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FEWO Committee Report

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Supplementary Opinion of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, The Conservative Party of Canada

Violence Against Women and Girls Study

From April 12, 2016 to March 9, 2017, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women (“the Committee”) conducted a study on the pervasive and extensive nature of violence against young women and girls, including a close examination of the root causes and underlying attitudes that drive such violence. While the Report tabled by the Committee encompasses most of the evidence that was heard during the study, the Official Opposition Members of the Committee believe that a number of key points brought up by witnesses were omitted.  Specifically, testimony regarding the widespread availability of violent pornography and the damaging effect that it has on healthy sexual relationships was understated in the Report. The Conservative members of the committee believe there is definite value in identifying this issue by name, and without equivocation.

In addition, the Official Opposition Members have concerns regarding the lack of testimony used to inform Recommendation 16 and the portions of the report that suggest the creation of an Office of the E-Safety Commissioner similar to that which is employed by the Australian government. The Official Opposition also believes that Recommendations 15 and 16 limit the outcomes of specific consultations which are mandated in Recommendation 5 by determining a result prior to the full consideration of several different options.

Moreover, the Conservative Members of the Committee believe that specific testimony regarding sentence length and enforcement of strong sentencing laws for perpetrators of sexual assault were not given adequate consideration in the Report. Although the Committee heard testimony on a variety of alternative modes of justice, it is the position of the Official Opposition that these alternatives ought to be considered in light of a well-trained, sensitive judiciary, and strong, punitive sentencing laws.

1.    The Effect of Violent Pornography on the Normalization of Violence

Although the Conservative Members of the Committee are grateful for the Government’s willingness to explore the effect of “Hypersexualization and Violent and Degrading Sexually Explicit Material in Pornography and Other Media,” the Official Opposition is disappointed the Government decided to exclude expert witness testimony that demonstrated the extent to which mainstream pornography causes the degradation of consent culture and damages healthy sexual relationships.[1] Although the Conservative Members of the Committee are aware and understand that other hypersexualized media (e.g. photos, magazine ads, music videos, etc.) negatively impacts the views and behavior of young people in similar ways that viewing pornography does, Members of the Official Opposition believe the Government neglected to adequately evaluate the vast array of testimony and evidence that specifically denoted pornography as a unique driver of dangerous attitudes that lead to violence against young women and girls.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Defend Dignity Canada, and Antigonish Women’s Resource Center and Sexual Assault Services all noted that pornography objectifies women in ways that warp and blur the lines of consent.[2] This is particularly concerning in light of the great deal of testimony that illustrated the need to combat and overwrite the pervasive nature of “rape culture” which discards the importance of consent as an essential aspect of all healthy relationships.[3]

The Committee heard that 90 percent of top-selling pornography scenes depict acts of violence against women[4] and was also made aware that young men and boys are increasingly turning to pornography as a source of sexual education.[5] Exposure to these violent images at a young age has long-lasting, damaging effects on children’s perception of healthy sexuality and consent.[6] The Official Opposition therefore agrees with the extensive witness testimony that clearly called for the education of children on proper sexual norms at a young age, especially due to the regular exposure of children to highly sexualized media and advertising.[7]

Many witnesses discussed the negative impact of pornography on the attitudes of young men and boys, and consequently, on the well-being of women and girls. Harvey Bate, a representative of the New Leaf Program noted that, “The impact [pornography] is having is that it’s sending a very bad message to young boys about what a normal relationship is, so they go into teen relationships expecting a whole lot of things that aren’t good for them or good for the young women.”[8] Representatives from Battered Women Support Services made similar claims, stating, “When we’re seeing gender stereotypes and things in the media or when youth watching pornography see violence in pornography, these things become normalized.”[9]

Testimony that was particularly insightful to the Committee was provided by Tessa Hill, a high school student who is the co-founder of the organization We Give Consent. In regards to engagement with her peers on this issue, Ms. Hill said:

I think it's extremely relevant to talk about the consumption of violent images. It is very prevalent among my peers. It's so readily available that even if it's not something that we talk about a lot, it is there. I think that's the scary part of it… We want to have real conversations about things that we see every day, like violent pornography images that are readily available to us online. We need to then group that with these positive conversations about sex education. Since it's a such a part of our lives, it's not something that can be ignored.[10]

It is, therefore, the position of the Official Opposition that the issue of violent pornography, needs to be clearly defined and addressed by name, in order to give this cause of violence against young women and girls the full weight of consideration it deserves.

2.    Models of E-Safety in Canada and Elsewhere

The Committee heard a great deal of testimony that spoke to the need for the Government to offer a precise response to the problem of cyberviolence. The Official Opposition recognizes that to adequately address such a complex issue, the Government needs to adopt a dynamic approach that considers many different responses, and consult experts in order to determine what the best practices for Canada would be. It is encouraging to know that many organizations and initiatives are already working in Canada to mitigate the harms of cyberviolence through education and support tools such as MediaSmarts, the Canadian Center for Child Protection, Needhelpnow.ca and Cybertip.ca. However, in an era where technology is constantly evolving, the Government must take initiative to ensure the safety of Canadians online, and end the perpetration of online violence.

While the Government has committed to supporting some of these initiatives, it has prematurely singled out specific approaches to ending cyberviolence in Canada without the proper consultations. This is evidenced in Recommendations 15 and 16. While Recommendation 15’s goal of urging multiple jurisdictions to work together for a unified and coordinated approach is a step in the right direction, the Government has limited the content of this discussion to a National Cybercrime Coordination Centre, and excluded already existing programs that could benefit from the federal government’s attention.

Recommendation 16 similarly precludes the Government of Canada from examining useful international methods of combating cyberviolence by speaking only of the possibility of establishing an e-Safety Commissioner, similar to the Australian Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner. In addition, the specification in Recommendation 16 is not supported by extensive witness testimony. Only one witness spoke to the positive effect that the Australian Government has had with this Office. Any additional information provided in the Report was included only at the request of Liberal members of the Committee.[11] Furthermore, the information provided in the Report contains only background information and does not discuss any further advantage of instituting such an Office in Canada that are not already offered by existing Canadian organizations. For these reasons, the Official Opposition disagrees with the specific notation of this unproven practice in the Report and the Recommendations.

3.    Strong Sentencing for Perpetrators of Sexual Assault

Gender-based violence is never excusable. Should violence be enacted on a woman or girl, it should be condemned, whenever and wherever it occurs. Women and girls who have been subjected to gender-based violence deserve proper treatment within the justice system. This should include a strong understanding of what each victim personally requires in order to heal from her experience of violence. As reflected in the Report, the Committee did hear testimony that spoke to the help restorative justice practices can offer victims. However, the report does not adequately explore the call of many witnesses to improve and strengthen sentencing procedures for perpetrators of sexual assault.[12] These measures are especially important in areas wherein restorative justice practices do not meet the needs of the victim.

The Committee heard evidence that restorative justice practices carry specific difficulties for survivors of sexual assault, including the possibility of major power imbalances between the perpetrator and the victim. Kendra Milne from West Coast Leaf, who is an advocate of a human rights approach to healing for victims, gave testimony stating, “I don’t know of any [successful restorative justice] models, primarily because they tend to not always be the best models when we’re talking about violence, because of the power dynamics at play.”[13] Instead, Ms. Milne advocated for a methodology that would solidify an understanding of what constitutes a “reasonable” fear for one’s safety, thereby empowering women to report instances of abuse to authorities.[14]

The Report failed to include the fact that many witnesses argued in favour of stricter sentencing standards for perpetrators of sexual assault. Lucille Harper from the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre noted that the government needs to “ensure sentences reflect the seriousness of these crimes as a deterrent, but also to reflect the often lifetime impact of such crimes on their victims and on the victims’ families.”[15] Other witnesses described current sentencing practices as “a slap on the wrist” that “will fall short of the crime committed.”[16] This necessary change was also flagged by representatives from the Native Women’s Association of Canada who said that “Legislation must be reviewed so that the justice and conviction sentences are increased where violence has been committed”[17] These concerns are only exacerbated by the current need for the provision of training to judicial officers to ensure that sentencing for victims is made by informed and knowledgeable individuals.[18]

Every woman who has been subject to sexual violence in any context, and in any setting, deserves adequate and just treatment under the law. While the Report does well to call for improved access to the legal system and the possibility of expanding beyond typical modes of justice distribution, the Conservative Members of the Committee feel that it did not thoroughly explore the breadth of evidence illustrating the need to strengthen current sentencing procedures.

4.    Conclusion

While the Status of Women Committee’s Report on Violence Against Young Women and Girls is adequate in most respects, it merely scratches the surface of some of the underlying causes of violence against young women and girls. For the most part, the report and recommendations address the original terms of reference of the committee’s study and will serve as a good foundation for moving the Government closer to ending this issue that has plagued Canadians for far too long. However, given the severity of this issue the Conservative Members of the Committee believe this supplementary report will aid in further exploration of measures to prevent violence against young women and girls in Canada by presenting testimony that was omitted from the report.

Respectfully Submitted,

  • Marilyn Gladu, MP
  • Sarnia-Lambton
  • Rachael Harder, MP
  • Lethbridgen
  • Karen Vecchio, MP
  • Elgin-Middlesex-London

[1] Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, “Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on the

Status of Women – Internet Pornography and Violence against Young Women and Girls in Canada,”

Submitted Brief, 2016; Second Story Women’s Centre, “Brief Regarding Violence against Young Women

and Girls in Canada,” Submitted Brief, 2016; Centre d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère

sexuelle Châteauguay, “Violence against Young Women and Girls in Canada: A Sexual Violence

Perspective,” Submitted Brief, September 2016; Glendyne Gerrard – Defend Dignity, “Violence against

Young Women and Girls – A Brief Prepared for the Status of Women Standing Committee,” Submitted Brief,

23 September 2016; Evidence, 19 October 2016, 1710 (Lori Chambers, Professor, Lakehead University, as an individual); Evidence, 30 November 2016,

1655 (Tessa Hill, Co-founder, We Give Consent).

[2] Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, “Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on the

Status of Women – Internet Pornography and Violence against Young Women and Girls in Canada,”

Submitted Brief, 2016; Glendyne Gerrard – Defend Dignity, “Violence against Young Women and Girls – A

Brief Prepared for the Status of Women Standing Committee,” Submitted Brief, 23 September 2016;

Antigonish Women's Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services, “Submission to House of Commons

Standing Committee on the Status of Women: Violence against Girls and Young Women,” Submitted Brief,

November 2016.

[3] Evidence, 16 June 2016, 1550 (Shaheen Shariff, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education and Associate Member, Law Faculty, McGill University, As an Individual); Evidence, October 17, 2016, 1630 (Dawn Moore, Associate Professor, Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University, As an individual); Evidence, 17 October 2016, 1630 (Gabrielle Ross-Marquette, METRAC Action on Violence); Evidence, 19 October 2016, 1555

(Bilan Arte, National Chariperson, Canadian Federation of Students); Evidence, 24 October 2016, 1545 (Kenya

Rogers, Policy Analyst, University of Victoria Student’s Society, Anti Violence Project); Evidence, October 31, 2016, 1630 (Liette Roussel, Managing Consultant, Collectivité ingénieuse de la Péninsule acadienne); Evidence, 14 November 2016, 1630 (Lucille Harper, Antigonish Women's Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services); Evidence, November 14, 2016, 1640 (Melanie Sarronino, Liason and Promotion Officer, Regroupment québécois des centres dàides et de lute contra les agressions a caractére sexuel); Evidence, November 16, 2016, 1540 (Tessa Hill)

[4] Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, “Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on the

Status of Women – Internet Pornography and Violence against Young Women and Girls in Canada,”

Submitted Brief, 2016; Glendyne Gerrard – Defend Dignity, “Violence against Young Women and Girls – A

Brief Prepared for the Status of Women Standing Committee,” Submitted Brief, 23 September 2016.

[5] Evidence, 28 September 2016, 1600 (Ann Decter, Director, Advocacy and Public

Policy, YWCA Canada); Evidence, 19 October 2016, 1710 (Lori Chambers); Evidence, 5 October 2016,

1700 (Soraya Chemaly, Director, Women’s Media Center Speech Project, Women’s Media Center).

[6] Evidence, October 5, 2016, 1745 (Soraya Chemaly); Evidence, 31 October, 2016, 1605 (Harvey Bate, Co-Chair of the Board of Directors, New Leaf Program); Evidence, 21 September 2016 1635 (Angela MacDougall, Executive Director, Battered Women’s Support Services); Evidence, 14 November, 2017, 1620 (Sylvia Maracle, Executive Director, Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres)

[7] Evidence, 16 June, 2016, 1645 (Matthew Johnson, Director of Education, MediaSmarts); Evidence, September 26, 2016, 1545 (Shanly Dixon, Educator and Researcher, Digital Literacy Project, Atwater Library and Computer Centre); Evidence, October 5, 2016, 1650 (Soraya Chemaly)

[8] Evidence, 31 October, 2016, 1605 (Harvey Bate)

[9] Evidence, 21 September 2016 1635 (Angela MacDougall)

[10] Evidence. 30 November 2016, 1655 (Tessa Hill)

[11] Evidence, 21 November 2016, 1615 (Patricia Cartes, Head of Global Safety, Twitter Inc.)

[12] Evidence, 5 October, 2016, 1620 (Kendra Milne, Director, Law Reform, West Coast Leaf); Evidence, 14 November, 2016, 1630 (Lucille Harper); Evidence, 14 November, 2016, 1640 (Melanie Sarroino); Evidence 21 November, 2016, 1635 (Francyne Joe, President, Native Women’s Association of Canada).

[13] Evidence, 5 October, 2016, 1620 (Kendra Milne, Director, Law Reform, West Coast Leaf)

[14] Ibid., 1520

[15] Evidence, 14 November, 2016, 1630 (Lucille Harper)

[16] Evidence, 14 November, 2016, 1640 (Melanie Sarroino)

[17] Evidence 21 November, 2016, 1635 (Francyne Joe, President, Native Women’s Association of Canada)

[18] Evidence, 16 June, 2016, 1550-1600, (Shaheen Shariff)