Parliament fails native women

Posted on January 4, 2012 in Inclusion Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Tue Jan 03 2012.   Carol Goar, Star Columnist

Three days before the House of Commons rose for its Christmas recess, a parliamentary committee quietly tabled a shocking report.

It was called Ending Violence Against Aboriginal Women and Girls. But it wasn’t a plan of action. It wasn’t even a commitment to do better. It was a self-congratulatory compendium of existing programs.

Only one MP, 22-year-old New Democrat Mylène Freeman, cared enough to speak out. “This report does not really broach the subject of violence,” she said. “It offers no recommendations whatsoever and does not acknowledge the humanitarian crisis facing aboriginal women.”

The rookie parliamentarian spoke more in sadness than in anger.

It was left to Amnesty International to supply the outrage. The human rights group has been fighting to protect Canada’s indigenous women — who are victims of violent crime four times as often as non-aboriginal women — since 2004. “This represents a troubling and regrettable step backward,” said Alex Neve, secretary-general of the human rights organization.

He pointed to issue after issue overlooked by the Tory-dominated committee.

• It said nothing about the near-absence of emergency shelters for aboriginal women fleeing domestic violence.

• It said nothing about the indifference of many police forces to reports of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

• It said nothing about Canada’s failure to meet its obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

• It offered no support to families of missing and murdered women.

• It didn’t even mention that abject poverty compels aboriginal women — especially those living on reserves — to stay with their abusers.

The only solace Amnesty International could find in the 65-page document was a six-page dissenting opinion from the NDP. It said: “New Democrats recognize that, in order to break the cycle of violence affecting aboriginal women, action is needed now. We are calling for a thorough, collaborative, culturally appropriate national strategy.”

There is virtually no chance of that happening.

The Conservative government, which controls Parliament, can do as it wishes. It is clear it does not consider the disproportionately high rate of violence against aboriginal women a priority.

What makes this particularly heartbreaking is that the same committee produced a strong, forthright interim report 10 months ago. It travelled across the country and heard from 150 witnesses, many with shocking stories, and concluded: “It is the silence which is the greatest shame of all. It is the silence of those of us in the majority who chose to turn a blind eye to this violence — cases of missing aboriginal daughters and mothers which never make the headlines, epidemics of suicide which don’t elicit an outpouring of concern. It is this silence which is complicit in allowing the situation to continue.”

The committee’s interim report, entitled Call into the Night: An Overview of Violence Against Aboriginal Women, proposed a comprehensive strategy, taking into account all the factors that make aboriginal women vulnerable to chronic neglect and violence. It was supported by all parties.

What happened?

An election intervened. The Conservatives won the parliamentary majority they had long coveted. The membership of the status of women committee changed; all but two of the original MPs are gone. So is its chair, former Liberal status of women minister Hedy Fry, a Vancouver physician, whose hand guided the interim report.

But that is only part of the answer. The opposition parties — except three NDP neophytes — didn’t take a stand. The Native Women’s Association of Canada, bought off by dribs and drabs of government funding, didn’t raise an outcry. The Assembly of First Nations, made up primarily of male chiefs, was silent. And Canadians — because they didn’t know about the report or felt helpless — let the issue fall through the cracks.

At last count (2010), 582 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women had been documented. They died at the hands of drunken spouses and strangers. They perished at home, on lonely highways, under bridges, in rooming houses and at serial killer Robert Pickton’s pig farm in Port Coquitlam outside Vancouver.

The violence goes on. But Canada doesn’t seem to care.

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