Parliament fails aboriginal women
TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Conservative-dominated parliamentary committee shrugs off epidemic of violence against aboriginal women.
Mar 11 2014. By: Carol Goar, Star Columnist
The original version of the long-awaited report on missing and murdered aboriginal women was eloquent and forceful.
Then the Conservative majority went to work. The final version, released by the parliamentary committee on violence against indigenous women on the eve of International Women’s Day, was mush.
Gone was the clarion call for action. In its place was a proposal that Ottawa “work with the provinces, territories and municipalities to create a public awareness and prevention campaign focusing on violence against aboriginal women and girls.”
Gone was the demand for a public inquiry into the disappearance of more than 600 aboriginal women, painstakingly documented by the Native Women’s Association of Canada. In its place was a recommendation that “the federal government continue to support programming and legislation that allow aboriginal communities to respond to violence.”
Gone was the proposal that Ottawa set up a fund to help the families of missing and murdered aboriginal women defray the expenses they incurred searching for their lost loved ones. In its place was a suggestion that “the federal government maintain its commitment to develop the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights aimed at making the criminal justice system more responsive to the need of victims.”
All that remained of the original report was its once-poignant title: Invisible Women: A Call to Action.
For the families of the victims, it was an enormous let-down. For human rights activists it was yet another demonstration of the Conservative government’s refusal to stand up for vulnerable minorities. For aboriginal women it was a devastating blow. The police had failed them, the courts had failed them and now their quest for justice had been spurned by the government of Canada.
“We continue to be, I find, treated as second-class citizens,” said Claudette Dumont Smith, executive director of the Native Women’s Association. “An aboriginal woman could be disposed of — and that’s it, that’s all.”
The two opposition parties did what they could to mitigate the damage, each filing strong dissenting opinions.
“A call to action should imply some urgency. Instead this report’s recommendations suggest the status quo remain and no extraordinary measures are necessary,” the NDP wrote, renewing the call for a public inquiry followed by a national action plan to end violence against indigenous women and girls.
The Liberals echoed those sentiments. “This is a crisis that should transcend politics,” they wrote. “It is deeply disappointing to see the Conservative government use its majority to replace the thoughtful, specific, action-oriented recommendations brought forward by the witnesses with partisan, self-serving, status quo recommendations.”
But neither party has the parliamentary strength to prevent the government from rubber-stamping the anodyne report.
It wasn’t the first time the Tories had done this. They used their majority exactly the same way in December to relieve the government of any responsibility to tackle the widening gap between rich and poor. Since taking power in 2006, they have undermined the committee system — harassing witnesses, arbitrarily cancelling hearings and withholding public documents. When none of those techniques worked, the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament, squelching unwanted questions.
But Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, who proposed the parliamentaryinvestigation into the epidemic of deaths of aboriginal women, hoped that this time, the government would rise above partisanship. The homicide rate for aboriginal women was shockingly high. There was clear evidence the RCMP and local police turned a blind eye when First Nations, Inuit and Métis women went missing. The anguish of their families was heart-rending.
Her motion won unanimous consent. The testimony of the witnesses — police, statisticians, family service workers, child protection workers and the sisters, parents and friends of the victims — was compelling. The committee clerk and the parliamentary researchers worked diligently.
The government-led rewrite was a crushing disappointment.
On International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement. “Today we celebrate the many achievements of women in Canada and around the world and reaffirm our commitment to gender equality,” he said.
“Our government is taking action to support women’s economic security and prosperity. We are also investing significantly in projects to end violence against women and girls.”
Women shook their heads in disbelief, then washed the salt out of their newly opened wounds.
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