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Bill C-69 - Message from the House of Commons

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on the message from the House of Commons on Bill C-69.

I would like to first thank the Energy Committee for their understanding and support in passing an amendment I had put forward on behalf of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. This specific amendment dealt with the inclusion of a culturally relevant gender-based analysis within regional and strategic assessments. Although a GBA is required for impact assessments, it was conspicuously absent within these other regional and strategic assessments. To rectify this oversight, I, along with NWAC, had proposed adding, on page 55, as clause 1(ao)(iii)(b):

. . . include a gender-based analysis of the effects of the policies, plans, programs or issues being assessed.

Colleagues, to my disappointment, this subclause was subsequently removed in the other place.

I would like to put on record the disservice this does to Indigenous women and men, especially those who live in First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities near project developments, and especially where work camps have been situated.

Honourable senators, gender-based analysis is about regaining equality and balance. It is an analytical process used to assess and document how diverse groups of women, men and non-binary people may experience policies, programs and initiatives. With First Nations, Metis and Inuit, the other factors that come into play are race, ethnicity and the historical colonization and discrimination that has allowed First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples to be marginalized and made vulnerable, especially the women. In this section, I am speaking about First Nations, Metis and Inuit women.

In her 2006 Discussion Paper Series in Aboriginal Health, No. 4, entitled, First Nations, Métis and Inuit Women’s Health, our esteemed colleague Senator Yvonne Boyer stated:

Canada’s institutions that claim to be value free continue to reflect a male construction of reality. The implementation of colonialism through sets of male created and centred values has shaped institutions, laws, legislations and policies that have had a long-lasting negative effect on the health of Aboriginal women. Colonial laws and policies were developed that targeted the power of Aboriginal women as family anchors. For instance, the Indian Act, residential schools, sterilization laws, mental health laws, forced removal of children and enfranchisement were integral in attacking the essence of Aboriginal woman as caregivers, nurturers and equal members of the community.

She continues by stating:

Women made integral decisions about family, property rights, and education. Underlying principles of gender balance streamed through early Aboriginal society. The issue of balance, however, is not to be construed or constructed as similar to the Eurocentric or feminist or western legal tradition understandings of “balance” as equating “equality.” Aboriginal law is not ordered around Eurocentric values or perceptions of what is “balance” or “equality.” Rather, for Aboriginal women, balance is understood as respecting the laws and relationships that Aboriginal women have as part of the Aboriginal law and ecological order of the universe. Professor Patricia Monture-Angus notes: . . . Aboriginal culture teaches connection and not separation. Our nations do not separate men from women, although we recognize that each has its own unique roles and responsibilities. The teachings of creation require that only together will the two sexes provide a complete philosophical and spiritual balance. We are nations and that requires the equality of the sexes.

Senator Boyer goes on to say:

Unlike European culture imposed through colonization, Iroquoian culture was not centered on conflict or subordination. . . . each gender had a role and that each gender was superior in their sphere of responsibility. Both gender roles were viewed as equal and necessary for the health and survival of the community. . . .

The common thread running through all groups of Aboriginal society is that equality and gender balance was foremost, the men couldn’t survive the harsh conditions without women and women could not survive without the male counterpart. Professor Emma LaRocque notes:

Prior to colonization, Aboriginal women enjoyed comparative honour, equality and even political power in a way European woman did not at the same time in history. We can trace the diminishing status of Aboriginal women with the progression of colonialism. Many, if not the majority, of Aboriginal cultures were originally matriarchal or semi-matriarchal. European patriarchy was initially imposed upon Aboriginal societies in Canada through the fur trade, missionary Christianity and government policies.

Honourable senators, members of the Senate Energy Committee heard witness testimony about the devastating impacts that energy and resource extraction have on women and northern communities, effects which are exacerbated by the economic boom and bust cycles.

These adverse impacts are explained in the Feminist Northern Network’s article, entitled, Gendered and Intersectional Implications of Energy and Resource Extraction in Resource-Based Communities in Canada’s North. Through this article, the authors indicate that public discourse around resource development often focuses on economic growth and employment. However, these aspects are emphasized at the expense of ignoring the deep and lasting social and cultural effects that this degree of development has on communities.

Resource development of all kinds places strain on the physical and social infrastructure of these communities, affecting the tax base, the availability of affordable housing, access to health services and transportation systems. Resource development affects community life, both when large numbers of workers migrate in and when they leave. Further, the costs and benefits of resource development are not evenly distributed across populations or communities.

Colleagues, in the aforementioned Feminist Northern Network article, it is noted that the arrival of resource development projects can affect communities’ substance abuse rates. Sexual exploitation, sex work and human trafficking can increase when resource development projects enter a community. We have heard women from these communities recounting rape and violence that has been suffered. As we know, substance abuse often turns into gender-based domestic violence and child abuse. Ultimately, resource development projects can disrupt and negatively impact Indigenous traditions and cultural practices.

Honourable senators, I would like to quote from Canada’s National Action Plan 2017-2022, Gender Equality: A Foundation for Peace. Specifically, I would like to quote from the letter from the ministers, wherein they state:

. . . in conflict settings, women face particular threats. They must often defend themselves against sexual and gender-based violence . . . Today’s status quo—marked by unequal power relations and discriminatory social norms, practices and legal systems—keeps women and girls from influencing processes that profoundly affect them.

In a section entitled Canada’s own challenges: Learning from our experience, this federal report goes on to say:

Although Canada is not a fragile or conflict-affected state, women in Canada face a variety of challenges including gender-based violence. Indigenous women and girls in particular face intersecting discrimination and violence based on gender, race, socioeconomic status and other identity factors, as well as underlying historic causes — in particular the legacy of colonialism and the devastation caused by the residential school system . . .Canada has committed to a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples in Canada. The government wants to right the wrongs of the past and address current issues and concerns . . . . It has accepted the Calls to Action outlined in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and confirmed its intention to adopt without qualification the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples . . . Nevertheless, much work remains to be done before Indigenous peoples in Canada have adequate housing, quality education and safe drinking water, before they no longer face discrimination, and before Indigenous women and girls no longer have to fear for their physical safety.

Colleagues, for the many reasons I have highlighted, I commend our Energy Committee for taking an important step in protecting vulnerable members of our society when they adopted this amendment to include a gender-based analysis in regional and strategic assessments. I felt it important to now put on the record my dismay and disappointment that the other place did not agree with the necessity of this vital consideration.

In light of the recent release of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, this amendment seems particularly important, as it falls in line with the report’s recommendations. I would like to draw the attention of honourable senators to the report’s Calls for Justice, specifically No. 1.9, which states:

We call upon all governments to develop laws, policies, and public education campaigns to challenge the acceptance and normalization of violence.

Although this critical amendment was ultimately defeated by the hand of the government, I thank you all, again, for your initial support in accepting this important and meaningful step towards equality. Thank you.

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