Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women

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Transcript of the press conference

November 20th, 2014 @ 10:00am

Charles Lynch Press Gallery

Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women

Senator Cowan:

Good morning. On behalf of my colleagues, Senators Dyck and Joyal, and all of our Senate Liberal Caucus, I want to thank you for coming here today to discuss this very serious issue, that of our country’s shocking and tragically ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
This is a national disgrace. Canada is a blessed and prosperous nation. It should not be frightening or dangerous to be born here. It was not frightening or dangerous for me or my children or grandchildren; it is a land of promise and opportunity and promise for us. Yet this is a dangerous place — far too dangerous a place — if you are born an aboriginal woman.
My colleagues will speak about the shocking statistics, but as a caucus, as a Senate Liberal Caucus, we could not simply stand by and allow these numbers to continue to rise – as Canadian women who are mothers, daughters, sisters and friends disappear from our communities.
Some of you know that last spring, our caucus launched an initiative to hold our Wednesday caucus meetings in public, to open our caucus doors to the public, including the media, to discuss issues of national importance that we believe were not receiving proper attention elsewhere. There was no question that our very first open caucus would deal with what we felt was the single greatest issue of national importance that was not receiving that attention and that was the question of murdered and missing Aboriginal women.
We were joined by community leaders and experts, and we had a very informative, and serious and open discussion which was led by Senator Dyck, who herself is a proud member of Saskatchewan’s Gordon First Nation and who has been single-minded in her determination and perseverance in keeping this issue at the forefront of parliamentary debate. This press conference arises directly from that open caucus, with suggestions as to how we could continue to pursue this issue in the days ahead. I now turn over the floor and the podium to my colleague, Senator Dyck, and I again want to congratulate her for her tremendous leadership that she has given to this most important issue.

Senator Dyck:

Good morning and thank you all for being here. First of all I’d like to introduce myself, Senator Lillian Dyck from Saskatchewan, a member of the Gordon First Nation. I’ve grown up in Saskatchewan all my life. My mother is Eva Muriel McNab from the Gordon First nation, who is a residential school survivor. I am here today as a Senator speaking on behalf of all the aboriginal women in Canada who are fearful, who are frightened about the situation in Canada with regard to missing and murdered indigenous women, and today I’m wearing a vest in honour of Shelly Napope, who is one of the 153 aboriginal women from Saskatchewan who was murdered within the last 30 years. As you know the RCMP released their report on missing and murdered aboriginal women last spring and since then all of Canada has recognized the magnitude of the problem. Up until then there was denial that we had a problem. It was first brought to our attention 10 years ago by Amnesty International and followed up by the Native Women’s Association of Canada that we have a problem.
The RCMP report documented:

There were 1,017 aboriginal women who were victims of homicide, approximately 16% of all female homicides which is about 4 times greater than their representation in the overall population. Similarly the rate of missing aboriginal women is about 3xtimes greater than it should be according to their proportion in the Canadian population. This is a situation that documents its horrifying. People are afraid. O on the prairies the problem is even greater. 54.4 of female homicide occurred in the Prairie Provinces compared to only 15.4 % of non-aboriginal females. This comes from the RCMP report. This is quite different from Ontario and Quebec where there is only 16% of female homicide victims who are aboriginal, so on the prairies we have a big problem. In 2005 I was one of the founding members of the group called Isk wewuk E-Wichiwitochik which is helping the families of victims of murder or being disappeared and they had been pushing for a national inquiry.

It is clear that these tragic cases are continuing and in just over the last year we had the situation of Loretta Saunders, Tina Fontaine and more recently Rainelle Harper. Clearly this continues to go on and yet current government policy is doing nothing. The current government has refused to launch a national inquiry and have cut funding to the Native Women Association of Canada. which was the prime organization that brought this issue to the Canadian forefront. They have also not dedicated any new money. If they say they have introduced measures to give more money to the family that is not new money. It was shifted from other programs for aboriginal women, so that is just not right. It is my view that the current government is out of touch with Canadian values and principals. Canadians now across the country from coast to coast are calling for a national inquiry and I’m happy that the Senate Liberal Caucus has pulled us all together to say that we should move forward and I’m very pleased that my esteemed colleague Senator Joyal has now given Canadians an option whereby we can press ahead and force the government to look at this issue seriously and to do specific programing for aboriginal women and girls who go missing or who have been murdered. Thank you.

Senator Joyal:

Thank you Senator Dyck. It’s really a privilege to be here this morning as a Canadian who watched TV and read papers days after days and see those murdered or news reporting that aboriginal women are going missing and that you stay in front of your TV set or you fold back your paper and you say we do nothing and this is, to be a really an overall story that as a Canadian you know you have to question yourself ‘what can we do’. We have seen 43 students in Mexico being abducted and the whole international community is up in arms and we have more than 1,100 women going missing or murdered and we just watch it day after day like a bad soap opera, and personally I was questioning myself. Is there nothing in the law of Canada? Is there nothing in our institution that can be called upon to intervene and especially watching the Supreme Court that has been doing in interpreting the sections of the criminal code that were endangering the life and security of women.
Last year the Bedford case, the Supreme Court gave a full legal meaning to sec. 7 of the charter of rights. Sec 7 states clearly everyone has the right to life, security and liberty. So it means that any Canadian whose life is threated by government actions certainly would have a recourse in the court and moreover we have here, a group of aboriginal women who have been discriminated through centuries of resident school system, with poverty, with marginalization in Canadian society whereby police forces and there are cases in Canada that are clear like that, whereby police forces generally might not have paid enough attention.
There is a case involving the Toronto police in 1997 quite clear on that, and I think that on the whole Canada has an international obligation in relation to at least other treaties or other declarations that Canada subscribes to that should be applied in the circumstance, and in reviewing all the laws pertaining in that case I came to the conclusion that a court action on foregrounds who have, in my option, standing in the court. The first ground would be the fact that the government failed to maintain to assure the life and security of aboriginal women according to sec 7 of the charter.
The second legal ground would be sec. 15 of the charter which provides that everybody is entitled to an equal measure of justice in our system and it’s quite clear that aboriginal women are not getting, from the government, that kind of measures and treatment that they should expect.
The third ground is the international declaration. Again all forms of discrimination against women that Canada assign in the late 90’s whereby can subscribed the international obligation to take any steps to prevent discrimination against women and the fourth count is the more recent untie declaration of individual rights people that Canada signed in less than 4 years ago,so it is quite clear that a court that will be seized with the petition to force the government to take immediately the initiate of establishing a national inquiry in my opinion would have a chance of success and will force the government to act because when the government failed to assume its constitution duty according to the charter and the international obligation then there is a recourse to the court.
Of course the decisions of politicians to assume their responsibility without having to resort to court action is always the most prefer route, but when a government failed its duty, I think it’s up to Canadians to go to court and to get somebody to order the government to act promptly with honour in relation to the indigenous peoples of can, so I contacted Senator Dyck later on last summer and I said to her as a Canadian we cannot just remain cross arms and do nothing. If the government failed to act, the court should be asked to order the government to act and I would like to see the government in court as a matter of fact to come to court to try to explain to a judge or to a bench of judges in the court of appeal or in the supreme court of Canada, why aboriginal women can go missing and murdered and why we should remain passive in front of that. It seems to me that the government would be shamed in court and if it is the only way to go to address that situation and come back with a solution, I think, unfortunately, it is the last resort, but it is the resort I would recommend so that we put an end to that national tragedy.

Question: Hal Roberts, Sun News Network

So, would you be willing to be part of that?
Sen. Joyal: the answer is yes, I have done it in the past, and I have done it as a matter of fact, last year. I intervened in the Court of Appeal in Quebec in 2013 and the Supreme Court of Canada the fall of 2013 on the Senate reference because I was very concerned that from the beginning, the very moment that the government tabled its Senate reform act that it was not constitutional. We debated it in the Senate at length, but when the government was in a position to move for it, I decided that was the course to take and I went to court. I went to court also in 2013 to stand by Mr. Satnam Vaid, who was the former driver of the speaker of the House of Commons. Vaid, who was fired in his opinion on discriminatory grounds and I went to stand by Mr. Vaid in the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013. I will be doing it next June in Quebec Superior Court in relation to the law succession to the throne act that is also challenged and I thought in relation to aboriginal women, you know, no law professors, no lawyers, no former justice, no retired justice could really remain, as I said, cross armed and just watch that soap opera going on and I certainly, if a petition is initiated in the court, I will certainly see the intervention status to be able to stand by the petition that will bring an end to that situation.

… see in that petition

When I say a petition to the court, I mean a court action. You know you have to petition the court, that’s what I mean, it’s not the petition of how many numbers, it’s really the legal proceedings. In other words, the legal proceedings have to be initiated by a concerned party that is either by a victim, or a family of a victim, or somebody who is directly aggrieved, you know that’s the status you have to have in the court and once that is confirmed in the court then any, for instance, any human rights association any aboriginal group or association can petition the court to intervene, to be granted the status of intervener and to stand by the arguments.
Question: …any groups right now?
I have been contacting some law professors that I have been in touch with all through the former years, and I have been in touch also with a former justice who retired, to submit my arguments to them because, as you know, as a lawyer, that’s usually what you do. You prepare a study and analyse and you pass it on to another to see what they think of this. Do you think it has merit? Do you think it has a base? I have done that in the last weeks and months and I think that we would certainly be able to rally enough legal support to go to court on that basis.
Senator Dyck
If I can add to that. I also interact really with a group from Saskatchewan. Isk wewuk E-Wichiwitochik, it’s Cree for Women Walking Together and they have been working on this issue for almost 10 years now. It is comprised of a variety of different groups, Amnesty International, different churches and family members of missing and murdered indigenous women. So I know that they are very interested in this issue. At this point they will be discussing it with the whole group. They may be interested in petitioning to move this forward. So there are lots of families out there who have been dealing with this for decades and I think it’s important that we focus on the families that have had a chance to heal and have gone thru the court system and now want to institute changes to what has happened in their situations so it doesn’t happen again to the next family like those families of the more recent cases.
Senator Cowan

Thank you very much, I appreciate your attention. Thank you so much

Senate Liberals taking action in support of a national inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls

Published on 20 November 2014
News Releases by Senator James Cowan, Lillian Eva Dyck, Serge Joyal

OTTAWA, ON –The independent Senate Liberal Caucus today released a legal brief arguing for a court challenge which would order the federal government to initiate a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Prepared by Senator Serge Joyal, the brief outlines a series of legal arguments to form the basis for a challenge in the Federal court:

”When the government failed to address its constitutional responsibility towards the life, liberty and security of aboriginal women and girls as recognized in section 7 of the Charter, other institutions in our democratic society can intervene. The court should be invited to address the systemic discrimination that prevents that an end be put to that national tragedy,” stated Senator Joyal.

The idea of a legal challenge was one of the conclusions of the independent Senate Liberal Caucus Open Forum that was held on the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Since then, the grim statistical outlook of this tragedy was made clear by the May 2014 RCMP report, Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview. The report stated that the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women has now climbed to 1,181.

Coupled with this astounding statistical overview, we continue to hear of more cases of aboriginal women and girls who have disappeared or been murdered. The stories of Loretta Saunders, Tina Fontaine, and, just last week, of Rinelle Harper have brought an all too real and heartbreaking face to this national tragedy.

Immediate action is required to address the terrible reality of these missing and murdered Aboriginal women and to put us on a path of reconciliation and healing. Piecemeal efforts have not yielded any substantive results; a national commission of inquiry is absolutely needed. With the current government’s insistent refusal to establish a national inquiry, a legal challenge is the only avenue left.

Senator Lillian Dyck, an aboriginal senator from Saskatchewan, said, “All Canadian women, regardless of race, should be treated as equals in the police and judicial system. Sections 15 and 28 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee that all women have an equal right to the protection of the law. This is clearly not true for Aboriginal females, as documented by the RCMP report; Aboriginal women and girls are three times more likely to be made missing and four times more likely to be murdered than other Canadian women. A national commission of inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women is an essential part of the solution to this shameful and frightening situation.”

Legal proceedings could be initiated with the involvement of a victim or aggrieved party acting as a petitioner, with the assistance of any aboriginal associations, and of associations devoted to the promotion and respect of human rights and freedoms. We additionally call upon lawyers, professors of law, or retired judges to assist in any such proceedings pro bono, and invite the general public to subscribe in paying for the costs involved.


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