Saturday, May 11, 2019

Searching For Solutions to Indigenous Violence

"Nothing less than that is going to protect the safety of Indigenous women, girls and members of the 2SLGBTQQIA communities."
"Otherwise, the criminal justice system is seen to further devalue their safety."
"We're looking at many pieces of legislation, and not just federal, but provincial and territorial as well.  We're also looking at band governance under the Indian Act."
"Too often ... we heard from family members and survivors that an accused individual was released back into the community without proper protection for the complainant and her family."
"It's to recognize the importance of the individual who has been killed and the importance of their life. That tells all of Canada that if you kill one of these women, it's murder in the first degree, the strongest penalty and the strongest offence that we can impose."
"The sentence has to reflect not only the gravity of the offence but also the circumstances of the offender. And so does that mean criminalizing Indigenous men? Well, it means criminalizing all men who commit violence against Indigenous women, girls and 1SLGBTQQIA people. What's wrong with that?"
Marion Buller, chief commissioner, National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
Marion Buller, Chief Commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, speaks during a news conference at Haida House at the Museum of Anthropology, in Vancouver on Thursday, July 6, 2017.  Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
"I think that's a slippery slope that's quite dangerous when considering the appropriate penalty for murder."
"You're perpetuating the over-incarceration of Indigenous people."
"The answer is not punishing people more, full stop."
Tony Paisana, defence lawyer, Vancouver
What's wrong with that? Well, the single most glaring issue perhaps should be that violence against all girls and women irrespective of their origins, their ethnicity, their religion, their ideology, their affiliation, should be treated alike, as horrendous human rights abuses for which the penalty of committing murder should be similar. Marion Buller, testifying before a parliamentary committee, obviously has her opinion on the matter, informed by the project she has been tasked with.

Indigenous women live in communities where a culture of male violence perpetrated against women and girls -- and against other males as well -- is all too common. It is the culture that requires changing, not the law that governs how all Canadians must act in respect to the security and safety of society in general and women and girls in particular. But to her, homicides affecting Indigenous women must be given automatic first-degree murder status, as is done when police officers are killed.

Judges, according to her world view, must identify the complainant as an Indigenous woman and automatically convert their view of justice accordingly as an aggravating factor in the sentencing meted out to an offender. The thing of it is, the 'offender' is in most instances another member of the Indigenous community for whom judges already must consider special treatment taking into account the propensity to alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty, discrimination and the cries of victimhood relating to the residential school system.

The Senate Committee on legal and constitutional affairs studying a wide ranging justice reform bill was given the benefit of Ms. Buller's studied opinion on the root causes of violence against Indigenous women. She had mounted cross-country study sessions inviting Indigenous input on the issue of violence from those who had suffered it and those concerned over its prevalence. Her own report is soon to be unveiled. Not that it is by any means the first; previous such reports have all concluded that the violence suffered by Indigenous women by and large is perpetrated by Indigenous men.

Under current Canadian criminal law a charge of first-degree murder requires evidence a killing had been "planned and deliberate" before the harshest sentence under Canadian law can be mandated as a consequence. Currently, the murder of a police officer or prison employee qualify for the designation of first-degree. Killing committed in the course of a sexual assault, aircraft hijacking, kidnapping or hostage-taking also qualify automatically as first-degree murders as well as terrorist or organized criminal activity leading to murder.

Ms. Muller seeks to 'level the playing field' where crimes against Indigenous women are treated, she feels, less seriously than those against non-Indigenous people. "Let's make it equitable in terms of sentencing", she claims. And therein lies the dilemma. Her solution is anything but equitable, given that Aboriginal women will automatically call up first-degree murder charges, while non-Aboriginal women will not.

At the same time, most of the perpetrators of violence and murder against Indigenous women and girls being Indigenous men and boys, harsher penalties against an already over-represented penal community becomes the result.

The question is, why is Canadian society faced with changing laws meant for the protection of all society in an effort to change the dynamics of a culture that seems unwilling to begin the laborious process of transforming itself from an inward-looking, victimized society to a fully self-supporting part of society willing and determined to take its rightful place within the larger Canadian identity?

MMIW inquiry
Women drum following the announcement of the inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

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