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COMPREHENSIVE NATIONAL ACTION PLAN NEEDED IMMEDIATELY TO END VIOLENCE AGAINST YOUNG WOMEN AND GIRLS

A Supplementary Report submitted by the

New Democratic Party of Canada

To the Government of Canada

March 20, 2017

National leadership is long overdue, to coordinate responses to violence against young women and girls.

The Committee heard from many witnesses over the course of the study dedicated to ending Violence Against young Women and Girls (VAWG). We thank the witnesses for sharing their expertise with the Committee and we hope the witness and Committee recommendations will be implemented by the Government of Canada.

However, we believe the Committee’s final recommendations do not fully reflect the suggestions from many expert witnesses that the federal government should take leadership and take concrete steps to end violence against young women and girls in Canada. We therefore outline our position and recommendations in this supplementary report.

SEXUAL VIOLENCE CRISIS FACED BY WOMEN

Women and girls continue to face crisis levels of violence in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, rates of violence against women remained largely unchanged over the past two decades.

  • 1.4 M Canadians report having experienced forms of violence in the past 5 years
  • Young women, aged 15-34 years, are at highest risk of experiencing violence
  • More than 500 women and children are turned away from shelters on a typical day
  • Sexual assault experienced by Indigenous women are more than three times those of non-Indigenous women
  • Indigenous women are seven times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women.
  • Women living with disability experience violence two to three times more often than women living without disability
  • Domestic and sexual violence costs our economy over $12 billion a year.

Canada has fallen behind many countries[1] when it comes to prevention and protection of women and girls against gender violence. According to the Feminist Alliance for International Action: “In the past 20 years, Canadian women have gone backwards. In 1995, Canada was No. 1 on the United Nations Gender Equality Index. Today Canada ranks 25th[2]”.

For decades, front-line women’s organizations in Canada have led the way on concrete solutions to end violence against women and girls, while successive Liberal and Conservative governments have consistently failed to act. Over the last decade, the gender-violence faced by millions of Canadian was largely neglected by the Canadian government. Yet after more than a year in power, the Trudeau government has failed to translate its feminist rhetoric into real change.

Over the past months, front-line workers have decried the lack of action from the Liberal government to end violence against women. They are calling the government's progress to date a massive disappointment.[3]

BROKEN PROMISE TO UNITED NATIOND ON VAWG NATIONAL ACTION PLAN

While we are in agreement with the Committee’s report and many of its recommendations, we remain concerned that Canada is failing to fulfill its international commitments to end violence against women, its human rights obligations[4] and its constitutional equality obligations[5]. The Committee’s report did not recommend the mechanism of a National Action Plan to end VAWG, which New Democrats and the global community see as a vital tool.

Since 1995, the United Nations have been calling on all countries to implement National Action Plans on Violence Against Women. In 2008, the United Nations attempted again to get countries without National Action Plans to adopt one before 2015. The federal government missed the 2015 deadline and have since said that they will not implement.

Last November, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women evaluated Canada’s actions on VAWG. The UNCEDAW said that this government was failing to act on:

  • “The continued high prevalence of gender-based violence against women, particularly against indigenous women and girls;
  • The lack of a national action plan, bearing in mind that the strategy will only apply at the federal level;
  • The lack of shelters, support services and other protective measures for women victims of gender-based violence, which reportedly prevents them from leaving their violent partners”[6]

Against the advice of the United Nations, this government decided instead to develop a more narrow federal VAWG strategy, instead of the National VAWG strategy Canada had promised to the UN.

Although the government’s federal VAWG strategy hasn’t been released, its terms of reference indicate it will be limited to areas of federal responsibility, such as Statistics Canada.

Because a federal strategy was chosen instead of a National strategy, it will not be designed to improve health, educational and social services (for example, shelter operations, victim services), or the administration of civil and criminal justice, because these are provincial responsibilities. Federal strategies also exclude policing (except by the RCMP) and prosecuting criminal offences (except in the territories).

It is now clear that Canada did not embrace its international commitments to the UN, leaving Canadian women and girls without a national strategy to protect them.  

NGO DISAPPOINTMENT OVER FAILURE TO ENACT A NATIONAL VAWG ACTION PLAN

This government’s decision to choose a federal instead of a National VAWG strategy is a disappointment to women’s organizations across the country.[7] The absence of a National Action Plan is making responses largely fragmented, often inaccessible, and inconsistent across Canada.[8]

A recent Oxfam report card reflects this disappointment, echoing that a federal VAWG strategy will :

only apply to federal institutions and therefore lacks the depth and scope of a national action plan, which would have responded to the need for women to have access to comparable levels of services and protection across the country.[9]

This government would have been aided by the Blueprint for Canada’s National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Girls, developed by a network of 23 Canadian experts, trade unions and non-governmental organizations and endorsed by 180 organizations. Committee witnesses repeatedly referenced or were contributors to the Blueprint.

We believe that this Blueprint should have been the foundation for federal leadership to tackle violence against women, and the Canadian government should have listened to front-line women’s organizations. Angela MacDougall, executive director at the Battered Women's Support Services, testified:

“I think we need a national strategy [...] in order to continue leveraging these vibrant networks that exist already, and to create opportunities for us to share our promising practices and to share our approaches. The organizations we network with are doing all kinds of incredible change-making work, in training, service provision, and systemic and legal advocacy, and amazing things are happening. We have the solutions, actually, operating right now. We just need to find ways to scale those up, which, at the end of the day, means trusting the women's organizations that have been doing the work for over 40 years. We have the solutions. We are doing them in amazing ways already. We need the support to scale those”.[10]

Because of compelling testimony like this, and because so many witnesses described specific sexual violence problems such as cyberbullying and campus rape that need nationally-coordinated responses, the Committee agreed to some recommendations on federal leadership, and made a number of Observations about matters under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. Yet its final recommendations did not accede to the testimony calling for the more ambitious National Action Plan.

Specifically, Recommendation 1, 2, 3 and 26 should have advocated a National Action plan instead of the weaker federal strategy being written by this government.

Recommendations 4, 7, 8, 9, 15, 21, 33, 35 and 36 and Observations 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 specifically require collaboration between the federal government and the provinces and territories. Without a National Action Plan, in which collaboration, coordination and cooperation would be enshrined, the implementation of those recommendations and observations will be difficult to track. For example, Recommendation 4 urges “coordination of federal, provincial, and territorial government responses to help address violence against women and girls once a year at the Canada’s Federal-Provincial-Territorial Status of Women Forum”, but once a year is just not enough. New Democrats believe that the federal should play a bigger role in making sure that women and girls, in every province and territory, in urban, rural or remote regions, including First Nations and Inuit territories have access to comparable services.

Therefore, the New Democratic Party recommends:

  • That the Government of Canada take 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.

NATIONAL LEADERSHIP TO PREVENT CAMPUS RAPE

  • Many witnesses said there is a particular need for uniformity of policies, justice, and access to service for victims of campus rape, because students are especially likely to move from province to province, at a young age, and should have an expectation of equal safety.

The Committee heard many witnesses recommend federal leadership to end campus rape[11]. Witness Natasha Kornak[12] said: “I think we definitely need to legislate and create standards that have to be adhered to by post-secondary institutions to make sure they are consistently providing services to people on campus. That's something I think the federal government can definitely step in.”

Witness Alana Robert[13] also strongly advocated for national leadership:

With your support, we can create a national policy mandating all post-secondary institutions of comprehensive consent education, response centres, and resources that are accessible to students, and we can support the establishment of full-service community centres, where women escaping violence can go to for legal assistance, counselling, financial planning and cultural activities all within the same space. This can reduce the retraumatization of women that occurs when they are forced to retell their stories over and over again. For indigenous women who are particularly targeted, this is especially important to ensuring their safety.[14]

Therefore, the New Democratic Party recommends that:

  • That the Government of Canada lead national coordination of policies to prevent campus rape.

COORDINATE JUSTICE SYSTEM AND POLICING INNOVATIONS TO COMBAT VAWG

  • Witnesses said there is a need for consistency across and within jurisdictions in policies and laws that address VAWG.
  • Witnesses said there’s a need for better police training that is trauma-informed and includes digital-literacy.
  • Witnesses recommended equality of access to services for young women and girls facing violence.
  • Witnesses stressed the need for the federal government to take leadership and coordinate provincial, territorial and municipal justice responses to VAWG.

In the process of seeking help or protection from the Canadian justice system, many witnesses told heart breaking stories of how victims were (1) not taken seriously, or victim-blamed, (2) revictimized, (3) not informed, or badly supported, (4) told their case was unfounded[15] or that charges were dropped against the accused.

Those examples are in part responsible for the low reporting and conviction rates. The criminal legal system and policing failed so many women and girls in Canada.

Elisabeth Gendron[16] said that it was essential that members from all parties turn their attention to the problem of judicial inequality in the area of family law – where women sometimes experience spousal violence and the law is not drafted well enough to protect them – so we can work together to resolve it and ensure that our justice system truly represents and reflects the interests of all Canadians, including women.[17]

The majority of women’s front line organizations said there should be equal treatment of sexual assault victims across the country, which is not the case now in Canada.

In the Committee report, despite a number of recommendations aimed at these problems, none are designed to coordinate the provinces, territories, municipalities and the federal government together to ensure uniform reporting and an investigative regime that is trauma-informed and supportive of survivors.

Therefore, the New Democratic Party recommends that:

  • That the federal government lead National coordination around policing and in the justice system to ensure equal access to protection and justice across the country for victims of VAWG, including access to consistent services, policies and laws across and within jurisdictions.
  • That the federal government develop a national strategy to ensure consistent police standards for
    • a) training in digital literacy and
    • b) response to cyber violence.

FEDERAL LEADERSHIP ON EDUCATION TO END VAWG

According to testimony at Committee, cyber violence education is failing. Access to digital literacy is limited and depends on what province you live in. Some schools are leading the way in putting a lot of emphasis on cyber violence, but it isn’t uniform. Multiple witnesses also called for national leadership and the need for country-wide coordination for the implementation of a comprehensive sex education curriculum, not based on fear or abstinence, but on the notion of consent, including Tessa Hill, a then grade 9, that successfully pushed for consent to be a topic in the new Ontario Health Curriculum and now wants it to be a national.[18]

Therefore, the New Democratic Party recommends that:

  • That the federal government lead National coordination and education campaign to include consent and digital literacy in the education system to end violence against women and girls.

SUPPORTING FRONTLINE VAWG SERVICES AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS

Canada is also failing its international commitments when it comes to adequate funding. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which Canada is part of require states to “Allocate adequate resources within the government budget and mobilize community resources for activities related to the elimination of violence against women, including resources for the implementation of plans of action at all appropriate levels[19]”;

Status of Women’s Women’s Program only provides time-limited funding to organizations for projects aiming to address violence against women and girls.

The former Minister of Status of Women, the Honourable Patty Hajdu proved that allocation of ressources is not adequate:

I can't tell you how many times since I've been elected that I've been asked by my own municipality if Shelter House will now get core federal funding. In fact, the answer is sadly no, because we're not in the business of providing operational funding to programs on the ground. […]sustainable funding is always a challenge.[20]

Women organizations have been suffering for decades from the lack of appropriate operating funding.[21] According to Farrah Khan, “when we don't have adequate funding, what we're telling people is that violence doesn't matter, that our bodies don't matter. Right now, that's consistently how it feels. I know that's because of the past 10 years of our last government.[22]

In post-secondary institutions that means that it is much more difficult to ensure that students get the kinds of supports that they want when numerous shelters and services, rape crisis centres, have to close their doors. There's a huge federal role for that. Target money to fund community organizations that can assist universities.”[23]

The lack of operational shelter funding, lack of funds to hire new staff, and inadequate funding to create enough spaces can prevent women from leaving their abuser, according to Mélanie Sarroino:

“The woman had been waiting for months and it took all her courage just to pick up the phone and call. I'm trying to send her to one of my centres, and I know very well that when she calls the centre, she'll get a message on the answering machine saying that they will call her back, but presently they have a six-month waiting list. You can guarantee that woman will never call back and will live with whatever she is going through for a very long time. That's the first impact”.[24]

There was a consensus amongst witnesses:

  • Funding is not adequate for the work that this country is asking women’s, front-line organizations and shelters to play
    • Lack of access to long-term, predictable and operational funding is one of the biggest problem for organizations
  • Recent domestic violence shelter funding announcements are highly inadequate for Indigenous women, and won’t meet the long-standing need:
    • 70% of Inuit communities do not have access to a safe shelter: approximately 15 shelters now for the 53 Inuit communities across Inuit Nunangat
    • Only a network now of 41 shelters on reserve across Canada for 600 communities, yet new investment will only be for five new shelters over the next five years [25]
  • Disabled women are not close to the funding they need, given they are suffering amongst the highest rate of violence. Yet funding has been reduced each year.
  • Many community organizations don’t even have that capacity to prepare grant applications or it is taking precious workers’ time away that they could spend helping  more victims and survivors of violence
  • There aren’t enough resources or support for victims of cyber violence.
    • Without stable operational funding, and it’s difficult to fund online hate responses

We have seen a consensus from witnesses that ending violence against women is limited by lack of federal funding. Long-term, stable operational funding would mean frontline organizations can:

  • hire desperately needed staff
  • overcome shortage of shelter spaces
  • improve intervention capacity and service delivery
  • shorten waiting lists

To accomplish those goals, the New Democratic Party recommends:

  • That the federal government provide consistent operational funding for front-line community organizations working to protect victims and end violence against women and girls.

CONCLUSION

The New Democratic Party believes, as Ann Decter of YWCA Canada says, that “There's always room for federal leadership on violence against women, and I think it goes a long way to setting a national standard and an attitude. It sets a standard for governments to meet across the country.”[26]

The federal government needs to get back into the business of supporting community organizations that are working for social justice.

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

We urge the Canadian government to demonstrate leadership, by walking the talk, and dedicating the political and financial support, resources and funding to meet Canada’s longstanding 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, March 20, 2017


[1] According to Oxfam Canada, many other countries have implemented national action plans to address violence against women and gender-based violence, with Australia’s 12-year National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children considered the most comprehensive. Australia started their Third Action Plan in 2016 which include clear targets, deadline and specific actions. For more information : http://womensrights.oxfam.ca/

[2] Feminist Alliance for International Action. “Step up for women’s equality.” Accessed March 8, 2017. .http://fafia-afai.org/en/step-up/

[3] Kathleen Harris, “'Massive disappointment': Liberals urged to step up efforts to tackle sexual, domestic violence,” CBC News, January 24, 2017, accessed January 24, 2017,

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/liberal-trudeau-sexual-violence-1.3948607

[4] The federal government has committed to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted in 1995. Canada is a signatory to the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, adopted at the UN in 1993, and the government supports the 2016 report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

[5] This government has a constitutional obligation to protect equality rights under Article 15. (1): Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

[6] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, “Concluding observations (2016) CEDAW/C/CAN/CO/8-9”, November 18 2016, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/CAN/CO/8-9&Lang=

[7]Oxfam Canada “Feminist Scorecard 2017: Tracking government action to advance women’s rights and gender equality” March 6, 2017, Accessed March 6, 2017 http://womensrights.oxfam.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/TIME-TO-TURN-FEMINIST-WORDS-INTO-ACTION.pdf

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

[9] Ibid., Oxfam Canada.

[10] FEWO, Evidence, September 21, 2016, 1635 (Angela Marie MacDougall).

[11] Evidence, October 17, 2016, 1540 (Anuradha Dugal, Director, Violence Prevention Programs, Canadian Women’s Foundation); Evidence, October 19, 2016, 1535 (Elizabeth Sheehy, Professor, Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, University of Ottawa, As an individual); Evidence, October 31, 2016, 1715 (Liette Roussel); Antigonish Women's Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services; Evidence, October 31, 2016, 1635 (Manon Bergeron, Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal, Senior Researcher, Enquête ESSIMU, As an individual); Evidence, October, 24, 2016, 1545 (Kenya Rogers, Policy Analyst, University of Victoria Student’s Society, Anti Violence Project); Evidence, October 19, 2016, 1635 (Alexander Wayne MacKay, Professor of Law, Dalhousie University, Schulich School of Law, As an individual); Evidence, October 19, 2016, 1555 (Bilan Arte, National Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students);

Evidence, October 19, 2016, 1545 (Danika McConnell, Representative, Canadian Alliance of Student Associations);

[12] Natasha Kornak, a delegate from the Daughters of the Vote initiative, is a second year student studying Life Science at Queen’s University. On the executive board for the Queen’s Female Leadership in Politics Conference and Queen’s Native Students Association, Natasha is also the creator of Right2Know, a campaign pushing for consent-based sex education in Alberta.

[13] Alana Robert, a delegate from the Daughters of the Vote initiative, is a first year student at Osgoode Hall Law School. Alana is the Founder and President of Justice For Women, a student group that advocates for gender equality. In this role, Alana has created Consent Culture Workshops, a ‘Safe Spaces and Safe Socials’ Policy, and a Self-Care Resource Centre – all of which serve to combat gender-based violence.

[14] FEWO, Evidence, March 7, 2017 (Alana Robert).

[15] Recently, The Globe and Mail also revealed alarming numbers and deep flaws at every step of the police investigation of sexual assault claims, including the fact that 1 out of 5 cases were declared unfounded and closed. For more information: Robyn Doolittle, Globe and Mail, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/unfounded-sexual-assault-canada-main/article33891309/

[16] Élisabeth Gendron, a delegate from the Daughters of the Vote initiative, is a third-year student in the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Law. Élisabeth is a proofreader for her faculty’s student newspaper and the National Observatory on Language Rights. A native of Trois-Rivières and civil law specialist, Élisabeth is currently interning with the Juripop legal clinic in order to improve access to justice for all citizens. She advocates for gender equality in the workplace.

[17] FEWO, Evidence, March 7, 2017 (Elisabeth Gendron).

[18] Evidence, November 30, 2016, 1700 (Tessa Hill, Co-founder, We Give Consent).

[19]United Nations, “The Beijing Platform for Action on Violence Against Women,” September 1995, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/violence.htm.

[21] Many witnesses including Cathy Grant, Harvey Bate (New Leaf Program) and Mélanie Sarroino (Liaison and Promotion Officer from the Regroupement québécois des Centres d'aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel) said that their funding has been stagnant for years, in their case its have been in 29 and 10 years respectively.

[23]Evidence, October 19, 2016, 1655 (Lori Chambers, Professor, Lakehead University, As an individual)

[24] Evidence, November 14, 2016, 1640 (Mélanie Sarroino, Liaison and Promotion Officer, Regroupement québécois des Centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel).

[25] According to Oxfam, a number far too low to serve the needs of over 600 First Nation communities. For more information : http://womensrights.oxfam.ca/

[26] Evidence, September 28, 2016, 1600 (Ann Decter, Director, Advocacy and Public Policy, YWCA Canada).