By now you’ve likely seen the picture floating around the Internet.
The picture I’m talking about shows NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and two of his MPs Romeo Saganash and Niki Ashton standing proudly in ovation when Justice Murray Sinclair called for an inquiry on the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women at the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission ceremony in Ottawa.
Mulcair has promised to start a Royal Commission on this issue within the first 100 days of his mandate if he should become Prime Minister.
The picture buzzing around the internet also shows Tom Mulcair looking down at Bernard Valcourt – the 5th and most recent Minister of Aboriginal Affairs for the Harper Government.
Mulcair is looking down because Mr. Valcourt refused to stand or even clap when the suggestion was made that a national inquiry into MMIW is required.
The internet memes about Minister Valcourt’s literal refusal to stand up for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls are damning but there is much more to this story than 40 seconds of inaction from the current federal government.
The real story is that of a government that refuses to seriously investigate or redress long-term issues created by a history of injustice between our nations.
On the MMIW file the Harper Government says that we don’t need an inquiry because we need action – well, then: where is the action? There have been 58 compiled reports on violence against aboriginal women produced over the last 20 years with over 700 recommendations made. Under successive Liberal and Conservative governments only a few of the recommendations from these studies have been acted on.
The Harper government tells us to look at this issue through the criminological approach and not as a sociological phenomenon.
We learned decades ago that this is the wrong approach and that it is more effective to look at all aspects of violence against women in society. The criminal justice system, social services and our societal structures as a whole often marginalize victims and perpetuate the violence we need to prevent.
If we look at this issue solely through the criminological lens we can only act after a crime is committed and by then it is too late for the victims and their grieving families.
The Indigenous population in Canada is roughly the same size as the population of New Brunswick. If 1200+ women were murdered or missing in New Brunswick does anyone believe that the federal government would sit on its hands?
Sadly, this is just one of a long line of issues that the federal government refuses to address.
The Harper government talks about truth and reconciliation but refused to provide millions of documents about residential schools to the commission and only did so after a court order forced them to. We have a government that apologizes for the legacy of residential schools but does not make genuine attempts to address the downstream consequences of our shared history.
This government also voted against the NDP’s Bill C-641: an act to ensure that the laws of Canada respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Instead, with the help of the Liberals, they pushed through the controversial Bill C-51 which threatens to deal with legitimate protest as an act of terrorism where it might threaten Canada’s economy.
The Harper government let 1.1 billion dollars in federal funding allocated to First Nations lapse and return to government coffers while many of the communities that were to be helped by that funding use schools that are falling apart and don’t have access to safe drinking water.
Aboriginal Affairs is the only social-service department in Canada to regularly fall so short of hitting its targets. In the first three quarters of this fiscal year the department has spent less than 25% of its budget.
It is clearly time for a new approach – a nation-to-nation approach – with First Nations where all decisions related to First Nations ensure treaty and inherent rights are respected and that our treaty obligations are fulfilled. There is something we should all stand up for.