On behalf of the B.C. Green Caucus, I responded to the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Hon. Murray Rankin’s Ministerial Statement on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ National Day of Action.
Mr. Speaker, first I would just like to acknowledge both of the speakers that spoke before me and their thoughtful words here today.
I stand here, again, with a heavy heart. A heaviness that has become all too familiar. A burden that unfortunately has not been relieved from repeat performances in this chamber.
Today is October 4. It’s the National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, 2SLGBTQQIA+ peoples. One of the reasons why I took a few minutes to disrupt what normally is just a process that happens in this place with no questions was because I knew that in a few minutes, I was going to be standing up and talking about this National Day of Action in recognition of the fact that this is one of those opportunities. This is one of those subject matters that could benefit very well from having an all-party approach to addressing the more than 200 calls to action from this report and the many other reports that have instructed Crown governments on how to act going forward.
As we hear in this place today, all-party support for action. Yet what is missing are the tables for all parties to come together and to do the work. I don’t stand to raise that as a way to put a mark on any one government. I simply stand to raise it to say that if we are going to work together, then it needs to be more than just in the words that we say, the words that we put on Hansard. It needs to be in the actions of our work.
So it’s an invitation to put us around the table together so we can do meaningful work, working away on the many actions. It’s not the burden that needs to be carried by our Minister of Indigenous Relations. It’s not the burden that need only be carried by the current Premier. This, as my mother continues to remind me, is 170 years plus in the making in this province, and it is going to take many years into our future, many Premiers, many Ministers of Indigenous Relations.
What Indigenous people need to see, I believe — my opinion — is this Legislative Assembly truly working together so that the politics of this place does not and need not disrupt the work that we necessarily do on behalf of all British Columbians.
I stood last year and brought a critique to what I felt was a rather tepid response from this province with respect to the action plan that was announced — $5.5 million for an issue that, as has been pointed out, impacts communities right across our province to address the safety of our Matriarchs, of our grandmothers, of our mothers, aunties, sisters, daughters, cousins and nieces is not good enough.
This is not a small problem, as we’ve heard, that we’re facing. There are hundreds, thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and so our response needs to match the size of the problem that we face. Unfortunately, this institution has shown Indigenous people, and for the entire history — the work that we’ve done here is but a very small history here — that the lives of Indigenous women and girls mean less. It’s a terrible thing to say that they are worth less.
When we address the people that the Minister of Indigenous Relations has highlighted…. I came here prepared today to talk about Chelsea Poorman. She was reported missing on September 7, 2020, and yet it took the Vancouver police department ten days after her parents noted her missing to make a public notice — ten days. I have to ask the question: if Chelsea was anybody else, would the authorities have been so slow to act? That’s the feeling that we have in our communities, the terrible reality.
Her body was found this past April in the backyard of a mansion in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy neighbourhood. Two weeks later Chelsea’s next of kin were notified. At the time of publication, the Vancouver police spokesperson spoke about all the aspects of the case that they did not know about, including the cause of death, and yet they were able to boldly pronounce that in Chelsea’s death, the circumstances surrounding it were not suspicious.
They knew nothing really about what happened, except they did know that what happened wasn’t suspicious, the circumstances surrounding it. However, it gets worse than this because even though they determined that there was no foul play, despite not knowing how Chelsea died, the police continued to investigate.
But how are we supposed to have confidence? How is Chelsea’s family and Indigenous communities across this province supposed to have any confidence that even if they found information that was contrary to their public announcements, that information would see the light of day? That police department was already invested in the fact that there was nothing suspicious about this situation, nothing suspicious about the remains of a disabled Indigenous woman found in the backyard of one of Canada’s wealthiest neighbourhoods.
This brings me to another person that I want to talk about, another Indigenous woman: Noelle O’Soup. I have children who are the same age as this young Indigenous woman. I have nieces and cousins the same age as Noelle, 14 years old when she passed away. It’s hard to comprehend how our child welfare system can continue to fail Indigenous children, my relatives and our babies, as they have.
Noelle ran away from a provincial group home when she was 13 years old, and her body was found in a tiny apartment in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver. In February, officials removed the remains of the tenant, Van Chung Pham, a man found to be a threat to the public and particularly to vulnerable women. It wasn’t until two months later that officials returned and found the remains of Noelle and another woman.
After seeing pictures of Pham’s apartment, it is mind-boggling to imagine that there were remains of two other human beings in that space that were not seen or found at that initial investigation.
Chelsea and Noelle were not failed years ago. This all happened in the last year, since the last time I stood to talk about the National Day of Action. The most recent information regarding Noelle’s case was published yesterday. We wear orange shirts. We display red dresses. We deliver eloquent performances to signal our support, but yet our institutions continue to fail the virtues that we claim to uphold.
So here we are, on this National Day of Action, pleading for more than a performance, pleading for this assembly, from our police services and all our institutions, to treat this situation with the urgency that you would if this was your matriarch — if this was your grandmother, mother, auntie, sister, daughter, cousin and niece. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.