Niki Ashton rises in the house to speak to Bill S-2

Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to rise in the House to speak on behalf of so many of my constituents and first nations people across Canada who have vehemently opposed Bill S-2.

   I stand here on a day, as was noted earlier, five years after the anniversary of the current government's apology to residential school survivors, five years after the government made the most serious commitment to the first peoples of our country in committing to a new relationship, a new way of doing things, a new tomorrow. Yet, unfortunately, all first nations people in Canada have seen, since that day five years ago, is more colonialist policies, more paternalistic attitudes, more impoverishment and more marginalization.

    Bill S-2 is one step along that way. Not only is it not part of a new beginning or a new relationship, Bill S-2 is part of a pattern of colonial legislation put forward by the government toward first nations. There were Bill C-47, Bill C-8, and now of Bill S-6. All of these bills first nations people have opposed, as well as their organizations and leaders. It was clear in the idle no more movement that first nations people rose up against the omnibus legislation that impacts their treaty and aboriginal rights, but they also very explicitly indicated that they were opposed to the series of bills, including Bill S-2, that the government is putting forward.

    I will remind members of the government that the idle no more movement was started by four women from Saskatoon, who, with many indigenous women across Canada, rose up and said enough. They said enough to the colonial attitudes that have overrun their communities for far too long. They said enough to a government that has sought to impose their assimilationist views on their communities. They said enough to the status quo.

    We have heard many references from government members' feigned indignation to the 25 years that first nations women have waited too long for. Colonialism has gone on for far more than 25 years and first nations have had to put up with government after government, and the current government is no different, with the kind of attitude that is so unacceptable, so much against what Canadians want from their government, and yet it continues on the same path.

    The concerns around Bill S-2 are not philosophical. They are very real and very much based on extremely problematic elements of this legislation. First and foremost, there is the lack of nation-to-nation consultation. This is not a choice, it is something on which, according to our Constitution, there must be consultation with first nations.

    Let us go further. The government signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Bill S-2 breaks the commitment that the government made to the UN declaration. Bill S-2 serves to attack treaty and aboriginal rights. Despite the fact that there are obtuse references to respecting first nations governance, we have not seen the government act on that notion in legislation after legislation. It is pretty rich to hear government members apply impassioned rhetoric when it comes to first nations people when in fact it fails to hear from the first nations people who are most directly impacted.

    Let me get to some of the other major problems with this piece of legislation, and there are many.

 Just so we are clear, the NDP put forward reasoned amendments to this bill that involved a series of points, but I will list only a few. We noted that if these points were not recognized, in addition to our concerns around the lack of consultation, we could not support Bill S-2. Again, it is not a philosophical discussion. Members will understand from the points that I will raise that it is very real, based on factual points, that the government has absolutely ignored in its process of developing this bill.

Bill S-2 fails to implement the ministerial representative recommendations for a collaborative approach to developing and implementing legislation. The bill does not recognize first nation jurisdiction or provide the resources necessary to implement this law. The bill fails to provide alternative dispute resolution mechanisms at the community level. The bill does not provide access to justice, especially in remote communities. The bill does not deal with the need for non-legislative measures to reduce violence against aboriginal women. The bill would make provincial court judges responsible for adjudicating land codes for which they have no training or experience in dealing with. The bill does not address issues such as access to housing and economic security that underlie the problems on reserve in dividing matrimonial property rights.

It is clear that these points are not recognized in Bill S-2. There is no response to the serious concerns that first nation people raised both in our committee and in prior consultations regarding the bill. Also, it is not to say that this is the first iteration of the bill. The Conservative government has tried this on numerous occasions, and every time it has been clear that first nation people are opposed to the Conservative's imposition of a paternalistic approach to matrimonial real property rights.

Certainly we heard tonight that, all of a sudden, the Conservative government has real concern regarding violence against aboriginal women, which are great words, but let us look at the actions.

It is no secret, and now we are entering a phase in our history where we are being shamed internationally for our lack of action in putting an end to the epidemic that is missing and murdered aboriginal women. Over 600 aboriginal women in Canada have gone missing or have been found murdered in Canada, but the current government has done nothing but deflect the issue.

The Conservatives make these connections between missing and murdered aboriginal women in Bill S-2. Well, aboriginal people know that the current government is trying desperately to change the channel, and no one is buying it.

When we are talking about the issue of violence against aboriginal women, it is serious and it demands far more than a slap-in-the-face piece of paternalistic legislation. It requires real action. It requires sitting down with first nations and working with them. It requires making investments in non-legislative measures. It involves getting to the root causes of the violence that aboriginal women face.

We have heard that if the current government actually wanted to do something, it would respond to the calls for a national inquiry that have been going on for years in our country. Yet, it has not. If the government really cared, it would have responded to the calls for a national action plan to end violence against aboriginal women. But it has not. If the government really truly cared, it would do something about the excruciating levels of poverty that aboriginal women face in Canada. But it has done nothing.

Not only would I argue that the Conservative government has not done anything when it comes to the poverty facing first nation women, it has made it worse. The government has made it worse by the cuts it is imposing in terms of the services that first nation people need. The Conservatives are making it worse by continuing to apply the 2% cap that the Liberal government in the past imposed on first nations. They are doing it now by going after the advocacy organizations, including the tribal councils, that are involved in delivering direct services to first nations, and make a real difference when it comes to housing and education.

Not only is there a ton of hypocrisy coming from the Conservative government in that all of a sudden it cares about violence against aboriginal women, it is shameful that the Conservatives would stand in this House and turn to the NDP or whomever else and accuse us instead of looking to their own business.

This is a perfect case of changing the channel. Aboriginal people have seen this before and they are seeing it in spades with the Conservative government. They have seen it when the Minister for Status of Women was quoted in the media as blaming the chiefs and leaders as to why the bill was not going forward.

I had the chance to raise that exact point with leaders who came to our committee, and some of them were women leaders, as well. I read to them the kind of messages that the government is putting forward. I felt so ashamed that a federal government and its ministers, ministers of the Crown, would treat first nation leaders with such disrespect when they are doing nothing more on a bill like this than speaking out on behalf of their people, when leaders, women and men, are speaking out on the very real needs they have to be able to put an end to the violence that first nation women face.

Let us talk a bit about some of those challenges. I reference the extreme levels of poverty.

One of the most recurring themes that came up in our committee was the lack of housing on first nations.

Now some members, actually, on the government side in our committees asked what the connection was between housing and violence.

I do not think that a lot of the members on the government side have spent time on reserve. I invite them to come to northern Manitoba, I invite them to come to communities like Pucketawogan, Apasquea Cree Nation, God's River, Shematawa, St. Thesera Point, Garden Hill, Barrens River, Blood Vein, and I invite them to visit the houses where there are 15 people living inside a house, no, maybe even 21 people living inside a house--mould-infested homes.

 I invite them to see what is like, to hear about the social tensions that have developed because people simply do not have a place to live. Why do they not have a place to live? Because they live on reserve and because they are under a federal system, and successive federal governments, I would note, and currently a Conservative government that has sought nothing more than to further impoverish people, than to further fill inadequate housing up with more people, than to limit the kind of opportunities these first nation people have to access the outside world and opportunities that may exist outside their community. Then it turns around and tells us that a document, Bill S-2, would end the social conflict and social tension that they face.

This is beyond insulting. It is beyond reproach. This is the face of colonialism. It is the face of a colonial government that has sought nothing more, time after time, than to further marginalize the first peoples of our country.

We take, on the side of the House, in the NDP, great encouragement from the first nation leaders, from the women and the men, and the grassroots leaders, I will note particularly, who have stood up and who have stood up through their idle no more movement and said that they have had enough of the current government's attitude toward them and that they have had enough of great-sounding commitments, like the commitment of five years ago, the new relationship that came directly from the current Prime Minister, only to be followed by legislation after legislation, rhetoric messages that seek to divide Canadians, that seek to pit Canadians of various backgrounds against aboriginal Canadians, that seek to divide aboriginal communities among themselves, that seek to change the channel, instead of actually having a government that would step up, work with first nations, consult on a nation-to-nation basis, work in partnership, make the investments necessary.

These challenges are not going away any time soon. The violence against aboriginal women is certainly not going to go away as a result of Bill S-2.

 I think of Joan Jack, the counsellor from Barrens River, who so passionately spoke in our committee. She said, “This bill will not save one life in Barrens River. It won't save one life.”.

I would encourage members of the government to look at the Hansard to hear the messages that we heard in committee, to hear the kind of opposition that exists against Bill S-2.

While we are talking about committee, we have heard government members tonight make various references to consultation and how they heard from people and all of these things. If they wanted to hear from people so badly, why did they bring closure in on this debate? Why did they cut off debate, not only in the House, but also at committee?

We had two weeks to look at this fundamental piece of legislation. I will put on the record that in those two weeks the government made sure that we got to hear from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples more than any other national aboriginal organization. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples clearly expressed in its presentation that it does not represent on-reserve aboriginal people. Therefore, the question is this. Why would an organization that does not represent on-reserve first nations people be seen as the ultimate authority on this very piece of legislation? 

I will not leave the surprise any longer. It is because it writes exactly the kind of messages that the government wants to hear. However, when it came to organizations like the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations and various band chiefs, various people with legal expertise, grassroots leaders who had real concerns with Bill S-2, who opposed Bill S-2, none of them got as much time to speak to it as the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

The Native Women's Association of Canada got eight minutes to speak to this bill with no questions and answers. It is truly shocking. The Assembly of First Nations got 10 minutes to present, and I am stretching it by saying that it had maybe 12 minutes of questions and answers.

The government turns around and uses the word “consultation” and uses the sentiment of indignation. Those of us who are standing in solidarity with first nations who did not have their voices heard or who had their messages cut off because the government was so eager to shut down the debate are the ones who are shocked and angered by the government's colonialist approach to first nations.

First nations deserve far better than the current government that has sought nothing more than to further impoverish, further marginalize and further assimilate them. They deserve justice and respect. They certainly do not deserve a bill like Bill S-2. They deserve real leadership.

We have heard the government members call on us, hoping that we might change course. I would ask them to listen to the many people who they have blocked from the House and committee, the voices of first nations who would be most impacted by this bill. I would ask them to change course and free themselves of the colonialist approach that they have taken to heart and start a new beginning, like the new beginning that their boss talked about five years ago. It is time.