Mr. Kevin Waugh (Saskatoon—Grasswood, CPC):
Mr. Chair, I welcome this opportunity tonight to discuss and learn about the experience of indigenous people within our justice system.
There is no question that indigenous people are grossly overrepresented in the system, and there are many varied opinions why this is. This evening’s debate was precipitated by the unfortunate event in my home province of Saskatchewan, when a young aboriginal man by the name of Colten Boushie was killed. I am not going to go into any of the details, as I believe everyone knows about this court case.
I had the chance to meet Colten’s mother and some of his family members today. I personally expressed my condolences to her, and in return, she said that I have a warm heart, and it is beating. I also learned of the racist attacks her friends and neighbours have faced over the last few days in Saskatchewan.
I believe Colten’s mother, Ms. Baptiste, is watching the debate here tonight. It is my sincere wish that she can take some comfort in knowing that there are people here who are genuinely concerned about the well-being of the indigenous peoples of Canada.
As I said earlier, there are many options on the causes of the overrepresentation of indigenous people in our justice system. I believe one of the core elements is the educational system. Prior to entering politics, I was a school board trustee for many years, so I have first-hand knowledge of the educational barriers that face many first nation youth in my province and of the dismal graduation rates.
My wife Ann has over three decades of experience helping indigenous students reach their goals. She was a classroom and resource teacher. Now my daughter Courtney and my son Geoff have followed my wife’s footsteps and are educators. They all have first-hand experience with first nation students in their classrooms. I believe the many hours of conversations, both at home and at board meetings, have given me a pretty good perspective on where we can improve in this area. In fact, as a member of the indigenous and northern affairs committee, I moved the following motion last November 28, 2017:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Committee undertake a comprehensive study of Indigenous education and graduation rates from secondary schools; that the scope of the study include standards for high school graduation, standard curricula, standard qualifications for educators and statistics for national graduation rates from reserve schools in comparison to Indigenous students off-reserve and also to non-Indigenous students; that the witness list include responsible Indigenous Services department officials, band councils, band members, Statistics Canada officials, First Nation organizations responsible for delivering education services such as First Nations Education Steering Committee, and community groups; and that the Committee report its findings to the House within twelve months of the adoption of this motion.
My motion has not been voted on yet, but I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all my committee colleagues to support this study. I would also say that I am encouraged by the Prime Minister’s statement earlier today when he said, “Indigenous youth should not grow up surrounded by the things that place them at elevated risk for suicide, such as poverty, abuse, and limited access to a good education and good health care.”
I am a firm believer that an education is a powerful tool. It can open many doors, and I would like to see many more doors opening for Canadian indigenous children, not slamming shut behind them as they enter the justice system.
Just this afternoon, I had a conversation with Bobby Cameron, who is the chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
He explained that their intention with the inherent and treaty rights memorandum of understanding with the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association is to educate and create more knowledge on the whole aspect of inherent and treaty rights as first nations people, to help curb some of the false attitudes and perceptions that some people have, and to make it mandatory for all high school students in Saskatchewan to take a hereditary treaty rights class in order to earn a grade 12 diploma.
He is absolutely right. Non-aboriginal peoples in this country also have to learn more about the rights of aboriginal peoples, which they are entitled to under our own Constitution. Anyone doubting this needs to only read section 35.
In the news release announcing the MOU, treaty commissioner Mary Culbertson said, “Education was the vehicle used to oppress first nations people”. Through education about the spirit, the intent, and the treaty relationship, “Reconciliation can be one day achieved (and) education will be the vehicle to take us there.”
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the second reading of Bill C-262, an act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. During my comments, I noted that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada was chairing a cabinet committee reviewing Canada’s laws, policies, and operational practices to ensure that the Government of Canada is fulfilling its constitutional obligations and implementing its international human rights commitments, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The committee undertook this review a year ago, and to my knowledge, we have not yet seen a report. Let me just say it is a step in the right direction.
I am also encouraged by the comments made recently by Saskatchewan’s new Premier Scott Moe and our justice minister, Don Morgan. They both agree that there are some serious and probably uncomfortable conversations that have to be had on racism, on rural crime, and on the justice system. Premier Moe stated:
We respect the decisions of the justice system and its independence…. But as we move forward it’s incumbent on us as a government to have those very important, very challenging discussions with our aboriginal community in the province, and all of our communities in the province.
He went on to say:
I’ve been made aware of a number of comments that are racist. There’s no place for that in the province of Saskatchewan…. This isn’t an easy thing to talk about for anybody, but it’s something we have to talk about.
Justice minister Don Morgan said:
…we want to hear from first nations leaders, but I think the comments that people are making, that they want to see more indigenous people involved in the system, is a fair comment.
He also said:
I think we’re open to have those kinds of discussions with the federal government. …we’d be willing participants….
As Conservatives, we are always interested in hearing from Canadians on ways in which we can improve Canada’s justice system. We would welcome and carefully consider proposed legislation that would improve the justice system.
Finally, my remarks this evening have made reference to the province of Saskatchewan a number of times. I would like to assure everyone watching this take-note debate that these problems by all means are not limited to my home province. They are a national problem and they require a national plan to overcome them. It is the duty of all 338 of us, as representatives of the citizens of this country, in concert with the indigenous representatives, to work on these critical problems and find solutions.
Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.):
Mr. Chair, I would like to ask the member what his suggestions are with respect to changes that could be made in the criminal justice system or other systems to reduce the percentage of aboriginal people who are incarcerated. As was mentioned in many previous speeches, it is much higher than the population at large.
Mr. Kevin Waugh:
Mr. Chair, as government they need to propose, and in opposition we need to react. I am going to say this many times.
When I was a school board member in our province, as I reached a community of northern Saskatchewan my first stop was the cemetery. Why did I do that? I wanted to see how many youth we had lost. I have done this over and over for many years. It tells the story of a community before I even enter the community. If there is a gravesite entering a community in my province, I always stop, because that is the truth. Nobody needs to tell me the truth, because I see it when I walk among the graves. I look at when they were born and when they died.
We have talked about suicide. We have talked about hope. I have talked about hope many times, and I will again in my further comments about what we can do with respect to education to give our young people in this country hope.
Ms. Sheri Benson (Saskatoon West, NDP):
Mr. Chair, my hon. colleague from Saskatoon—Grasswood and I share a community. We represent citizens in Saskatoon. It is a community that I know we both love. Obviously, from his comments, he understands that we have some challenges. They are not unique to Saskatchewan, but they are challenges that people right across Canada know about. We had a police department in Saskatoon that dropped indigenous people off on the side of town who froze to death. We have had lots of challenges, and there are things we need to do. I liked his comments about education.
To follow up on the comments of my colleague across the way about what changes we need to make or what role education plays in perhaps not having indigenous people overrepresented in the justice system, I wonder if the member could share some ideas on how he thinks those two are linked. What role does education play in people’s lives and why is it that indigenous people are not doing well in our education system?
Mr. Kevin Waugh:
Mr. Chair, it is all about partnerships. I was a school board trustee before I came here. I was on the executive of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association. I was a member of the Saskatoon board of education for a number of years. It is partnerships.
For the first time ever, we worked with the former aboriginal affairs minister, John Duncan, for two to three years in our city, and the Whitecap Dakota First Nation. The graduation rates for indigenous students in this country are deplorable. What are we going to do? There are two things we can do. We can leave them the way they are right now in this country, which is horrible, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, on the island, or we can do something about it.
Through the former minister, John Duncan, we made a partnership with the Whitecap Dakota where our teachers in the Saskatoon public school division had a chance to go out and learn treaty education right on the reserve. We paid our teachers and our principal to go out there and to teach first nation education. Also, in doing that, we went to the grades 3 and 4 on the reserve, and then we welcomed them back into our city. In fact, we named a school after Chief Whitecap. It is in my riding.
Members should think about that, the partnership of the Saskatoon board of education and the Saskatchewan school boards reaching out to the Whitecap Dakota, one of the founders out there, and we named our school Chief Whitecap School. It is part of our education system, one that we in Saskatchewan are very proud of.
Mr. Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, CPC):
Mr. Chair, I recently visited a prison in my own riding and I was struck first of all by, unfortunately, the very high proportion of indigenous people in that prison and, second, by the very low rates of education that I was told those inmates had attained. It speaks exactly to the important points that my colleague made. He also highlighted the importance of solutions happening at the local level, not just coming from the national level but also of local communities becoming involved.
I wonder if the member can speak a bit more to the importance of local engagement and local partnerships and also what role the national government can play in encouraging local communities to have the resources and the know-how to form these kinds of partnerships that come out of particular local realities.
Mr. Kevin Waugh:
Mr. Chair, there is some great work happening in this country, and not only in my school division that I came from in Saskatoon. It is happening everywhere. We all know education is the doorway to prosperity. It gives first nations students a chance.
In my province I want to tip the hat to the mining companies that have reached out to northern Saskatchewan, companies like Cameco and Areva, where they have given first nations in the north a chance for employment. Unfortunately in the last year, uranium prices have come down and the companies had to lay off 845 people, but do members know what the company of Cameco did? Even though people were laid off, the company guaranteed for one year 75% of their wage. The company wants to keep those people. It wants to reach out to them. What a fantastic proposal by Tim Gitzel, the CEO of Cameco, knowing that they are going to need those workers back, that they are very valuable, and that they have a connection with the north. That, to me, speaks volumes about our industry in the province of Saskatchewan.
Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):
Mr. Chair, I found the personal reminiscences of my friend from Saskatoon—Grasswood and the work he did on the school board to be quite inspiring.
I am just wondering about turning our attention to another part of needed education, and that is the education of settler-culture Canadians to understand the issues. I do not think we will be able to achieve reconciliation without a far deeper appreciation on the part of settler-culture Canadians of the wrong that has been done and of the intergenerational searing pain and injustice that remains present. It is not historical. It is present throughout indigenous communities from the residential school system. I wonder if as an educator, the member can think about what we need to do to educate settler-culture Canadians as has been recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Mr. Kevin Waugh:
Mr. Chair, we have to use our resources. One of the greatest resources we have, which is not being used, are the elders. They are there for us. They want to participate in first nations education. They just have to be tapped to come and tell their story.
I know when I first got on the board of education, I did not know what smudging meant. I did not know it was that important, but for first nations students when they got up in the day and wanted to come to school, that was part of their culture. It is a give and take. I needed to learn that, and a lot of us in the system need to learn that. When we do learn their cultures, we have a better understanding and it is easier for students to get up in the morning and go to school. That is the biggest obstacle that we have in this country, where kids from K to 12 are still in bed at 10 and 11 in the morning and do not come to school, and we pay for it later.