Status: Passed Third Reading at the Senate on December 8, 2016

Summary: This bill, sponsored by Sen. Lillian Eva Dyck of Saskatchewan, would make two amendments to the Criminal Code that require that courts consider when the victim of an assault or murder is an Indigenous woman that this is an aggravating circumstance for the purposes of sentencing. This would be achieved with additions to sections 239(1) and 273(01) of the Criminal Code.

Impact: It is well known that Indigenous women are more likely to be victims of violence. In 2014 the RCMP issued a report that concluded that Indigenous women are four times more likely to be the victims of violent crime than non-Indigenous women, and the issue of gendered violence is now the subject of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

In her speech introducing this Bill, Sen. Dyck used three argumentative strategies to defend the Bill. She argued that 1) Indigenous women and girls do not have equal protection of their human rights as guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 2) the Criminal Code allows for provisions for certain types of people and animals subject to violence, and 3) that societal indifference should be considered.

In her speech, Sen. Dyck acknowledged that “Bill S-215 obviously won’t fix all the complex issues of a criminal justice system that has so profoundly failed Cindy Gladue, Helen Betty Osborne and many other Aboriginal women, but it is a step in the right direction towards reconciliation. By including Aboriginal female persons as a specific aggravating circumstance — that is, a protected category of persons — we would acknowledge the historic roots that have led to their over- victimization and the systemic discrimination against them in the judicial system.”

Chiefs of Ontario has long advocated for this kind of protection for Indigenous women and girls. In 2015 a motion was passed to establish a Chiefs Committee on the Safety of our Citizens, partially in response to the disproportionately high incidence of violence against Indigenous women and girls. Chiefs of Ontario has also launched the WHO IS SHE fundraising and awareness raising campaign in 2015.

More information, including a link to the Bill, is available here.