in a Conservative shell game.