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FEWO Committee Report

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TIME TO END THE UNDERFUNDING OF WOMEN’S SERVICES AND ENSURE EQUALITY OF ACCESS TO SERVICES AND PROTECTION FOR ALL WOMEN

A Minority Report submitted by the New Democratic Party of Canada

To the Government of Canada

Shelters contribute much more than a safe place to stay. They provide vital services and resources that enable women and their children who have experienced abuse to recover from the violence, rebuild self-esteem and take steps to regain a self-determined and independent life. Shelters also contribute to awareness raising and social change as part of broad efforts to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls.[1]

In Canada and around the world, violence against women is shockingly prevalent. Domestic violence or Intimate Partner Violence is still one of the most common forms of violence against women in Canada.

  • Every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.
  • Over half of Canadian women will experience violence at some point in their lives.
  • Indigenous women are seven times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women. Thousands of Indigenous women in Canada have been murdered or gone missing over the past 30 years. Sexual assault experienced by Indigenous women are more than three times that of non-Indigenous women.
  • “Women with disabilities and Deaf women experience rates of violence nearly three times higher than comparable non-disabled women. They are the largest, poorest minority group in Canada with the highest rates of physical, systemic, financial, psychological and interpersonal/family violence.”
  • Domestic and sexual violence costs our economy over $12 billion a year.

New Democrats call upon the Liberal government to fulfill its promise of a national action plan to end gender-based violence and demand justice for Indigenous women who have gone missing from our communities. We also call upon the government to fund operations at Canada’s shelters and transition housing for women fleeing violence.

National leadership is long overdue to coordinate responses to violence against women and girls, yet successive Liberal and Conservative governments have failed to act. To date, the Trudeau government has failed to translate its feminist rhetoric into real change. Multiple witnesses, including Rebecca Kudloo, President of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, called out the government for its failure to address this national crisis:

In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to gender equality for our women in Canada. The federal government also committed to reconciliation with indigenous peoples. Minister of Status of Women, Maryam Monsef, was mandated to ensure that no one fleeing domestic violence is left without a place to turn, by growing and maintaining Canada's network of shelters and transition houses. Despite this, violence against Inuit women and girls remains a systemic national crisis that requires urgent, informed and collaborative action.[3]

Each day Violence against Women (VAW) shelters across the country are forced to turn away women and children due to capacity issues.

  • “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.”[4]

The federal government has demonstrated an abysmal failure to act. In addition, it has broken its promise to Canadians and the United Nations with its failure to develop and implement a National Action Plan.

Due to the lack of federal leadership, women continue to have varying levels of services and protection depending on where they are living and the place to which they are fleeing. In a 2018 report from Women’s Shelter Canada[5], revealed that:

  • In order get protection against violence and rebuild their lives, survivors of violence against women must navigateUN  VAW responses that are “largely fragmented,” and are “often inaccessible”.
  • Many current policies, legislation, and strategies across Canada “lack effective coordination of efforts, conflict with one another, and/or have unintended (negative) consequences.”

There has been, at best, a piecemeal approach to the creation of a National Action Plan on gender-based violence from the current government.

In April 2018[6], the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, in her first official visit to Canada, called out the government for its failure to prevent violence against women and girls and the lack of action to address their safety and well-being:

  • “Violence against women in Canada is still a serious, pervasive and systematic problem: an unfinished business that requires urgent actions.”
  • The rapporteur commented on the lack of harmonization with CEDAW across federal, provincial and territorial levels, resulting in an incomplete patchwork and varying levels of protection for the right of Canadian women to live free from violence. [7]

Witnesses continue to call on the government to immediately create a National Action Plan[8] aided by the Blueprint for Canada’s National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Girls[9], developed by a network of 23 Canadian experts, trade unions and non-governmental organizations and endorsed by over 180 organizations. Some even argued that the federal government “could have done the work that we were told they needed to do federally to get their own house in order. That could have been part of the [national] action plan.”[10]

The UN Special Rapporteur also insisted that “federalism should not be a barrier to human rights implementation”.[11] She was very critical of the lack of federal leadership:

“Canada currently has a federal strategy on Gender Based Violence. Its reach is limited to the areas of responsibility of the federal government and thus does not seek to ensure that women in all areas of the country have access to comparable levels of services and protection.[12]

It is now clear that the Trudeau government has failed its international commitments to the UN, and its human rights and constitutional equality obligations, leaving Canadian women and girls without a National Action Plan to protect them.

Since the NDP tabled its report Comprehensive National Action Plan needed immediately to end violence against young women and girls (March 2017), the government has failed to act on the urgency to end violence against women and girls in Canada. Because national leadership is imperative to save lives and help women leave domestic violence, we are repeating this call.

Therefore, the NDP recommends:

That the Government of Canada immediately demonstrate leadership and coordinate federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal government responses to protect women and girls against violence, via a National Action Plan – to  ensure equality of access to services across and within jurisdictions in policies, laws, and education, and to prevent and address violence against women and girls – and that the National Action Plan be developed working in partnership with Indigenous peoples and communities.

That the Government of Canada, in collaboration with provinces and territories and in partnership with Indigenous peoples and communities, immediately lead national coordination of policing and the justice system to ensure equal access to protection and justice across the country for victims and survivors of violence against women and girls, including access to consistent services, policies and laws across and within jurisdictions.

That the Government of Canada, in partnership with Indigenous peoples and communities, work with provinces and territories to:

  • Develop strategies to deal with gender-based violence and to ensure police and prosecutors use a common set of practices in dealing with female survivors of gender-based violence, and:
  • Coordinate a national review of the justice system to ensure equal access to protection and justice across the country for survivors of violence against women and girls.

Women’s services in Canada are woefully underfunded

In memory of Kate McInturff, Senior Researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, we need to remember her advice to Parliament: “If I can convince you to take one action to make one change that has the power to change lives and indeed to save lives […] it is this: invest in women's organizations.”[13] She also decried the fact that:

  • women’s organizations are the most underfunded in Canada’s non-profit sector, yet they are the single most effective means to building better lives for women;
  • direct federal funding to women’s organizations represents less than 0.01% of total federal program spending, only about $1 for every woman in Canada.

Feminist women’s organizations have been struggling for decades to keep the lights on and doors open due to a lack of federal core operations funding. The #MeToo movement is lifting the taboo on reporting violence, but federal funding to women’s services is not keeping up with the demand for much-needed help. The Government of Canada’s program funding is insecure, competitive, and takes workers’ time away from helping more women.

Women’s groups, shelters, transition houses, and front-line workers from across the country have all called for the federal government to provide secure, multi-year, core operational funding to women’s organizations, and to ensure equality of access to services and protection for all women in Canada.  Responding to cries for help from women’s organizations struggling for decades due to the lack of federal core operations funding, the previous NDP Women’s Equality Critic, Sheila Malcolmson, launched the “Time to end the underfunding of women’s services“ campaign. It calls on the Liberal government to heed this call for core funding.

Despite the all-party Status of Women committee’s recommendation for immediate federal funding to meet the growing demand for services, the Liberal government continues to underfund the work of women’s organizations throughout the country.

Women and children are bearing the cost of Justin Trudeau’s inaction. Failing to act on core operations funding now is placing women’s lives at risk. After years of neglect, Justin Trudeau’s government needs to immediately fund equal levels of services and protection for women across Canada. Women are done waiting: it’s time to act!

Therefore, the NDP recommends:

That the Government of Canada immediately provide secure, multi-year, core operational funding to the system of shelters and transition houses serving women and children affected by violence against women and intimate partner violence.

That the Government of Canada immediately increase funding to shelters and transitional houses to provide support staff with fair compensation and adequate staffing levels.

That the Government of Canada set a national standard with regards to shelters and transitional housing services in order to ensure that all woman victims of violence across Canada have access to equal services and protection.

In addition, the current report’s recommendation to “examine the possibility of introducing” a national universal basic income is too weak and non-committal to address the affordability crisis facing Canadian women fleeing violence.

Therefore, the NDP also recommends:

That the Government of Canada, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, implement a “living wage”, or a universally accessible guaranteed liveable income that reflects the cost of living in each province or territory.

It is crucial to end the underfunding of women’s shelters on-reserve and in the North.

  • “Currently, Canada does not provide Indigenous women access to equal, equitable and culturally appropriate protection from domestic violence. Indigenous women fleeing or at risk of experiencing domestic violence do not have access to the same quality of shelters as other women in Canada. Some cannot access these services at all.”[14]
  • “Indigenous Services Canada provides funding for 41 shelters to serve the 634 recognized First Nations communities in Canada.” [15]
  • “For the 53 Inuit communities across the north, there are only 15 VAW shelters.”[16]
    • “There is no second-stage housing in Inuit Nunangat, which can be crucial to women's efforts to re-establish a life without violence”[17]
    • “Even with the highest rates of violence in the country, more than 70% of our communities across Inuit Nunangat do not have safe shelters for women.[…]”[18]
  • “The most pressing issue that on-reserve women's shelters face is insufficient financial funding from Indigenous Services Canada.” [19]
    • “The funding that on-reserve shelters receive ranges anywhere from about half to three-quarters of what provincially funded or mainstream women's shelters receive from the province in which they are located.”[20]
    • “Frequently, there is a lack of dedicated long-term funding, since funding is generally project-based and time-limited, making sustainability a continual challenge.”[21]
  • “When women who have Indian status and normally live on reserve, access women's shelters off reserve, Indigenous Services Canada reimburses that provincially funded shelter at the provincial rate, a rate that is higher than what it pays the First Nation to provide these services on the reserve, when these services are available. This is actually discriminatory.[22]
  • “Indigenous Services Canada fails to take into account the historical circumstances and the increased needs of a population that has lived through Indian residential schools, ongoing colonialism, and intergenerational trauma. It also fails to consider the heightened cost to deliver services in rural and remote communities, including on reserve.” [23]
  • “Shelters serving Inuit women in the Arctic are disallowed from accessing this funding because they are not on a reserve. This specifically excludes the development and access to shelters in the north.”
    • “Just as the government funds shelters on reserves, so must they fund shelters in Inuit communities. In 2018, this is no longer acceptable.”[24]

The NDP joins with Ann Decter of the Canadian Women's Foundation to “support the call of the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters and the Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence to fund Aboriginal shelters at the same level as all other shelters in Canada. This apparent discrimination is not acceptable.”[25]

While we appreciate that recommendation 17 acknowledges a housing affordability crisis that affects the ability of women escaping violence to access safe accommodations, the NDP must point out that this recommendation would not be necessary if the Trudeau Government had not withheld spending on its National Housing Strategy for 10 years. Canadians should not have to wait until after the next general election to access affordable housing when the crisis is immediate and growing.

Therefore, the NDP recommends:

That the Government of Canada immediately fix the unconscionable unequal funding on-reserve shelters serving Indigenous women, children, and families by funding and providing equal, equitable and culturally appropriate shelter services and programming.

That the Government of Canada immediately fix the unconscionable unequal funding for Inuit communities shelters serving Inuit women, children, and families by funding and providing equal, equitable and culturally appropriate shelter services and programming.

That the Government of Canada immediately invest in universal broadband and telephone infrastructure to provide access to services for women in remote and rural areas.            

Canada’s housing crisis undermines women’s ability to escape violence.

Canada needs more safe, affordable housing for women and their children after they leave shelters. A shortage of affordable housing leads to a shortage of shelter spaces because women can’t afford to leave the shelter. And some women become homeless when they leave domestic violence. Without affordable housing, women leaving violence are forced to choose between staying with their abuser or moving themselves and their children into poverty.On its own, building shelters without providing for staffing is not helpful, nor is building more houses without supports for women and children escaping violence. We need both.

  • “We need to build capacity in northern Canada, not only with bricks and mortar but with people who are there to run the shelters, and we need to invest in them and in their training.”[26]
  • “If you simply build more places to live and do not adequately support the individuals, there will not be success[…] We need to provide safety and ongoing support. “These women and children are being hunted, in many cases […] so not only do we need to put the supports in place, but we need to make sure that there is adequate safety as they move forward. Fleeing violence is the most dangerous time for women and children.”[27]
  • “We do not have second- or third-stage housing, although the demand is most certainly there. If we had second- or third-stage housing, every unit would be filled today. Instead, women are staying in shelters longer, as safe and affordable housing is just not readily available in our jurisdiction. Women have left our shelter to go to substandard housing, such as apartments with no flooring other than plywood or rooming houses that are co-located with men, which is a significant safety issue for women experiencing gender-based violence. These rooms often do not have inside or outside locks, which leaves women unsafe when they are home or when they are in the community.”[28]
  • “The larger context is that in the 1990s, the federal government began downloading federal responsibilities for social programs such as subsidized housing, social assistance, child care and health care to the provinces. This dismantling of the social safety net undermines women's equality. No access to adequate housing, universal child care, health care, and abysmally low welfare rates increase women's vulnerability to men's violence.”[29]
  • “The lack of access to support affordable housing is, for women fleeing violence, double-barrelled. Women leaving a violent partner often face a reduction in income, and we see that when they come to stay with us. Then, the lack of access to affordable housing can force them into homelessness. Once they are there, the lack of housing options keeps them in homelessness.”[30]
  • “The other reality is that VAW shelters providing limited stays push women out of the VAW system and into the homelessness stream if they cannot achieve their goal of securing safe, affordable housing in the allotted time.”[31]

Since the NDP tabled its report Actions to improve women’s economic security and remove barriers to economic justice for women in Canada (June 2018), the government has failed to act on the urgency to address Canada’s housing crisis. Because housing is imperative to save lives and helped women leave domestic violence, we are repeating our call.

Therefore, the NDP recommends:

That the Government of Canada immediately introduces legislation that recognizes housing as a basic human right.

That the Government of Canada’s National Housing Strategy invests, without delay, in affordable housing to address the housing affordability crisis.

That the Government of Canada’s National Housing Strategy invests in the expansion of the number of first and second stage shelters across the country.

That the Government of Canada’s National Housing Strategy, in partnership with provinces and territories, include a specific stream within the strategy program for survivors of domestic abuse and that the federal government ensure that this is enforced across all jurisdictions in Canada.

Conclusion

Powerful testimony, such as that from Jennifer Gagnon of the South Shore Transition House Association, should be incentive enough for the federal government to get back into the business of supporting women’s organizations that are working to save lives:

“Shelters are not band-aid solutions to issues of violence against women. Rather, they are part of a larger, system-level component that's essential for supporting women and children in crisis. We provide 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year access to a place that is safe and that helps each woman with her immediate needs. These include health care, safety planning, criminal justice system navigation, trauma-informed supportive counselling for the woman and her children, and linking with a broader system for next steps. Without a safe place to go to escape violence, the level of risk in her situation will certainly increase.”[32]

It’s a national shame for the federal government not to deliver on its promise to make the country safer for women and girls.

New Democrats urge the Canadian government to demonstrate leadership by walking the talk, and by dedicating the political and financial support, resources and funding to meet Canada’s long-standing international and constitutional commitments to make a safer country, where women and girls live free of violence. It’s beyond time to put words into action.

Respectfully submitted on behalf of the New Democratic Party.


[1] Evidence, Lise Martin, Executive Director, Women's Shelters Canada, October 17, 2018.

[2] DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada, “Legislation Policy and Service Responses to Violence Against Women with Disabilities & Deaf Women”, December 2018, URL: https://dawncanada.net/projects/lps/ .

[3] Evidence, Rebecca Kudloo, President, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, December 3, 2018.

[4] Evidence, Justine Akman, Director General, Policy and External Relations, Status of Women Canada, October 15, 2018.

[5] Women’s Shelters Canada, “Building a National Narrative; a select review of domestic violence policies, legislation, and services across Canada”, September 2018, URL: https://endvaw.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Building-a-National-Narrative-Sept-2018.pdf

[6] Dubravka Šimonović, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences, “End of mission statement - Official visit to Canada”, 23 April 2018, URL: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22981&LangID=E

[7] Dubravka Šimonović, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences, “End of mission statement - Official visit to Canada”, 23 April 2018, URL: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22981&LangID=E

[8] Evidence, Ann Decter, Director, Community Initiatives, Canadian Women's Foundation, November 7, 2018; Evidence, Joanne Baker, Executive Director, BC Society of Transition Houses, November 7, 2018; Evidence, Lise Martin, Executive Director, Women's Shelters Canada, October 17, 2018; Evidence , Donna Smith, Executive Director, Tearmann Society for Abused Women, November 5, 2018; Evidence, Eva Kratochvil, Survivor and Frontline Worker, Hiatus House, November 19, 2018; Evidence, Louise Riendeau, Co-responsible, Political Issues, Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale, October 31, 2018; Evidence , Lyda Fuller, Executive Director, YWCA NWT, October 24, 2018; Evidence, Genevière Latour, Associate Director, Crossroads for Women inc., NB, November 5, 2018.

[9] Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses, “A Blueprint for Canada’s National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Girls”, April 20, 2016, URL: http://endvaw.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Blueprint-for-Canadas-NAP-on-VAW.pdf.

[10] Evidence, Joanne Baker, Executive Director, BC Society of Transition Houses, November 7, 2018.

[11] Dubravka Šimonović, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences, “End of mission statement - Official visit to Canada”, 23 April 2018, URL: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22981&LangID=E

[12] Women’s Shelters Canada, “Women’s Shelters Canada Releases Report Documenting Gaps in Domestic Violence Policies, Legislation, and Services Across Canada”, September 2018, URL: https://endvaw.ca/archives/news/womens-shelters-canada-releases-report-documenting-gaps-domestic-violence-policies-legislation-services-across-canada/ 

[13] Evidence, Kate McInturff, Senior Researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, September 28, 2017.

[14] Evidence, Anita Olsen Harper, Research Consultant, National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, November 19, 2018.

[15] Evidence, Lise Martin, Executive Director, Women's Shelters Canada, October 17, 2018.

[16] Evidence, Lise Martin, Executive Director, Women's Shelters Canada, October 17, 2018.

[17] Evidence, Samantha Michaels, Senior Policy Advisor, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, December 3, 2018.

[18] Evidence, Rebecca Kudloo, President, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, December 3, 2018.

[19] Evidence, Anita Olsen Harper, Research Consultant, National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, November 19, 2018.

[20] Evidence, Anita Olsen Harper, Research Consultant, National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, November 19, 2018.

[21] Evidence, Samantha Michaels, Senior Policy Advisor, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, December 3, 2018.

[22] Evidence, Anita Olsen Harper, Research Consultant, National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, November 19, 2018.

[23] Evidence, Anita Olsen Harper, Research Consultant, National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, November 19, 2018.

[24] Evidence, Anita Olsen Harper, Research Consultant, National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence, November 19, 2018.

[25] Evidence, Ann Decter, Director, Community Initiatives, Canadian Women's Foundation, November 7, 2018.

[26] Evidence, Lyda Fuller, Executive Director, YWCA NWT, October 24, 2018.

[27] Evidence , Jennifer Lepko, Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Lethbridge and District, October 24, 2018.

[28] Evidence, Jennifer Gagnon, Executive Director, South Shore Transition House Association, Harbour House, November 5, 2018.

[29] Evidence, Daisy Kler, Transition House Worker, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, November 5, 2018.

[30] Evidence, Martina Jileckova, Chief Executive Officer, Horizon Housing Society, October 22, 2018.

[32] Evidence, Jennifer Gagnon, Executive Director, South Shore Transition House Association, Harbour House, November 5, 2018.