Today, my colleagues in the House of Commons, proposed a motion to create a special committee to conduct hearings on the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls in Canada. This issue is one that is close to my heart. I, and my colleagues have raised this issue both in and out of Parliament, trying to gather awareness for this unspeakable tragedy.
This became an issue of considerable public awareness in 2005. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) initiated the Sisters in Spirit project with the Grandmother Moon logo. In the first phase of this project, Sisters in Spirit conducted research and gathered detailed evidence on violence against Aboriginal women. This sophisticated database led to the breakthrough of the first glimpse of the problem — over 582 missing and murdered Aboriginal women throughout Canada. This information was collected, with $5 million in funding from the then-Liberal government.
Sadly, instead of rewarding this outstanding group of researchers and front-line workers to continue to expand their database the Harper Conservatives eliminated the funding for this initiative in 2010. Additionally, the government prohibited NWAC from using federal funding to support Sisters in Spirit.
Instead of funding for Sisters in Spirit, instead of funding for a national inquiry, the Conservatives provided $10 million to a new RCMP Missing Persons Unit. This unit will not have a dedicated section to track and investigate missing aboriginal women, and is not expected to be fully operational until early this year. Furthermore, given the historically “dysfunctional” relationship that exists between the RCMP and First Nation communities – most recently outlined in yesterday’s Human Rights Watch report, which noted allegations of sexual assault on aboriginal women by the RCMP in northern British Columbia –the effectiveness of this unit is in serious question.
I am encouraged by the motion that was debated today in the House of Commons on the issue. It seeks to build upon the fantastic work of Sisters in Spirit, and delve deeper in the issues that have left so many aboriginal women and their families helpless. There are serious problems that need to be addressed, not only in aboriginal communities, but in the greater surrounding urban centers, where many of these aboriginal girls may find themselves, victimized and even caught up in the illicit sex trade. This special committee would have the opportunity to study and determine if there are projects and models that need to be supported on a national scale to truly help these aboriginal victims and their families, who have lost mothers, sisters and daughters, and prevent the loss of more aboriginal women. This is not simply an aboriginal issue; it is a Canadian issue that should alarm our moral conscience to action.
There is a Cherokee saying: A nation is not defeated until the hearts of its women are on the ground; then it is defeated no matter how strong its weapons or how brave its warriors. It is my hope that no more of our women’s hearts have to hit the ground before the Harper Conservatives take action. It is my hope that they will support this motion and finally take concrete action to bring an end to this tragedy.
Senator Lillian Dyck