The federal government has tabled a plan to address violence against aboriginal women and girls, announced Minister for Status of Women Kellie Leitch as MPs returned to Parliament after the summer recess today.
“We have heard from victims’ families directly and they want action. And that’s precisely what we are delivering,” said Leitch during question period today.
The government has budgeted $25 million over five years to deliver the plan — a commitment first announced in the February 2014 budget.
The plan flows from the 16 recommendations MPs sitting on the Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women made last March.
The $25 million plan, which would run from 2015-20, would include:
$8.6 million over five years to support aboriginal communities in developing community safety plans.
$2.5 million over five years to help aboriginal people create projects and raise awareness “to break intergenerational cycles of violence and abuse.”
$5 million over five years to work with aboriginal communities and stakeholders, as well as aboriginal men and boys, to denounce and prevent violence against aboriginal women.
$7.5 million over five years to help victims and their families through the Victims Fund and the Policy Centre for Victim Issues.
$1.4 million over five years “to share information and resources with communities and organizations, and report regularly on progress made and results.”
The opposition parties continued to call on the Conservatives to heed calls for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said only a public inquiry would get to the root causes of the problem. “There’s still a lot of work than can be done looking at the systemic causes here, and that’s what we’re calling for,” he told reporters on Monday.
Mulcair has said if the NDP were to form the government after the next federal election, it would call a public inquiry within 100 days.
Liberal aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett denounced today’s plan as “political smoke and mirrors.”
In a statement to CBC News, Bennett said “today’s so-called ‘Action Plan’ simply implements the whitewashed recommendations of the Conservative dominated Special Committee … and is nothing more than a laundry list of existing piecemeal government initiatives, many not even specific to Indigenous women and girls.”
Bennett said the Conservatives should call a “non-partisan” inquiry to find out “why this problem has persisted for decades and why successive governments have been unable to fix it.”
Today’s announcement is in addition to other initiatives the government has said it will support, such as the creation of a DNA-based missing persons database.
More than 30 tribal leaders, juvenile court judges, child advocates, juvenile justice system experts and community members from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community testified today in the second public hearing of the Advisory Committee of the Attorney General’s Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence. The hearing focused on how juvenile courts and other programs within tribal juvenile justice systems address the impact of children’s exposure to violence.
“Too many native children encounter violence in their homes and communities that can disrupt a path to living healthy adult lives, and we must do all that we can to protect these young people,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West. “By intervening early, we can help these children avoid a fate involving courts and the corrections system.”
During the hearing, experts explained how children entering tribal, state or federal justice systems are screened and treated for trauma from previous exposure to violence. They also discussed a variety of issues facing Native children in juvenile justice systems, including the availability of legal representation, tribal court transfer of juvenile cases to adult courts, culturally sensitive programs and services that divert youth from entering the juvenile justice system.
“The long-term impact of a child’s exposure to violence depends heavily on how law enforcement officials, prosecutors, defenders, judges, and corrections professionals handle that child’s case,” said Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs Karol V. Mason. “Through the work of the task force, we hope to find ways to make the justice system a force for positive change in a young person’s life.”
The Attorney General’s Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children exposed to violence is comprised of a federal working group that includes U.S. Attorneys and officials from the Departments of the Interior and Justice and an advisory committee of experts on American Indian studies, child health and trauma, victim services and child welfare and law.
The 13-member advisory committee is co-chaired by former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan and Iroquois composer and singer Joanne Shenandoah. The advisory committee will draw upon research and information gathered through public hearings to draft a final report of policy recommendations that it will present to Attorney General Eric Holder by late 2014.
Attorney General Holder created the task force in April 2013 as part of his Defending Childhood initiative to prevent and reduce children’s exposure to violence as victims and witnesses. The task force is also a component of the Justice Department’s ongoing collaboration with leaders in American Indian and Alaska Native communities to improve public safety.
The advisory committee held its first public hearing Dec. 9, 2013, in Bismarck, N.D. and will hold additional public hearings, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Anchorage, Alaska.
The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason, provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and assist victims. OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking. More information about OJP can be found at www.ojp.gov.
“One of the reasons why it’s important for me to go to Indian country periodically is to remind myself that people living there do not give up. And if they’re not giving up, we’re not giving up,” U.S. Associate Attorney General Tony West, the department’s third-highest official, told the Associated Press.
The first public hearing of the advisory committee of the 12-member Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence was held Monday, December 9 in Bismarck, North Dakota. The task force is divided into two tiers: a federal working group comprised of U.S. attorneys and officials from federal Interior and Justice departments, and an advisory committee of experts on Native American studies, child health and trauma and child welfare and law. The committee makes policy recommendations to Attorney General Eric Holder.
After graciously thanking all of his colleagues and others instrumental in making the Task Force a reality, West expressed deep appreciation to the Task Force Advisory Committee’s two co-chairs, former U.S. Sen. Dorgan and Iroquois composer and singer Joanne Shenandoah.
“As everyone in this room knows, Senator Dorgan has been a champion of North Dakota’s tribes during his entire career, including his 30 years in Congress. His commitment to children in tribal nations is unparalleled,” West said. “Likewise, Ms. Shenandoah is a highly respected and deservedly celebrated artist who has used her talent to call attention to the plight of children in Indian country. We are very fortunate to have them at the helm of this group and leading this effort, and I’m thankful, too, to the other members of the committee for their commitment and expertise.”
Below is an except of West’s prepared remarks at the hearing:
“Fifty years ago Attorney General Robert Kennedy came here to Bismarck and spoke of the “tragic irony” of First Americans living in the freest country in the world yet imprisoned by conditions of poverty and deprivation — conditions not found in the natural order of things but manmade, imposed and perpetuated by bigotry and greed and violence.
And Attorney General Kennedy spoke of our responsibility to reverse that historical tide, so that the light of freedom, just dawning, he said, in his own lifetime, might fully shine on his children.
And so we’ve come here to Bismarck, a half-century later, to help fulfill that pledge, and to reaffirm a promise we must make to all of our children: that their safety and well-being is our highest priority; that they are sacred beings, gifts from the Creator to be cherished, cared for, and protected.
Because the simple, sad fact is that too many of our American Indian and Alaska Native children still suffer or witness violence in Indian country. Too many see family members or friends fall victim to violence; and too many are victims themselves.
And the impact this has on lives both young and old cannot be overstated. It tears at the fabric of family and community; it disrupts the present and too often darkens the future. The scars of violence can run deep and have impacts that can seep from one generation into the next.
We know from our own research at the Justice Department that a majority of America’s children—more than 60 percent—are exposed to some form of violence, crime, or abuse, ranging from brief encounters as witnesses to serious violent episodes as victims.
We know that, tragically, almost 40 percent are direct victims of two or more violent acts.
Often this violence occurs in the place where our children should feel the safest: at home. While domestic violence plagues many communities across the country, research shows that rates of domestic violence against Native women are among the highest in the entire United States.
And while we don’t know how many American Indian and Alaska Native children witness this kind of violence; or how many are removed from their homes and experience disruption in their lives as a result; or how many end up continuing the cycle by hurting others; we do know that the impact of on our kids having been exposed to violence can be serious, ranging from poor academic performance and drug and alcohol abuse to long-term psychological harm or even criminal behavior later in life.
But we also know something else: We know that we need not accept these outcomes as inevitable, because our young people are resilient and can return to living normal, healthy lives, as long as they have the benefit of proper intervention.
So as we listen to the testimony today, let us look for new ways in which we can engage all community members — tribal and spiritual leaders; elders and parents; teachers and coaches; and, importantly, young people themselves — let us all be enlisted to address this critical issue, because it is a challenge that requires no less.
Today’s hearing is an important step in that direction, and it’s a natural extension of work the Obama Administration has pursued to fulfill this nation’s trust responsibility and address the challenges that American Indian and Alaska Native communities face.
It grows out of the work that Attorney General Holder began three years ago with a new initiative he called “Defending Childhood.” The goal of Defending Childhood was to improve our knowledge about what works to reduce children’s exposure to violence and how to lessen the long-term adverse impacts of that exposure when it does occur.
And as part of that effort, as many of you know, the Attorney General appointed a national Task Force to identify ways to reduce children’s exposure to violence and to recommend policy changes at the federal level to meet that goal.
We’re implementing one of those recommendations this morning: a special effort aimed at examining and addressing the exposure of American Indian and Alaska Native children to violence, in ways that recognize the unique government-to-government relationship between sovereign tribal nations and the United States.
There are two parts to this special task force: a Federal Working Group comprised of high-ranking federal officials who work with tribal communities everyday; and an Advisory Committee made of up experts with insights into children’s exposure to violence in native communities.
Now, the Federal Working Group was formed because we know there are things we can do now—things that need not wait for more study—that can have a direct and immediate impact in kids’ lives right now.
So officials from the Departments of Justice, the Interior, and Health and Human Services with proven dedication and experience in Indian country have come together as part of this Federal Working Group to do just that.
And already, they are making a difference. Here’s one example. About a year ago, I traveled to the Ute Mountain Ute and Northern Cheyenne reservations. And among the places I visited were the detention centers, where both adults and juveniles are held.
Now it’s always tragic whenever a young person is locked up; but that tragedy is compounded when that child is warehoused without any assistance that can help prevent that child from future incarceration. And in these two facilities, kids weren’t getting access to adequate educational programming or counseling.
So the Federal Working Group came together and tackled this issue, cutting through the red tape and working together such that contracts are now being secured for teachers who will provide culturally-sensitive educational and counseling services to native youths held in those BIA detention facilities at both Ute Mountain Ute and Northern Cheyenne.
Now, in addition to addressing those immediate issues, we must also develop a strategic approach to the long-term issues of violence that affect children in Indian country. So we’ve augmented the work of the Federal Working Group with an Advisory Committee of experts who have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of children in native communities.
Over the next year, the Advisory Committee will travel the country, holding hearings and listening sessions. They will comb through the research and consult with others to help us paint a clearer picture of the incidence of violence among native children, and help identify ways to prevent it.
And next fall, the Advisory Committee’s work will culminate in a final report—a strategic plan of action that will guide practitioners and policymakers at all levels. And, like the work of the Defending Childhood Task Force, the recommendations of the Advisory Committee will not sit on some shelf collecting dust; as the Attorney General said in his greeting this morning, your work will serve as a blueprint that will guide us into the future.
So this is our charge and our challenge. Today represents an early and important step in protecting American Indian and Alaska Native children. No one here expects this work to be easy, or that the efforts we embark on here will lead to a panacea. But it is an investment—an investment in our children; in the future of sovereign tribal nations on this continent; an investment we fail to make at our own peril, and one whose return will be measured not in dollars and cents, but in the young smiles you create; the doors of hope you will open; the futures you will shape; and the lives you will change.
Cuba, Iran, Belarus and Russia used a United Nations body Thursday to criticize Canada’s human-rights record, as the Canadian envoy rejected calls to develop a comprehensive national review to end violence against aboriginal women.
Canada was responding Thursday to the UN Human Rights Council, which is conducting its Universal Period Review of Canada’s rights record, on a wide range of issues from poverty, immigration, prostitution and the criminal justice system.
Countries have their rights records reviewed every four years by the Geneva-based UN forum, but the Harper government has been skeptical in part because it allows countries with dubious rights records to criticize Canada
Canada’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Elissa Golberg, offered a brief rebuttal to Belarus, but did not engage directly with the other countries that criticized Canada.
“Canada is proud of its human-rights record, and our peaceful and diverse society,” Golberg told the one-hour session.
While no society is entirely free of discrimination, she noted, Canada has “a strong legal and policy framework for the promotion and protection of human rights, and an independent court system.”
Recommendations from those countries were among the 40 of 162 that Canada chose to reject.
That also included a rejection of a series of resolutions calling on Canada to undertake sweeping national reviews of violence against aboriginal women.
Golberg said Canada takes the issue seriously and that provincial and local governments are better suited to getting results on those issues.
Shawn Atleo, national chief of Canada’s Assembly of First Nations, said there is deep concern among aboriginals over the government’s refusal to conduct a national review of the problem.
“There is strong support for this action domestically among provincial and territorial leaders and the Canadian public and strong international support, not to mention a multitude of reports and investigations that urge Canada to act,”Atleo said in a statement.
He said talk is not enough.
“It is especially clear that words need to be supported by actions, that commitments and declarations need to be accompanied by concrete and concerted efforts in collaboration with First Nations to ensure all of our citizens, including women and girls, are safe.”
The countries that called for a national review included Switzerland, Norway, Slovenia, Slovakia and New Zealand.
Other countries with poor rights records, including Iran, Cuba and Belarus, also supported the call for an investigation into the disappearances, murder and sexual abuse of aboriginal women in Canada.
In a response to be formally tabled Thursday in Geneva, Canada says it is “strongly committed to taking action with aboriginal and non-aboriginal groups to prevent and stop violence against aboriginal women” through a series of federal and provincial initiatives.
“There have been a number of inquiries and resulting proposals for improvements over the years,” says the reply.
“In addition, race-based statistics are not recorded in a systematic manner across Canada’s criminal justice system due to operational, methodological, legal and privacy concerns.”
Canada faced similar calls to better address the concerns of its aboriginal population in 2009, when it faced its last review by the UN body.
“Such comments were made by a range of states, some of them close allies, some not. For example, the United Kingdom, Norway and the Netherlands, as well as Cuba and Iran, recommended that Canada better address Aboriginal Peoples’ concerns,” said an April 2013 Library of Parliament review of the UN review process.
The issue reared its head again in February when the New York-based group Human Rights Watch issued a highly critical report alleging police abuse of aboriginal women in British Columbia.
It too urged the Harper government to strike a national commission of inquiry along with the B.C. provincial government, a measure that was endorsed by the NDP, Liberals, the Green party and the Assembly of First Nations.
James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, is scheduled to visit Canada in October to conduct his own inquiry.
The federal government will get a chance to respond to Anaya’s findings before a final report is circulated and presented to the UN rights council.
The Harper government has butted heads in the past with previous UN special rapporteurs.
Conservative cabinet ministers have blasted the UN’s right-to-food envoy Olivier De Schutter for saying too many Canadian citizens are going hungry.
It is all part of a periodic war of words between the Harper government and various UN bodies. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has criticized a Quebec law on demonstrations, prompting a quick response from Ottawa.
The UN Committee Against Torture has also accused Ottawa of being “complicit” in human rights violations committed against three Arab-Canadian men held in Syria after 9-11.