Manitoba MP stands behind bill aimed at deterring violence against Indigenous women
Robert-Falcon Ouellette says the death of Serena McKay, 19, pushed him to speak in Parliament
A Manitoba member of Parliament is getting behind a Senate bill aimed at deterring violence against Indigenous women and girls following the death of Serena McKay.
Robert-Falcon Ouellette brought up the need for "additional protections of the law" in Parliament on Thursday in a statement made in Cree. Ouellette provided an English translation himself.
He was throwing his support behind Saskatchewan Senator Lillian Dyck's Bill S-215, which would amend the Criminal Code to make being an Aboriginal female victim an aggravating circumstance for the offences of murder, assault, and sexual assault.
That means that the court system would be required to take Aboriginal female identity into account during sentencing of those committing the offences against Indigenous women.
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Ouellette said he recently spoke with Dyck about the bill but after the death last month in Sagkeeng First Nation of the 19-year-old McKay, whose horrific attack was filmed and shared online, he wanted to speak out.
"It was, for me, a moment I realized that people felt they could do anything they wanted and they didn't expect to suffer any repercussions at all during those incidents or committing those acts," Ouellette said.
There are already a number of aggravating factors listed in the Criminal Code including common-law factors like whether the victim was vulnerable — which could mean children — a taxi driver or a late-night clerk. Judges need to consider these factors in sentencing, which generally results in a more severe punishment.
Ouellette said it was important to clarify that the proposed amendment wouldn't implement mandatory minimum sentences and judges would still use their discretion.
"But perhaps it should give pause to our justice officials to sit there and say, with all the facts I have in front of ourselves or myself, what should actually occur in order to send a message not only to the offender but also the entire society about the value we place on Indigenous women and girls," Ouellette said.
Activist concerned about impact within Indigenous communities
While the bill has received support, including from the Assembly of First Nations, Indigenous women's rights activist Joan Jack said she is concerned it won't help recovery from colonization, and might actually cause harm.
"I can't see how this would help resolve the issues of domestic violence flowing out of colonization," she said.
"We experience it as a part of the misogyny in the world as a whole. When we leave our community we become prey and in that context, of course, the fact that we are an Indigenous woman should be an aggravating factor because clearly non-Indigenous men see us as an easy target and are acting on that belief," she said.
"At the same time, we as Indigenous women within our own community live with violence every day."
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When it comes to violence between Indigenous people, Jack said the "indigeneity" should not be relevant because "what is relevant is that colonization is alive and well.
"What has to happen is a whole movement around healing, education, empowerment, voice and place and value, and that's not being offered by the justice system," she said.
She also raised concerns about how the bill would balance with Gladue reports, which document the factors in an Indigenous person's life that may have contributed to their criminal history in order to guide the judge in sentencing.
Dyck's bill passed a third reading in the Senate in December. Ouellette said he is speaking with Dyck about the bill and expects to sponsor it in the House of Commons before the end of the month.