"I am Dene; I am a father; I am a grandfather. I am human; I made a mistake; I am working on myself, and I have moved on. I wanted to speak to this motion. As representatives of our people, we have a duty to study and inform ourselves about the issues we face and take principal positions before we vote. In general, I think it is an obligation of duty for many of us to abstain on the question before us.
"This having been said, I plan to abstain from voting on this recommendation, not because I am afraid to take a stand on this difficult issue, but because of the very personal connection I have with it. I don't plan to relive the history here, again, today, but I do want to provide a few observations on the recommendation before you.
"I would like to start by pointing out the obvious: if this recommendation was part of the law two years ago, I would not be here today, speaking with first-hand knowledge of the road that has led so many Aboriginal people to lives of addiction, abuse, and hopelessness. Regardless of whether you feel I should be here or not, I hope you will find value in that unique perspective.
'Has paid his debt to society'
"It is not the type of wisdom I am particularly proud of, but as with most of life's lessons, the truly valuable ones are learned the hard way: by making mistakes. What strikes me most about the recommendation before you now is the focus on the punishment: punishment that carries on after the offender has paid his debt to society; punishment that continues long after the offender has the opportunity to avail himself of the rehabilitative nature of our criminal justice system; punishment that adds an additional layer to the criminal law for a specific type of crime; and the holding of a specific type of public service.
"We may be absolutely clear and wholeheartedly agree with the committee's conclusion that family violence is at epidemic-rate levels in the NWT.
"The committee provides compelling statistics that the vast majority of family violence cases are perpetrated by men against women and girls. It goes on to conclude, without evidence, that ethnicity does not play a role in determining the frequency of offenders or victims of family violence.
"The statistics may not be readily available, Mr. Chair, but it doesn't take a PhD to know the certainty that the incidence of family violence in our Aboriginal communities is far higher than elsewhere in the NWT and in Canada.
'Choose who they wish to represent them'
"I know, from first-hand experience, that our correctional institutions are full of Aboriginal people convicted of this and other types of crime. A recent report on the Canadian correctional system found that the three northern territories have among the highest rates of incarceration in the world.
"The recommendation before you will not address this dire situation. In addition to ignoring the restorative aspirations of our criminal justice system, it extends the punitive nature of a very specific type of crime beyond what is already provided for in the Criminal Code.
"Furthermore, it robs our people of their precious right to choose who they wish to represent them in this place. For a man, voting for someone with a history of family violence will always be out of the question.
"I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone as a way to improve their chances of an electoral success. For others, however, including the people of the Deh Cho riding in 2015, electing the candidate who has made mistakes, paid their debt to society, learned valuable lessons, and is willing to bring his wisdom to the debate about issues such as this one, the choice is different.
"I will leave you with these questions to quote from former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy who said, 'Circumstances of crime vary. So do motives, and so do the prospects for rehabilitation. The number of imponderables makes it impossible to sentence by formula and still sentence justly.'"