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Bill S-215 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for violent offences against Aboriginal women)

 

Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Dyck, seconded by the Honourable Senator Eggleton, P.C., for the second reading of Bill S-215, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for violent offences against Aboriginal women).

Hon. Scott Tannas: Honourable senators, I rise today in support of Bill S-215, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for violent offences against Aboriginal women). I'd like to thank and congratulate Senator Dyck for putting forward this bill and for her thoughtful, eloquent and passionate advocacy of this particular subject.

I was here in the chamber when she gave her speech on Bill S- 215 and was one of many who were profoundly moved by her words. She described stories of real women victimized simply because they were Aboriginal and vulnerable.

In her speech, Senator Dyck presented two compelling and very logical arguments, in my opinion, as to why this bill is important and should be adopted. First, she cited clear statistics from an RCMP report that many of us are familiar with that show that Aboriginal women are especially vulnerable. She paired that with the fact that there are many precedents for laws that protect people exactly as this law is intended to protect.

We had a recent example of that in this chamber when Senator Runciman proposed a bill protecting and providing for aggravating circumstances for those who would do harm to taxi drivers, bus drivers and other people involved in public service.

Senator Dyck spoke about societal indifference. This observation is particularly powerful. I believe that Canadian society has to be aggressive. We have to become far more aggressive in our protection of our most vulnerable people.

This bill is a small but positive step that we can take now to affirm to ourselves, and to all, that this epidemic of violence against Aboriginal women is unacceptable, period. No excuses.

This brings me to a delicate subject that I believe must be discussed in conjunction with this bill. That is how we want to see the application of this bill and what is proposed here and how it will be applied in conjunction with the Gladue principle.

Let me first start by saying what Senator Dyck's bill wants to accomplish. In her speech, she said:

Bill S-215 amends the Criminal Code to require a court to consider the fact that when the victim of an assault or murder is an Aboriginal female person, this constitutes an aggravating circumstance for the purpose of sentencing.

I'm sorry that Senator Baker is not here today, as he has reminded us in different circumstances and situations about the Gladue principle, which provides this:

In sentencing an aboriginal offender, the judge must consider: (a) the unique systemic or background factors which may have played a part in bringing the particular aboriginal offender before the courts; and (b) the types of sentencing procedures and sanctions which may be appropriate in the circumstances for the offender because of his or her particular aboriginal heritage . . . .

It also requires the trial judge to obtain information pertaining to the accused and:

. . . take judicial notice of the broad systemic and background factors affecting aboriginal people, and of the priority given in aboriginal cultures to a restorative approach to sentencing.

In other words, we have before us a bill that proposes that judges consider violence against Aboriginal women as an aggravating factor. On the other hand, we have a principle that is clear that says that an Aboriginal offender should be looked at and sentenced in a mitigating way.

This clearly could be conflicting priorities, especially when you consider that the overwhelming majority of offenders in violent crimes against Aboriginal women are Aboriginal men. We need to think carefully about that.

I agree with Senator Dyck when she said, in her speech, that in what she was proposing, she did not want the Gladue principle to be abandoned in favour of her proposal. I totally agree with that. Both need to be weighed.

I believe it's up to us to signal that in the consideration that we give to this bill. I believe, and I hope you do too, that we need to provide a signal that we don't do the opposite, that the provisions of this bill are abandoned by the Gladue principle.

When this bill comes before committee, I intend to propose observations to the effect that we can lean on what Senator Baker always talks about, how the courts look carefully at our intentions and read our observations as they try and understand why we're proposing certain things.

Working with other members of the committee and with Senator Dyck herself, I'm proposing and will undertake to work with everybody to develop some observations that will capture this concern that we have and ask that the balance be maintained. At the end of the day, violence against Aboriginal women has to be stopped. No excuses.

I want to close with some personal observations. As many of you know, I'm from a little Prairie town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I have witnessed violence against Aboriginal women in the streets, and I have seen and participated in the indifference.

This bill is important. As I said, we need to do something now. I think that the inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women is long overdue, and I congratulate the government for moving forward on that.

I also want to dedicate a moment in my remarks to Georgina Papin. Georgina was a Vancouver sex-trade worker who was killed by that monster Willie Pickton. Georgina was one of many of his victims.

I knew her. She grew up in my town. Her story, I can tell you, was a tragedy from her childhood through to her death. She was a most vulnerable person throughout all of her life.

Much hope is pinned on this upcoming inquiry, and I certainly hope that we can find the answers that we're looking for. I think that it requires candour and an unrelenting search for the truth.

In the meantime, I think we can take a step, and I recommend that we move forward and pass this bill on to committee. Thank you.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: Would the honourable senator take a question?

Senator Tannas: Yes.

Senator Dyck: I would like to congratulate you on your speech. You've gotten right to the heart of the matter.

When I have spoken about this bill at various places in Saskatchewan, the question always comes up, "What about the Aboriginal men?" It's an important consideration, and I'm glad you elaborated on that in your speech.

At committee, do you think this is one of the things that the committee should study in depth so that we fully engage in the application of the bill?

Senator Tannas: I think it would be helpful, particularly in our efforts to make sure that we provide the background so that judges, prosecutors and defence can really look at what we're intending here.

(On motion of Senator Lovelace Nicholas, debate adjourned.)