The sketch: Death and politics

In QP, emotion and policy meet practicality


On Wednesday afternoon, the body of Loretta Saunders, a 26-year-old Inuk woman and university student who was studying the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women, was found near a highway just west of Salisbury, New Brunswick.

On Thursday afternoon, her death was invoked on the floor of the House of Commons.

“Mr. Speaker, the tragic death of Loretta Saunders, an Inuk woman from Labrador, is felt deeply in my province as it is across Canada and with every member of this House. As one indigenous leader put it: ‘There’s something wrong in Canada if aboriginal people have to live this fate,’ ” reported the NDP’s Ryan Cleary, the MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl. “We here, the elected representatives of the people, have a duty to act. Will the government agree to call a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women?”

The New Democrats stood and applauded.

Kellie Leitch, the Labour Minister and Minister for the Status of Women, would respond for the government side.

“Mr. Speaker, first, let me express my condolences to the family and friends of Loretta Saunders,” Ms. Leitch explained. “The one thing I will note is that our government has taken concrete action to deal with the tragic issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women. In fact, in economic action plan 2014, we would invest an additional $25 million to deal with this tragic issue.”

There was some grumbling from the NDP side.

“What I say to the member opposite is that we have taken action, and we will continue to do so,” she said and then she turned to look directly at the opposition and pumped her fist in their direction. “Why do you not stand up for aboriginal women?”

The Speaker was compelled to remind the minister that it was improper to refer to other MPs directly.

The NDP’s Megan Leslie stood now with tears in her eyes.

“Mr. Speaker, Loretta Saunders was writing her university thesis on missing and murdered indigenous women when she went missing herself. Today, our community mourns,” she said, her voice wavering. “Over 800 indigenous women have been murdered or have gone missing since 1990. It is time for us to acknowledge this crisis and for us to act. Will the government establish a national action plan on violence against women?”

The New Democrats, Liberals and Elizabeth May stood and applauded.

Ms. Leitch returned to her feet to make her side’s case.

“Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite mentioned, I think we all mourn when a family loses a loved one. As I mentioned before, we express our condolences. I express my condolences to the family of this young women,” she said. “With respect to action, our government has taken action. We have invested in economic action plan 2014. We have invested additional funds with respect to a DNA-based missing-persons index. We have taken action. In fact, this government has focused substantially on action, and we encourage the opposition members to join us in that action.”

There were more grumbles and then groans.

The issue here is not new, but it was now newly freighted. A special committee of Parliament has been assigned to the topic of violence against indigenous women. The opposition parties (and aboriginal groups and the premiers) would like for there to be an inquiry. The government believes differently. (Last fall, a Conservative MP expressed support for an inquiry.)

And this is a place of politics, where life and the professional practice of politics meet—where emotion and policy and practicality mix.

The NDP’s Jean Crowder took a turn and Ms. Leitch responded and then Romeo Saganash stood for the official opposition.

“We waited too long to put light on the residential schools,” said Mr. Saganash, who spent ten years in a residential school. He suggested the government avoid repeating that mistake.

Ms. Leitch reminded the House of the government’s actions and repeated her condolences and then, in doing her job, she perhaps put a foot down awkwardly.

“I will say though, sir, yet again, we have taken action. We will continue to do that,” she said. “There have been multiple actions taken by this government, all of which the opposition looked not to support.”

The opposition side howled. There were cries of “Shame!” and “Sit down!” The Speaker was compelled to intervene and call for order.

“As I mentioned, Mr. Speaker,” Ms. Leitch continued, “we have taken action in this budget alone, budget 2014. We encourage the opposition to support that budget.”

It would be necessary here to parse the precise meaning of voting records (and the meaning of a budget vote), but it would probably be a bit much to consider either side the villain here—or at least to make that conclusion too easily. Maybe Ms. Leitch misread the mood of the moment. Maybe this is just how this is supposed to work. And maybe there is merely a difference of opinion about how best to go about addressing what we can all agree is a tragedy.

With that the House moved on to other matters.

Shortly after Question Period, Justice Minister Peter MacKay crossed the aisle and offered a kind word to Ms. Leslie.

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The sketch: Death and politics

  1. Cons have no pro-life sentiment for the Originals. 800 women go missing and the response is ‘meh’.

    • Aren’t you the one who says Ukrainians should figure it out for themselves?
      So much hate…

  2. Tough on crime but uninterested in finding out how hundreds of aboriginal women disappear and are presumed dead.

    • Do aboriginal women vote?
      There’s your answer.
      Petty, eh?

  3. I would support a national inquiry leading to an action plan.
    But I do not think the Saunders case, in its’ details, is a good
    hook on which to hang that hat. And I have no doubt that the
    Connies would use that to distract from the main issue.
    The young lady was working on her thesis … I’d really like to
    see if that were complete and suitable to be published.

  4. Tragically, many women die every year by violent means. Some die at the hands of strangers. Most are killed by those they have known for some time.
    As long as we have free will in our society there will be no sure way of preventing any person from making bad choices and putting themselves in harms way. Unlike those with the NDP, I do not know the specific circumstances of Loretta Saunders death.
    If Leslie seemed impatient about the repetitive questions from several of the NDP, maybe it was because she did not approve of their blatant attempt to make political hay from such a tragedy. She offered her sympathy to the Saunders family. Did the NDP expect that she would announce a travelling Inquiry to begin tomorrow ?

    • This was not a blatant attempt to make political hay by the NDP. First of all this is the political arena and secondly the death of another Aboriginal woman is a good time to reinforce what this party has been asking for several years.

    • How is this an attempt to make political hay!? All the government has to do is say ‘yes’ and this isn’t making political hay, it’s the government taking action.

      I think it’s times like this we all need to step back a minute and ask ourselves what is partisanship, and what is simply good governance. Reading Kellie Leitch’s response of “why do you not stand up for aboriginal women” today made my stomach churn. Shame on her.

      • I agree that Leitch`s response was wrong. She should have simply said ” Thanks for giving me the opportunity to express my condolences……………….” and left it at that. I`m not making excuses for her answer but as I said above she may have felt that the tone of the NDP was holding the government accountable for the deaths of aboriginal women, much like the idiot Emily did with the comment above where she just throws out the 800 dead aboriginal women—-must be the cons fault.

        • Agreeing that Leitch’s response was wrong, I would only then put forward it’s important she must apologize for what she said, not from a standpoint of partisanship, but simple decency. Seriously, if one can say something in the Commons and someone’s reaction is genuine tears, I think one ought to reflect within in regards to what they said.

          And this is coming from someone who agrees with you that Emily is an idiot.

    • Leslie is NDP – it’s Leitch who is the Minister.

    • How did Loretta Saunders make bad choices?? She was in University and building her life?? The bad choices are by people like you who justify the disgusting behaviour of this govt. Canadians and First Nations have been calling for a national inquiry for yrs now. Everyone is sick and tired of waiting for this govt to act. First Nations women are 5 X more likely to be mudered in this country! There is something seriously wrong. It Must Be Addressed! Kellie Lietch is the last person who should be minister for the status of women. She has no moral, ethical human integrity and wouldn’t know a woman is one bit her on the nose. As a matter of fact she is under investigation for serious conflicts of interest in her own life, just like all of Harper’s buddies.

      • As I said I do not know the circumstances of Saunders death, however, you should know that most of the violent ends that aboriginal women met with, was as a result of the criminal element from dangerous lifestyle they were leading.
        It appears that Loretta Saunders did not lead a dangerous lifestyle ( her only poor choice appears to have been in roommates ) so I`m not sure how a National Inquiry in violence against aboriginal women would apply to her case.
        Now, earthy. it appears that, with your twisted logic, you have managed to blame the death of this lady on Leitch, on Conservative supporters, on the Conservative government.
        Please explain what actions any of us could have taken to prevent the death of her. Don`t bother with your Stop Harper bull$hit.
        Also please explain what recommendations a National Inquiry could have that would be useful. Be specific.

        • Loretta Saunders, is one of many in a long line of FN Women to be murdered. The First nations of Canada have been fighting for their lives since first contact. Every government we have ever had has added to their struggle. Try to see beyond your views and walk a mile in anothers’ shoes, and you would understand what hundreds of yrs of attempted genocide does to a race of people.
          Govts. signed treaties with First Nations to live in peace and shared prosperity, and then proceeded to break every law there was that protected their interests. They tried to kill the spirit/culture of First Nations.
          As Canadians we need to acknowledge the truth about our history, and work towards reconcilliation with First Nations. We must demand that our government Honour the Treaties that were signed by the Queen.
          F.N. are a good, kind, respectful people and have been crushed by this and previous govts. (Harper paid lip service to this in the House, when he apologized to First Nations for the residential school system) but has never actually done anything to change the lives of First Nations.
          The conservatives are the worst of the lot. They have gutted our environmental laws, which took 50 yrs. to build, they have commited election fraud, they have abused process in our House of Commons with their stolen Majority by pushing omnibus bills that contain hundreds of changes to our laws without any input from opposition parties, who represent the other 75% of people who did not vote for them, in order to fulfill the agenda of their oil loving, environment destroying buddies. So yeah I blame the cons, I blame Lietch and I blame people like you who make excuses for them and troll the internet stirring up hate and misunderstanding. #STOPHARPER #STOPHARPER #STOPHARPER !!!!!!!!!!!

          • I see you did not choose to be specific about anything, and then ended up your blurb with lies and a little bit of hate and slander and of course your signing card, stop harper.
            You have nothing to offer earthy.

          • Honour the Treaties. Simple. No lies, no slander, and yes Cawm, I hate injustice and I hate having a gang of thugs in my Government.

  5. The cons jumped to action when gun owners were being attacked by RCMP, willing to work for their bases love of automatic weapons, but when it comes to Missing and Murdered First Nations Women, they claim they already took action in Economic Action Plan 2014!!!! Blah, blah, blah. Please, Canada, don’t let these soulless criminals run our country into the ground. Where are Canadian values?

    • You need to take some medicine. Before it’s too late.

    • I think you touched on an essential difference between gun owners and aboriginal women. The former contribute $$ to the Con party, often on demand.

  6. the real questions should be why is the government not looking at why the RCMP is not trying to find the people responsible for taking and murdering these women and girls