Legal Eagle: For the ladies
- Dawn Dumont | March 24, 2016
As First Nations people, we have a lot of female role models to people worship. Let me add one more name to your list: Senator Lillian Dyck. Dyck is a Chinese and First Nations Senator from Saskatoon. She is a scientist and former university administrator and a self-declared feminist – a word which I never get tired of hearing proclaimed loud and clear. The Senator is a tireless advocate for the rights and safety of Indigenous communities and in particular, for women.
Dyck recently sponsored a bill in the Canadian Senate called: An Act to amend the Criminal Code – Sentencing for Violent Offenses against Aboriginal Women. The goal of the bill is to address the high rates of violence against Aboriginal females. We know that Aboriginal females are murdered at rates higher than the non-Aboriginal females. According to the 2015 RCMP Report: Aboriginal females are four times more likely to be murdered than non-Aboriginal females; Statistics Canada puts the number even higher at six times. The rate of sexual assault of Aboriginal females is also three times higher than non-Aboriginal females.
The Senator’s bill would make judges take into consideration that the victim is an Aboriginal female. That fact will be an “aggravating factor” and the person should receive a higher sentence. There are already similar aggravating factors that judges must consider when sentencing someone set out in Section 718 of the Criminal Code. Judges follow this section when deciding what type or length of sentence to give someone in case you were wondering if they just pulled sentences out of their butt (which is what I thought.)
Other aggravating factors are if you commit a crime against your partner, someone who was in your care, or if it was motivated by hate against a particular race, sexual orientation or language speaker. I’m sure no one is surprised that language is one of the factors as its rather difficult to restrain oneself from assaulting airline attendants who interrupt your movie to give you announcements in French.
There other groups that receive additional protection: police officers, transit worker and cab drivers. The reasoning behind these protections is that these groups put themselves into vulnerable positions on a daily basis – it’s true. Transit workers are always disturbingly close to being urinated on.
However, it was pointed by Senator Dyck that the Aboriginal women are in just as a precarious position in this society; the average homicide rate for Aboriginal women is 4.8 per 100,000, higher than for cab drivers at 3.2.
To learn more about the Bill, you can read over the entirety of the Senator’s speech at the Parliament of Canada website at parl.gc.ca. (Just google – “Bill S.215 Senator Dyck.” I wish I could say it was more difficult than that but it really isn’t.)
Part of the senator’s reasons for sponsoring the bill is Canada’s indifference to the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women in this country. Such indifference may inspire perpetrators to target Indigenous women believing that there will be a lack of interest in investigation, prosecution and that even if convicted, they will get a lower sentence.
There is certainly ample evidence that crimes committed against First Nations women are not taken as seriously. I’m sure every one of us knows of at least once case. Dyck, in her submissions to Senate, talked about the recent Cindy Gladue verdict out of Alberta. The prosecution was unable to get a conviction in Gladue’s death despite committing an indignity against her body for the sake of evidence. Dyck also referred to the Helen Betty Osborne case in which there wasn’t a conviction in her murder until sixteen years after her body was found.
With the Bill, Dyck believes that the justice system will be able to address such indifference.
While the Bill is a great step forward and will draw attention to the justice system’s indifference to Aboriginal women, it does have weaknesses. For instance, section 718 already refers to crimes of hate against a particular race. Shouldn’t this already address Aboriginal female victims? Senator Dyck argues that hate is difficult to prove and her Bill takes away that burden – the only thing that has to be proved is that the victim was an Aboriginal female.
Another concern is that the Bill only deals with sentencing. There are many places on the way to sentencing for the justice system to break down. From investigation, to charging, to prosecution – there are various steps along the way where someone can drop the ball – and not be held accountable.
Still the Senator’s Bill, if it passes into law, will send an important message about the vulnerability of Aboriginal women and their value to their families, friends and Canada.