Good afternoon, everyone.
Welcome to the 114th meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
Today we will commence our study on the system of shelters and transition houses serving women and children affected by violence against women and intimate partner violence.
For this, I am pleased to welcome today's panellists. From the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, we will have Margaret Buist. I note that she is not here at the moment, so we may have to delay questions for her as well as her speech.
From the Department of Employment and Social Development, we have Catherine Scott, director general; and Janet Gwilliam, manager, both of the community development and homelessness partnerships directorate.
From Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation we have Charles MacArthur, senior vice-president of assisted housing; and from the Office of the Co-ordinator of Status of Women, we'd like to welcome back Justine Akman, director general, policy and external relations, as well as Tammy Tremblay, director, gender-based violence knowledge centre.
We're going to begin. We're going to hold off on Margaret and we're going to move forward with the Department of Employment and Social Development.
You have seven minutes.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee today.
I'd like to start by providing you with some statistical information about women's homelessness. Results from ESDC's 2016 national shelter study showed that 137,000 Canadians used an emergency shelter in 2014, which is our most recent statistic. Between 2005 and 2014, 27% of shelter users were women, a number that remained consistent over that decade.
Nearly 90% of families using emergency shelters are headed by single females, and family shelter use is increasing in both length and occupancy. Typical stay lengths more than doubled between 2005 and 2014 to 22 days.
Thirty per cent of emergency shelter users in 2014 identified themselves as indigenous. The 2016 shelter study also showed that between 2005 and 2014, indigenous people were 10 times more likely to use a shelter than were non-indigenous people. Additionally, there was a higher rate of homelessness among indigenous women compared to non-indigenous, as 32% of indigenous shelter users are women compared to 23.5% of non-indigenous shelter users.
It's important to place the statistics from the 2016 shelter study in context and to acknowledge that it examines emergency shelters and does not capture transitional housing, temporary shelters and violence-against-women shelters.
We have data-sharing agreements with shelters across the country, which make up approximately 60% of the total beds associated with emergency, transitional, corrections, immigrant/refugee and violence-against-women shelters in Canada.
Violence-against-women shelters are, however, currently under-represented in our database, as very few of these facilities have data-sharing agreements with our program. In addition, shelter data does not capture the homeless situation of the many women who experience hidden homelessness and who do not engage with the shelter system. That being the case, shelter data likely underestimates the extent of women's homelessness.
However, combining shelter data with additional resources, such as our coordinated point-in-time count, helps to fill in some of the gaps. Results of the 2016 count, which happened across the country in 32 communities, showed that close to 40% of homeless respondents were women. Furthermore, as you know, there is strong evidence linking domestic violence with homelessness for women and children. Of those surveyed during the 2016 count, nearly one-quarter cited domestic abuse as the factor leading to their most recent housing loss.
We anticipate that an updated national shelter study and results from the 2018 coordinated point-in-time count will be released in early 2019.
Currently, the federal homelessness program, the Homelessness Partnering Strategy or HPS, provides direct funding to 61 designated communities, as well as off-reserve indigenous and rural and remote communities across Canada.
The HPS is delivered through a unique community-based approach that gives communities the flexibility and tools to identify and address their own community's distinct homelessness needs and priorities.
Following a comprehensive community planning process, communities determine their own needs/priorities and develop appropriate projects.
The Government of Canada is one partner among many when it comes to tackling homelessness. Provinces and territories, municipalities and other stakeholders also contribute to the prevention and reduction of homelessness.
Large capital investments are limited under the HPS, which focuses instead on providing funding for longer-term supports such as the Housing First approach.
Since 2014, the HPS has been focused on the Housing First approach.
Housing First is a program originally designed to get more individuals experiencing long-term homelessness into permanent housing and then providing them with wrap-around supports as quickly as possible.
While the Housing First approach was initially tested among homeless individuals who are single and living with mental health and/or addiction issues, the approach has been used successfully with a variety of demographic groups, including women and families.
Between April 1, 2014, and October 2018, the HPS has provided $40.4 million for just over 225 projects that exclusively support women. About one-third of these projects exclusively target women fleeing domestic violence.
To strengthen the work of communities in their efforts to help homeless Canadians find stable housing, budget 2017 proposed historic investments in federal homelessness programming of $2.1 billion over 10 years, to expand and extend the funding for homelessness beyond 2019. By 2021, this will nearly double the investments made in homelessness as compared to those for 2015-16.
Throughout 2017 and early 2018, the Government of Canada consulted with community stakeholders, all provinces and territories, and indigenous partners on how to modernize programming to better prevent and reduce homelessness across Canada.
These consultations were guided by the work of an advisory committee of experts and stakeholders in the field of homelessness, chaired by parliamentary secretary .
Two of the advisory committee members have worked in the women's shelter sector.
That committee heard that organizations would like to innovate and adapt the Housing First model to better meet the needs of indigenous peoples, youth, women and others who need different approaches or types and levels of support.
Federal homelessness programming is in the midst of a transformation toward a more coordinated and outcomes-based approach. In June 2018, announced Reaching Home, Canada's homelessness strategy, which will replace the HPS on April 1, 2019. Reaching Home will support the goals of the national housing strategy, in particular to support the most vulnerable Canadians in maintaining safe, stable and affordable housing and to reduce chronic homelessness nationally by 50% by 2027-28. The redesigned program, Reaching Home, will maintain the community-based approach of the HPS and expand the program to reach new communities.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
It's a pleasure to appear before the committee today on behalf of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, or CMHC.
CMHC's mission is to help Canadians meet their housing needs. We do this through our mortgage loan insurance activities, market analysis and research, and by supporting and delivering affordable housing programs. These programs support the entire continuum of housing, from emergency shelters and transitional housing to community housing and home ownership.
As senior vice-president of assisted housing, I'm honoured to be leading the team that delivers these programs.
A home is more than just a roof over one's head. It's a refuge that gives us the stability to find and keep a job, care for our family, and belong to a community. Unfortunately, for too many Canadians, a decent home is simply not within their reach. Some 1.7 million Canadian households are in what we call core housing need. This means they're spending more than 30% of their income on housing, leaving little for groceries, utilities and other expenses. Or they may be living in a house that is overcrowded, has a leaky roof, or has a mouldy basement. In the worst cases, unaffordable housing creates impossible choices. No one should be forced to choose between healthy food and a home that's safe. New Canadians deserve a place to make a fresh start, and those who have suffered misfortune or a poor start in life deserve a second chance. No one should have to stay with an abusive partner because they have nowhere to go.
We know that affordable housing improves the lives of Canadians, and it builds stronger, more inclusive communities. That's why CMHC has scaled up its policy, program and research activities, in large part by delivering on the federal government's national housing strategy.
As you may know, the national housing strategy is a 10-year, $40 billion plan to give more Canadians a place to call home, focusing first and foremost on the most vulnerable populations. Of particular interest to this committee, the national housing strategy will aim for 33% of all investments to support projects that specifically target women, girls and their families, recognizing the unique vulnerabilities they face.
This is not a set-it-and-forget-it program. We continue to listen to the housing needs of women through the annual pan-Canadian voice for women's housing symposium, which brings together women from diverse backgrounds, including those with lived experience of housing needs, shelter workers, and representatives of non-governmental organizations to talk about women's housing. The symposium allows women to voice and identify the key issues they face in accessing housing. We look forward to taking part in the 2018 symposium later this month in Vancouver.
CMHC has funded shelters and transitional housing for many years, but with the national housing strategy, we have an opportunity to make a lasting difference, with new programs with ambitious targets. For example, one of the signature pillars of the strategy is the $13.2-billion national housing co-investment fund. This fund will create 60,000 new affordable homes, and repair and renovate up to 240,000 existing ones. At least 4,000 of these homes will be earmarked for survivors of domestic violence.
The fund encourages private and non-profit developers to work together with all orders of government to make the most of the funding, so that as many Canadians as possible can benefit. For close to 40 years, CHMC has offered non-profit social housing and affordable housing programs such as the section 95 on-reserve non-profit housing rental program, and the residential rehabilitation assistance programs to first nations communities to help build new homes and renovate existing houses.
These programs address the needs of vulnerable population groups, including women and girls, as the rate of housing need on reserve is higher than the national rate, and overcrowding and the lack of housing can lead to negative socio-economic outcomes and higher rates of conflict, including domestic violence.
Since 1988, CMHC has also assisted with the construction or renovation, in first nations communities, of more than 40 shelters, which provide over 500 beds for victims of domestic violence, through programs such as project haven, next step and the current day shelter enhancement program.
Most recently, budget 2016 has enabled us to work with five first nation communities to invest $10.4 million into the construction of five new shelters on reserve. These shelters are located in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec and are expected to provide 40 additional beds for individuals and families.
These five projects consist of emergency as well as second-stage longer-term accommodation shelters. Each new shelter will be managed and operated by a local organization within those regions. We have also worked closely with our colleagues at Indigenous Services Canada, which provides operating funds for the ongoing day-to-day operations of the shelters that serve people fleeing domestic violence in first nations communities.
Numbers can't convey the full impact of the program, so let me share a couple of stories about shelters that have received funding under CMHC programs and the women whose lives were changed as a result. Fifty-six-year-old Tamara is a transgender person living in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. She was once homeless, using drugs, and suffering from chronic depression and suicidal thoughts. An outreach worker found her and convinced her to go to a shelter run by Atira Women's Resource Society. She found acceptance there; her health improved; and more importantly, she found safe and stable housing. She finally became eligible for long-awaited gender reassignment surgery. She recently got her own apartment, which is run by Atira, and she has gone back to school to get her master's degree.
Another example is the shelter on Wiikwemkoong unceded territory on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. It has developed a gender-inclusive and culturally appropriate approach. It uses first nations philosophies and ceremonies to provide a safe, supportive environment for survivors of domestic violence, so that they can begin to rebuild their lives.
As these stories show, decent, affordable housing provides a launch pad to a better future, but making housing more affordable in Canada is not a quick or an easy fix. That's why CMHC is leading the work on behalf of the Government of Canada to consult and develop new legislation to support the national housing strategy and the human rights-based approach to housing at its core. The legislation will require future governments to continue to prioritize the housing needs of the most vulnerable over the long term.
This approach will also include mechanisms that tackle barriers to housing that many Canadians face. Initiatives like the creation of a federal housing advocate and a National Housing Council will ensure that people from all walks of life have a voice, wherever housing policy decisions are being made.
Finally, we know the housing need is great and that new, more, and better housing information is the key to overcoming housing challenges. That's why, as part of the national housing strategy, CMHC is making research an even greater priority. We are identifying data gaps and working to fill them, so that we can continue to provide informed policy advice and sustainable solutions that give Canadians the housing options they need to thrive and prosper.
Everyone at CMHC is deeply aware of the responsibility and honour we have to deliver the national housing strategy. We're working hard, with partners across government and in the private and non-profit sector, to make the most of this once-in-a-generation opportunity. This means ensuring that more women and children who need shelters can access them when they need them. It also means ensuring that shelters are a bridge to more stable, long-term housing and a better life.
Thank you, Madam Chair and everyone on the committee, for your attention. I would be happy to answer your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'm pleased to be addressing you today as you undertake your study of the network of shelters and transition houses serving women and children affected by family violence.
This afternoon, I'll be sharing information with you on Canada's strategy to end and prevent gender-based violence, with a focus on the initiatives Status of Women Canada is leading, as well as a focus on barriers marginalized women face when accessing shelters.
Violence against women, intimate partner violence, family violence and other forms of gender-based violence are powerful barriers to the empowerment, equality and full participation of women and girls in Canadian society.
Women and girls may experience violence in many different ways: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, financial manipulation or control, spiritual abuse, criminal harassment or stalking. Violence may occur in the home, at work, at school or in the community.
According to a key stakeholder, Women's Shelters Canada, shelters and transition houses are much more than refuge from violence. They're where women rebuild their lives and plan ways to move forward in a life of safety and security. Unfortunately, space is limited. In 2014, on a snapshot day, more than 300 women and 200 of their children were turned away from a shelter—more than half, 56%, because shelters were full.
In 2016, the Minister of Status of Women was mandated to develop and implement a gender-based violence strategy. In 2017, the strategy was launched following budget 2017, which announced $100.9 million over five years, and $20.7 million per year ongoing, to establish the first federal strategy of its kind in Canada. “It's Time: Canada's Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence” is a whole-of-government approach to ending gender-based violence. The strategy focuses on preventing and addressing GBV, or gender-based violence, a term used to describe violence directed at individuals because of their gender, gender identity or perceived gender.
Since its launch, Status of Women Canada and federal partners have been working to implement actions under the strategy's three pillars: prevention, support for survivors and their families, and promotion of responsive justice systems.
This year, budget 2018 announced an additional $86 million over five years, and $20 million ongoing per year, to expand the strategy. The strategy is the first federal strategy to address all forms of violence through a gender and intersectional lens. It's informed by grassroots activism, feminist action and engagement with survivors, front-line workers, researchers and advocates. It builds on current federal efforts and seeks to align with provincial and territorial initiatives related to GBV. It will fill gaps in knowledge and provide support for diverse, under-represented and often marginalized populations.
It includes investments from Status of Women Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Safety Canada, the Department of National Defence, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Strategy investments will focus on preventing violence against children and teens; enhancing and developing preventative bullying and cyber bullying initiatives; equipping health professionals to provide appropriate care to victims; addressing online child exploitation; enhancing immigrant and refugee settlement programs; providing cultural competency training; and supporting sexual assault centres in close proximity to Canadian Forces bases, among other actions.
The strategy also includes initiatives from other departments and agencies beyond the six funded partners whose work is critical to ending GBV in Canada. These include work by Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada as well as by StatsCan, CMHC, and ESDC—all of whom you'll hear from in this study—as well as other federal departments.
For our part, Status of Women is focusing our efforts on coordinating all federal actions related to GBV through a new knowledge centre on gender-based violence housed within Status of Women Canada, on delivering a program on gender-based violence, and on supporting gender-based violence research initiatives.
The knowledge centre, which we'll launch this fall, will be a focal point of the strategy, and be responsible for coordination, data and research, reporting and knowledge mobilization on GBV-related content. To ensure that interested individuals, organizations and communities are able to access timely information and evidence, the knowledge centre will combine resources and research into a single platform as well as provide a searchable online platform.
The strategy has also created a program that is population-specific, with the objective of supporting organizations working in the GBV sector in developing and implementing promising practices to address gaps in support for indigenous and underserved populations in Canada.
While important work has been done to advance knowledge on GBV, there remain major data gaps on topics such as patterns of intimate partner violence, experiences of diverse populations, issues such as female genital mutilation, technology-assisted violence and dating violence.
To fill these gaps, Status of Women is collaborating with Stats Canada on three national surveys that will result in much-needed data and information on sexual harassment and gender-based violence in public and private spaces, post-secondary environments and workplaces. We also have a very robust qualitative research agenda to delve deeper into people's lived experiences and to explore partnerships with vulnerable communities.
In addition, through our women's program, we have provided funding to women's shelters and shelter networks for time-specific projects to address gender-based violence. For example, some of these projects support collaboration between local shelters to identify and pilot promising practices to improve women’s access to support services. They improve first-responder screening and referral practices for women victims of domestic violence, and they address barriers to improving access to second-stage services for women.
For marginalized and victimized women, shelters, housing and safety from violence are inseparable; however, marginalized women face additional barriers when accessing shelters. We know that indigenous women and girls experience violent victimization at twice the rate of non-indigenous women, and spousal violence at three times the rate of non-indigenous women, yet there is a lack of shelter services in indigenous communities. The north has some of the highest rates of family and gendered violence in the country. Construction and maintenance costs lead to crowded living conditions, which are a risk factor for violence.
We do know that, despite efforts to date, more than 70% of the 53 Inuit communities spread across four geographic regions of the Canadian Arctic still don't have access to shelters, although the situation is improving. LGBTQ communities experience high rates of violence, but we still hear stories of people being turned away from women's shelters. Immigrant and refugee populations are at high risk of homelessness due to their higher rates of poverty, interpersonal dependency, child care responsibilities and interpersonal violence, and yet immigrant and refugee women overall may not have access to shelter systems for a number of reasons and are, therefore, more likely to experience homelessness and overcrowding.
Status of Women and other government departments are, of course, listening to concerns of stakeholders. For example, co-hosted by Status of Women, CMHC and ESDC, a group of more than 50 women from every province and territory took part in the first pan-Canadian voices for women in housing symposium. The symposium provided an opportunity to hear from women about their lived experiences.
Status of Women looks forward to hearing the testimonies of stakeholders who you will be hearing from. We thank you for this study.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair and honourable members of the committee, for inviting Indigenous Services Canada to appear before this committee for this very important topic. It's a pleasure to be here with you gathered today on traditional Algonquin territory.
Indigenous women and girls in Canada are disproportionately affected by all forms of violence. Canada takes this issue very seriously and is committed to ensuring the safety and security of all women and children in this country. At Indigenous Services we work in partnership with our indigenous partners and communities to try to address the violence against indigenous women and girls. Our violence prevention is built on the indigenous social determinants of health, which promote integrated and comprehensive planning.
The family violence prevention program at Indigenous Services provides access to family violence shelter services and funds prevention activities. There are two components to the program: the operational funding for an existing network of 41 shelters in first nations communities, Alberta and Yukon; and funding for proposal-based prevention projects. We invest $37.8 million on an ongoing basis to support these 41 shelters and the prevention activities, which take place on and off reserve and complement some of the other programs and activities you've heard about here today from my colleagues.
Investments made in collaboration with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation through budget 2016 have supported the construction of five new shelters, as you've heard, in five different provinces across the country, and all are anticipated to be completed by the end of this fiscal year. This will increase our shelter network to 46.
Between 2013 and 2017 the department invested about $140 million in the family violence prevention program, which provided shelter services for approximately 8,300 children and over 10,000 women on reserve and funded more than 1,200 prevention and awareness projects. One of those projects is Ila'latl, a “healing families and community” project in Atlantic Canada. It encompasses the themes of trauma-informed care, mental wellness, family violence prevention, empowerment, and engaging men and boys. The project collaborates with local RCMP, community and mental health services and partners. It is very common of the types of prevention activities that we have funded through the program.
We also fund the National Aboriginal Circle against Family Violence, which supports the network of shelters and their staff through training forums, prevention activities, research and partner collaboration. We know, as my colleague Ms. Akman said, that there is a need for shelters in the north. We have provided financial support to Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, which has commissioned a study on violence against women and shelter service needs across Inuit Nunangat. The study is anticipated to be completed this year, and it will give us a helpful picture of the needs of northern women and children.
I'd like to speak briefly now about the national inquiry, putting my hat on for supporting the , who is the lead for the Government of Canada's response to the national inquiry. It's an important step on the path to ending the unacceptable rates of violence against indigenous women and girls.
There was an initial fund of $53.8 million dedicated to the inquiry, which has recently been extended to allow them to complete their work. Their final report will be submitted April 30, 2019. This has enabled the commission to hold further institutional and expert hearings, while balancing the needs of families who have waited years for answers.
I know that the inquiry has held some hearings with respect to housing and shelters on and off reserve, and there has been some expert testimony on that. This committee may wish to listen to those transcripts to help inform some of the work that you're doing.
Canada is not waiting for the outcome of the inquiry to take immediate action to prevent violence against indigenous women and girls, as you've heard here today. We responded to the commission's interim report from last November by providing nearly $50 million in additional investments for a commemoration fund, health supports for the families and survivors who are participating in the inquiry, and support for the family information liaison units that are run out of provincial victim services offices and to assist the families and survivors, both participating in the inquiry and otherwise, who need to liaise with the police and criminal justice system.
The funding also supported the RCMP's office of investigative standards and practices to oversee high-risk investigations. In addition, Canada has been working with partners to reform first nations child and family services, through increased prevention funding for first nations child welfare agencies, as well as for communities. The $1.4 billion from budget 2018 has provided funding for the reform of this program. We know that indigenous women are at far higher risk of violence than are non-indigenous women, and that these experiences of violence and abuse have an impact on their children, including increasing the rates of children being removed from their homes. Many women who testified or came before the national inquiry have spoken of having their children taken from them as a result of the violence they have experienced, which often has led these women to face all kinds of challenges, including living on the streets, suffering from addictions, and becoming more vulnerable to violence themselves.
The first nations child and family services funding also provides community well-being funding that goes directly to first nations communities to provide prevention care. For example, we have given $2.5 million over three years to support the Ma Mawi Wi Chi ltata Centre in Manitoba, which has a really proven best practice of family group conferencing with children's aid societies, provincial workers, the courts and families, to try to keep children with their families.
Indigenous Services Canada is committed to ending the ongoing national tragedy of violence against indigenous women and girls, and we continue to collaborate with federal colleagues, provinces and territories, and with indigenous organizations to address this critical issue.
Of course, being Status of Women Canada, we were very excited when the UN special rapporteur visited Canada. We spent lots of time ensuring that she got the information she needed to do her report. The government very much welcomed her recommendations and insights into how Canada can continue to do better to address gender-based violence.
In terms of a national action plan specifically, with regard to the gender-based violence plan that I spoke about in my opening remarks, and that Status of Women has spoken to this committee about several times, the focus in the initial stage is to get the federal house in order. Before this strategy was announced, there really was no strategy even at a federal level, and there was no gender lens on any violence programming that the government was doing at the time; it was mostly focused on family violence. So the main focus has been to get the federal house in order.
However, that said, there is a very concerted effort being undertaken right now to work with the provinces and territories in recognition of the fact that this is fundamentally a national issue, and one that all levels of government and civil society have to be engaged in to see success. In fact, there's a federal-provincial-territorial meeting happening in Yukon as we speak—it starts right now—of ministers of the status of women. There are a number of different items on that agenda related to gender-based violence, starting with research as a baseline.
This is following the Australian national action plan. They took a couple of years when they launched their plan, which was a bit ahead of Canada. They were out of the gate a little before us, but they took time to make sure they truly understood the nature of gender-based violence across the country before they started launching into various initiatives.
Following that model, in the past few years, we have put an enormous amount of energy into data and research for gender-based violence. We are working with the provinces and territories to ensure they can benefit from those products we've discussed, especially those we're doing with Statistics Canada.
At the same time, this week they'll be discussing a results strategy. You can't have a national strategy unless you have agreed-upon results that you're all trying to achieve together. That will be another very, very important conversation.
Finally, efforts will be made to do joint programming. Rather than having small, fledgling non-governmental organizations trying desperately to figure out how they can patch together bits of funding, there are efforts being made between the federal and some provincial governments—it's a committee of the willing, to start with anyway—to see how we can join forces and help some of these organizations get stronger together.