'Unconscionable': Senator blasts rejection of bill she says would protect Indigenous women
Opinions mixed on bill that would have allowed harsher sentences for crimes against Indigenous women
A Saskatchewan senator says she's still in shock after the federal government rejected her bill, which she says would have protected Indigenous women and girls.
Lillian Dyck's proposed bill was approved by the senate, but voted down this week by members of parliament.
The bill would have required judges to consider harsher sentences for offenders who commit violent crimes against Indigenous women and girls.
In an interview Friday, Dyck said Indigenous women and girls suffer far higher rates of violence. She said this bill would have helped to curb that.
"I'm still in a state of shock. One of the biggest challenges we've faced is indifference to the plight of Indigenous women. This is just a shocking example of indifference," she said, calling the development "unconscionable and unbelievable."
Dyck's bill was supported by the Assembly of First Nations and other groups. Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) vice chief Heather Bear accused members of parliament of "systemic bias and racism." Bear said FSIN will continue to fight for Indigenous women and girls.
Others legal experts and organizations disagreed with the bill. Critics said judges can already impose harsher sentences if race was a factor in a crime. Others feared the bill could result in higher rates of incarceration for Indigenous offenders.
"I'm not sure this (bill) is the answer," John Howard Society of Canada executive director Catherine Latimer said in December when the bill was first introduced in the House of Commons.
According to a study conducted by Dyck and others, 66 per cent of those who commit violent crime against Indigenous women are Indigenous men. Locking them up for longer periods of time, in jails and penitentiaries already overflowing with Indigenous people, is a bad idea, critics said.
"Is giving Indigenous men longer prison sentences the answer? This will not help," Stan Tuinukuafe, president of Saskatoon-based STR8UP, which works on the street and in prisons to help people leave gangs, also said in December.
Dyck said she knows this could mean more prison time for Indigenous men, but protecting Indigenous female victims must be the top priority.