Interventions in Committee
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Kathleen Cooper
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Kathleen Cooper
2015-06-18 15:48
First of all, to tell you about the Canadian Environmental Law Association, we're a non-profit public interest organization specializing in environmental law. We're also a legal aid clinic within Ontario. We provide legal representation to low-income individuals and vulnerable communities.
Then we have law reform priorities, and in setting our strategic priorities, one of those is environment and human health. In deciding within that large topic how to set priorities, we take a population health approach, the same as Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and public health agencies everywhere do. You set priorities by focusing on issues where large numbers of people are potentially or directly affected or where you have serious outcomes.
You can't get much more serious than a known carcinogen where there's strong science. Radon, as I'm sure you're going to hear later as well, is in a class by itself compared to most other environmental carcinogens. That's why we've focused on radon.
I'm going to speak today to a report we prepared last year, “Radon in Indoor Air: A Review of Policy and Law in Canada”. I believe you've been circulated the media release that was issued the day we released the report. That's all I was able to have translated given the time pressure of meeting with you today.
We canvassed policy and law across Canada at the federal and provincial levels and looked at jurisdictions and roles. We focused on public buildings and building codes, looked at other relevant provincial policy and law and the associated common law, and made a number of recommendations, but I'll focus today on just the recommendations we made with respect to the federal government.
Overall, our findings were that Canadians need better legal protection from radon. We found a patchwork of inconsistent and mostly unenforceable guidance.
For the federal government, we found that really important leadership has occurred, and Kelley Bush from Health Canada will provide some details on that for you today, although we definitely made recommendations for more that can be done. At the provincial and territorial level, where actually most jurisdiction lies, we found a wide range of laws that need to be updated or that contain gaps or ambiguities. There's very limited case law, which points to the need for improving a law or for law reform. I won't get into detail on what's been done at the federal level on radon, although the report does, because Kelley will be doing that for you later on.
Just in summary, under the national radon program there has been very valuable research, testing, and mapping of high -radon areas. The guideline for indoor radon was updated in 2007. The national building code was updated with respect to radon provisions, there's a certification program for radon mitigators, and there has been a national campaign to urge the testing by Canadians of their homes. It's recommended that every home in Canada be tested.
We recommended, to build on that important work, that there really is a logical next step here. Through the work of the Green Budget Coalition this past year, we recommended a tax credit for radon remediation. We recommended that the Income Tax Act add a tax credit for radon mitigation of up to $3,000 for individual Canadians, so long as it's done by a certified expert under the national program. That was not included in the budget, although we think it's still a very good idea. We had some very positive response from the federal officials we spoke to about it.
We also recommended that there be clearer messaging about radon, and that we use words like “radiation” and “radioactivity” because they are accurate and are what people understand more in terms of the risks of radiation and radon. We also recommended that there be better data sharing nationally between the federal government and the provinces and territories in terms of the testing that's done, along with the sharing of information that's paid for nationally, and that information be available publicly.
In terms of recommendations for federal action as well, we note that the David Suzuki Foundation report that came out just last month says the World Health Organization has recommended a lower level of 100 for indoor radon. Currently, our federal level is 200 becquerels per cubic metre. We definitely supported that recommendation and recommend that the federal government reduce the indoor radon guideline to 100.
The other two areas I want to touch on that are relevant to your investigation here have to do with the Canada Labour Code and the need to update it as well, and also the need for improving the uptake across Canada of the naturally occurring radioactive materials guidelines, the NORM guidelines. I'm going to speak to those two areas now.
Under the Canada Labour Code, there is the only legally enforceable limit for radon in Canada that's broadly applicable, but it's only for federally regulated workplaces and it remains at an outdated level of 800 becquerels per cubic metre. We think it should be brought down to the federal reference level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre to begin with, and we think that level should come down to 100 becquerels per cubic metre. On the updating of that level, apparently what was going to happen in 2015 now sounds like it's going to happen in 2016, so it would be great if your committee recommended speeding up that process.
In terms of the NORM guidelines, these are guidelines that were prepared by a federal-provincial-territorial committee. We interviewed occupational health and safety inspectors across Canada and found a lot of confusion and uncertainty about workplace radon rules or whether the NORM guidelines apply. In fact, they apply to every workplace in Canada. In any indoor space that is a workplace, including the room in which you are sitting, those guidelines apply.
However, it's a reactive, complaint-driven system. Inspectors get few or no complaints because there is a lack of awareness, so they don't take enforcement action. Also, some inspectors didn't think that radon was an occupational health and safety issue at all. They said that enforcement action was unlikely because the only agreed-upon levels for radiation are those for radiation-exposed workers. That is just not accurate, so we've made recommendations in response to that situation.
Turning to the recommendations we made with respect to the Canada Labour Code, as I've mentioned, it should be brought up to date swiftly. It's out of date by many years and still at that level of 800 becquerels per cubic metre.
With respect to radon, we recommended that the federal-provincial-territorial radiation protection committee, which deals with far more than radon—it deals with a whole manner of radiation exposure issues—convene a task force for occupational health and safety inspectors across the country so that there is clarity and there is a more generalized consistent application of those NORM guidelines to ensure worker health and safety. The consequences of that inconsistent application are that you're going to have uneven worker protection across the country and the possibility that people are overexposed, both in the workplace and in their homes, if they happen to be unlucky enough to have high radon levels in both of those indoor locations where they live and work. Related to that, we made a range of recommendations about provincial labour codes, which I won't get into.
In another area of occupational exposure, with respect to radon mitigators, we also recommended that CAREX Canada, who you're going to hear from later today, undertake, with the Canadian national radon proficiency program, research and dosimetry monitoring for radon mitigators so that we can make sure their workplaces are safe as well.
Just to recap on the findings in this report and to recommend to you to take up some of these recommendations in your deliberations on this topic, we found a need for greater legal requirements rather than guidance in this area for several reasons, including the need to underscore the seriousness of the problem and to support public outreach messages by the federal government and by other organizations who you're going to hear from today, including the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment.
Also, there's a need for legal requirements to require testing in public buildings and to ensure public access to that information. As well, there's the need to correct that inconsistent response among both the public health and the occupational health and safety inspectors and to provide them with tools to take action with respect to radon. As I mentioned, we found limited to no case law under either statutes or common law. We also found that improving the law or law reform is a better remedy than costly and situation-specific litigation to resolve radon problems.
Then, as I mentioned, there's a need for specific federal government action, including updating that federal guideline and putting in place a tax credit to help Canadians undertake radon mitigation when they have high levels, updating that Canada Labour Code, and ensuring the NORM guidelines are applied.
We've calculated the health care savings from prevented lung cancer deaths. If all homes in Canada were mitigated to the level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre, you'd see more than $17 million a year in savings through prevented lung cancer deaths. It likely would be double that if you were to reduce the level to 100 becquerels per cubic metre. Then, of course, anyone who works in cancer will tell you that the indirect costs are five times higher than the direct costs, so a lot of savings are possible there, along with the avoidance of the pain and suffering associated with lung cancer.
Tom Kosatsky
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Tom Kosatsky
2015-06-18 16:53
I can finish in one minute.
Even if everybody tested, and everybody whose house was over 200 did remediation, we'd only touch lung cancer in Canada in a minor way. So what should we do? We should and we can build radon out. The new building code, the guidance levels, and provincial adoption help but only in a minor way. It would really help if we installed fans along with this dead-end piece of plastic that's part of the new building code, vent the radon out, and have very low levels in people's houses. People wouldn't tamper with it. You'd live in a low radon house. You wouldn't have to label it. You would know it when you moved in.
It will take years before every new house in Canada has a low radon level, but at least our children and grandchildren won't have this scourge. It's much more cost-effective to do that than it is to mitigate. The cost is much lower per house, and it will have long-lasting effects on the house itself.
What should we do? We should adopt a population approach, look at the whole population and not just the people who have a lot of radon in their houses. We should question the current guideline and lower it to as low as reasonably possible. We should legislate radon-resilient building stock, so we could build radon out of new buildings. People who live in existing houses will say, “How come my neighbour has this house? I want that too.” That would be the best encouragement for people themselves to test and remediate.
We should use provincial authorities for day care centres, schools, and workplaces to emulate what goes on there in our own houses, and we should integrate the anti-smoking and radon-lowering messages, because if we have no smoking and no radon, we will have almost no lung cancer, the number one cause of cancer deaths in this country.
That's the message. Thank you for hearing me.
Anne-Marie Nicol
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Anne-Marie Nicol
2015-06-18 17:06
You should also have a slide deck from me. It says “Radon and Lung Cancer” on it. I recognize I am the very last person, and I appreciate your persistence. Luckily many people have also spoken to a number of the points that I wish to discuss, so I will go very quickly over the first few slides.
I am an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. I also work at the National Collaborating Centre with Tom and Sarah, and I also run CAREX Canada, which is the carcinogen surveillance system funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. I am here because we prioritized Canadians' exposure to environmental carcinogens and the leading causes of cancer-related deaths from environmental exposures, and radon gas was by far the most significant carcinogen. I admit that when I started my research at CAREX, I had never heard of radon gas either. When I went back into the literature, I realized that over time Canada has actually played a very important role in understanding radon and lung cancer.
The data from many of the studies that were done on uranium miners, at Eldorado and even here in Ontario, has been used to determine the relationship between exposure and lung cancer. We've actually been on the forefront of this issue but very much in an academic context rather than in a public health context.
We've already discussed the fact that the WHO notes that this is a significant carcinogen. I would also like to point out that agencies around the world are coming to the conclusion that radon is more dangerous than they had previously thought. In 1993 we had a certain understanding about the relationship between radon gas and lung cancer. That's doubled. The slope that Tom was talking about used to go like this and now it goes like this. Radon is now known to be much more dangerous than we had originally thought. The reason for that is that radon is actually an alpha-particle emitter.
We are a uranium-rich country. Uranium is in the soil and as it breaks down there is a point at which it becomes a gas. That means it becomes movable within the soil. That gas itself gives off alpha radiation, which is a very dangerous form of radiation that can damage DNA. On the next slide you'll see both direct and indirect damage to DNA. This information is compliments of Dr. Aaron Goodarzi. We actually have a Canada research chair studying this at the moment in Alberta.
The next slide, on radiation and DNA damage, shows that alpha radiation is powerful. It doesn't penetrate very far, so if it hits our skin, it doesn't do as much damage as it does if it gets into our lungs. Our lungs are very sensitive. The lining of our lungs is sensitive and when the cells in them are irradiated, they get damaged. Alpha particles are very destructive. The damage is akin to having a cannon go through DNA. That kind of damage is hard to repair, and as a result the probability of genetic mutations and cancer goes up.
The next slide is on strategies for reducing risk. Just to recap, the kind of damage done by the radiation emitted from radon is significant. The damage is difficult for the body to repair once radon is in the lungs.
The next slide is on education and priority setting. Radon does exist across the country. People have developed radon-potential maps. This one is compliments of Radon Environmental where they've looked at where uranium exists and where the potential for higher-breakdown products is, although we do recognize that every home is different. Also there's a map of the United States to show that we are not alone in this and that the states that are on the border have a similar kind of radon profile to that found in Canada. We know that under our current Canadian strategies, we need to educate not just the public but ourselves. Most public health professionals have never heard of radon. When we do work out in public health units, environmental health inspectors, public health inspectors, and medical health officers are still unaware that radon is dangerous. Many bureaucrats and ministries of health are unaware that radon is dangerous.
Also health researchers are only really beginning to do work in this area across the country. In order to have building codes changed, people need to know why you're changing them. We need testing and remediation training. People need to understand why they're actually doing this kind of work.
Kelley Bush alluded to the fact that they've been tracking awareness among the population. This is done by Statistics Canada. The next slide shows a representative Canadian sample. It's been done since 2007 actually, but these are results for 2009 onward. You can see that about 10% of the population were aware of radon. That's gone up to about 30%. This is the number of people who know what radon is and can accurately describe it. We're still at around 30% of the population who know that radon can cause lung cancer.
Health Canada does recommend that everybody test their homes. The next slide, which is also using data collected by Statistics Canada, clearly shows that very few people have tested their homes. Less than 10% of Canadians across the country have tested their homes. We have had a radon awareness program since 2007, so why aren't people testing? We don't have regulatory requirements, as Kathleen Cooper stated earlier. People need to be aware and motivated to change. It's up to the consumer. We have left it up to the consumer to test their own home.
I believe things like denial, the invisible nature of the gas, and people simply being unaware contribute to this. Test kits are still not that readily available across the country. You can phone and ask where you can find them, but they're not always there. In rural regions it's much harder for people to get access to test kits. People then fear the downstream costs of remediating—i.e., I don't want to go in there because I don't know how much it's going to cost me to fix my basement. In some cases the costs can be somewhat considerable, depending on the structure of the home.
Turning to the next slide, I believe to reduce the lung cancer risk from radon gas we need more leadership. The government can legitimate this as a risk. It's something that people don't know about, and we need to take a stronger role in getting people more engaged in this topic. It's not just Health Canada; it's all levels of government—ministries of health, provinces, municipalities. We need to be training people in the trades so they know what they're doing when they're building those radon-resistant homes, and why. Why is that pipe important? Why is that fan important? Again, we need to build radon out, going forward.
Other countries have shown that providing financial assistance works. People will energy-retrofit their home because they get a rebate, but the energy retrofit does increase radon levels. There is clear evidence that this exists. The tighter your home, the more the radon gas remains in your home. In Manitoba they're doing research to look at that at the moment. In Manitoba, though, you can also now get a rebate through Manitoba Hydro to do radon remediation. Some parts of the country are starting, but we need to be offering some kind of incentive for citizens to do this.
I would also like to put in a plug for workplace exposure, because I do study workplace exposure and radon. There are places in the country where people work underground, or in basements and even ground-level buildings, where radon levels are high. Some of these are federal government workers. We need more testing and remediation for workplaces.
That's it. Thank you.
Louise Bradley
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Louise Bradley
2015-05-12 16:37
Thank you and have a good afternoon.
Mr. Chair and committee members, I'm delighted to be here today.
My name is Louise Bradley. I'm the president and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. I'd like to acknowledge my colleague, Jennifer Vornbrock, the vice-president of our knowledge and innovation team.
Let me begin by providing you with a brief background on the commission and its mandate. The commission was created in 2007, prompted by the work of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology and its study “Out of the Shadows at Last”, which called for a national commission on mental health.
The commission has a mandate to improve the mental health system and change the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians around mental illness. The commission is a coordinating agent, aligning and promoting the interests of governments, organizations, and persons with mental illness and their families. Our work brings together leaders and experts in mental health and facilitates widespread uptake on ideas, policies, and programs.
I'm pleased to report that in the 2015 federal budget, the Government of Canada indicated its intention to renew the commission's mandate for 10 more years beginning in 2017. The commission is thrilled to have the opportunity to continue its work, led by our new board chair, the Honourable Michael Wilson. Mr. Wilson has used his considerable talent and influence to champion mental health as a private citizen. Given his accomplishments to date, we can't wait to see what he's able to achieve with the full weight of the commission and our many partners behind him.
The commission's work continues to be guided by the mental health strategy for Canada, which was released in 2012. The strategy lays out actions to improve mental health care and its associated systems through six strategic directions. Since the release of the strategy, the commission has worked hard to ensure the strategy's uptake, sharing its recommendations with stakeholders across the country and around the world. I've heard from provincial and territorial governments that the strategy has become a foundational document and is used by them to develop their own mental health plans and priorities.
The reach of the strategy has been incredible, but the commission knows there are still barriers to its implementation across Canada. To assist in the implementation process, the commission initiated its own review of the strategy. After speaking with stakeholders and government officials, the commission has determined that the following actions would help drive the strategy forward: the coordination of mental health services and resources, including the integration of mental health, primary care, housing supports, and substance use services; the creation of an action plan, based on common priorities from the strategy, that demonstrates the next steps for those trying to implement it; and the improvement of mental health data, which includes better monitoring of current trends and the identification of data gaps. The commission looks forward to working with stakeholders and government to carry out these actions over the next decade.
The commission has also taken every opportunity to capitalize on the strategy as a guide for the expansion of our work. The issue of suicide prevention is of paramount importance, and we have been working on this issue for years utilizing our anti-stigma initiative called Opening Minds, workplace mental health programs, and knowledge exchange to provide tools and promote best practices.
We know that there is widespread support for this issue among parliamentarians, demonstrated by the recently passed Bill C-300, an Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention, which had support from all parties. Many of you also know about the #308conversations initiative launched last year by the commission and championed by member of Parliament Harold Albrecht. The campaign called upon all 308 federal members of Parliament to host a meeting in their respective communities with a focus on suicide prevention. The goal was to get people talking and to gather information about what interventions are available in communities.
As the second phase of this initiative building on the work of our anti-stigma initiative Opening Minds, the commission is developing a community-based model for suicide prevention. This model aims to adapt and implement an existing and effective suicide prevention program in the Canadian context. The model, developed by Dr. Ulrich Hegerl, is a multi-level, community-based suicide prevention initiative that has shown to be effective in reducing suicide by more than 24% over two years in a test community. The commission is currently working with stakeholders to determine the implementation of this initiative across Canada.
The initiative will build on another key commission program, At Home/Chez Soi, a participatory research project. At Home/Chez Soi demonstrated positive, cost-effective results for the housing first approach to homelessness, which provides persons who are homeless and have chronic mental health issues with immediate access to subsidized housing. Its participants were some of the most vulnerable Canadians who are highly stigmatized and who reported feeling isolated and being at high risk for suicide. At Home/Chez Soi demonstrated that people with chronic mental illness who receive no-barrier housing are more likely to stay housed and to report an improved quality of life. It also showed that for every $10 invested in housing first services for high-needs participants, the community saved almost $22 in avoided costs.
Because of its success, the Government of Canada decided to invest $600 million in the housing first approach through its homelessness partnering strategy. Through its innovative research, the commission was able to offer tangible and cost-effective approaches to improving the lives of Canadians who are homeless and have a chronic mental illness.
As part of our leadership on mental health systems transformation, the commission has also placed an emphasis on knowledge exchange and the sharing of best practices. At the heart of this work is the commission's Knowledge Exchange Centre, KEC, which provides numerous information-sharing hubs both online and through in-person gatherings. The KEC shares information about the commission's initiatives and additional best practices, ensuring that the information gets to the right people and that they know how to use it.
The KEC is also dedicated to improving the data and resources related to mental health. Next month they will continue with their launch of a set of national indicators on mental health that will provide crucial data on self-harm rates, the prevalence of specific mental illnesses, suicide rates, and rates of access to services. This data also identifies mental health indicators for subpopulations, such as LGBTQ youth and new Canadians. This information allows us to gauge areas in which the needs of Canadians are being met and in which there's room for improvement.
As you can see, the commission is working hard, as hard as it ever has, and we are ready to start making long-term plans for the next phase of our work. The commission is currently seeking advice from the Government of Canada, Health Canada, and other key partners about our new mandate. We've also been consulting with stakeholders and provincial and territorial leaders across the country to discuss shared priorities.
These discussions will form the basis of the mental health action plan for Canada, which provides goals and priorities for the implementation of the strategy. Just as the strategy guided the last decade of work, the mental health action plan for Canada will set the tone for the next one. By following through on the action plan, the commission can address urgent mental health issues, including suicide prevention, access, mental health supports for first responders, seniors, diverse populations, children, and youth.
In closing, I commend the members of this committee for identifying future actions at the federal level. There is still a great deal of work to be done. As with the commission's renewed efforts, it is the perfect time to redouble our efforts. This new chapter marks a time of pivotal change in Canada's mental health landscape, with more energy for system transformation than ever before.
I look forward to working with all of you and all Canadians as we continue our work towards our common goal of improving the mental health of Canadians.
Merci beaucoup.
Louise Bradley
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Louise Bradley
2015-05-12 17:21
About a year and a half ago the commission, again the world's first and as far as we know still the only psychological safety standard in the workplace, was developed. We did this in partnership with subject-matter experts. We did it with the Canadian Standards Association, BNQ, and several other corporations. It addresses the whole issue of mental health in the workplace.
Once upon a time, and this probably still is for a large number, mental health was something outside that you did. It was separate. Yet the place where we spend most of our waking hours is fraught with mental health dangers, if you will, and the opportunity to have mental health promotion and prevention. The psychological safety standard for the workplace is designed just in the same way that we all have health standards in our workplaces. For example, we know that everybody in a construction site needs to wear a hard hat. The psychological safety standard actually looks at what's happening inside the hard hat. We now have a guide that shows companies, businesses, governments, and organizations how to implement the standard. It's a very comprehensive, easy-to-read, clear, outline as to how to do it. We're now halfway through a three-year study following 40 businesses and organizations that have implemented the standard to see about the costs, how it impacts morale, how it impacts disability, absenteeism, and that sort of thing. It's also been adopted in other countries around the world. We are continuing to pursue that, but it's a very promising initiative.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
Thank you for joining us here today and talking about where we're going to go next. I want to look backwards a bit. I think it's important to congratulate you on the workplace standard. In my prior role, I was at the provincial and territorial ministers meetings, where everyone endorsed the standard, both federally and provincially, in terms of encouraging its rollout. It's certainly something that has legs, and I'll be very interested to see how the results of the study actually turn out as you follow these 40 organizations.
I did host one of the #308conversations. It was interesting, because we were really left with this feeling that there needs to be something next. Of course, doing something next requires someone to take the leadership and actually do it. At some point, maybe not here, I'll have a brief comment in terms of what our group is doing next, because when you are the person who initiates, I think it's important to ask where we are going to take this. You've had some pretty powerful conversations, so to sort of drop them, where are you going as a community...? We're certainly going to be providing feedback to the commission. I think the letter was just signed off on. But where do we as a community go?
You can make a few comments about that, but really, I'm interested in the mental health action plan for Canada and how you perceive it addressing emerging issues within the health care system and really laying a foundation. Could you talk a bit about any of those issues?
Anna Marenick
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Anna Marenick
2015-05-05 11:25
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you today.
As you mentioned, my name is Anna Marenick and I am the director of community relations and value proposition here at Irving Shipbuilding.
Irving Shipbuilding is one company in the J.D. Irving group of companies, with 15,000 employees across its divisions. Most of our businesses are in traditional space: forestry and forest products, construction, transportation, shipbuilding, and marine, are some examples.
JDI is committed to increasing the number of women in STEM careers. We are investing in not only entry level jobs but in advancement of women throughout our organizations. A woman currently leads our white pine lumber operation, the largest of its kind in North America, and the president of Engineers Nova Scotia is a technical director here at Irving Shipbuilding.
Today I want to focus a little bit on some work we're doing at Irving Shipbuilding. It's something called the Irving Shipbuilding Centre of Excellence.
In 2012, following the 2011 award of the combat vessel package under the national shipbuilding procurement strategy, Irving Shipbuilding began a partnership with Nova Scotia Community College to build something called the Irving Shipbuilding Centre of Excellence. We are investing $250,000 annually at NSCC over the life of the NSPS with the mandate of the centre being to create pathways and opportunities for Nova Scotians to participate in shipbuilding with a specific focus on under-represented groups: women, African Canadians, aboriginal persons, and persons with disabilities. Currently women represent 4% of Irving Shipbuilding's trades workforce, a small number to be sure, so this investment sets out deliberately to change that.
From the outset the community told us clearly that this 30-year investment in shipbuilding was something they saw as game changing. The long term nature of NSPS allowed us really to critically examine what barriers existed for under-represented groups to get into STEM.
The centre of excellence is managed by a steering committee with representation from industry, provincial government, academia, organized labour from Unifor, and community representatives like Doreen Parsons who's here with me, and you'll hear from her momentarily.
The phrase we heard again and again from the community was to build this with them in collaborative partnership. Initially, I will tell you, this was met with incredibly great skepticism. While the community felt strongly that capitalizing on NSPS and its impact on Nova Scotians was important, they also worried that no tangible outcomes would materialize. This would be yet another committee, yet another report, and another make-work project. But the time horizon in front of the opportunity was such that we could really take our time to get it right.
In 2014 we held a full-day strategic planning session and we identified three main areas for focus. The first one, and I know the one that Doreen will talk about more, is early pathways to create an environment where women and other under-represented groups could even see themselves in a trade like this. What are the barriers that preclude STEM careers from even being an option for under-represented communities? These barriers existed long before jobs were advertised. This is why, from my perspective in industry, it's critical to have partners in the community who can help identify those barriers and work to overcome them.
The second area of focus is moving to learning to make sure that we are creating a diverse and inclusive learning environment. The third focuses on the workplace itself is to ensure that the workplace is appropriately welcoming for a diverse and blended population.
From that strategic planning session we began our first funding activities. We fund an organization called Techsploration, which works with grade nine girls in Nova Scotia schools to introduce them to mentors in STEM careers. The centre of excellence funded five schools from diverse communities to participate in the Techsploration program.
Lisa Kelly
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Lisa Kelly
2015-05-05 11:37
Thank you, Madam, for the opportunity to address you and members of the committee.
I'm going to take a short period of time and then have my colleague Terry Weymouth conclude with some specific examples around skilled trades.
Unifor is an organization representing 305,000 employees and workers across the country in very diverse occupations, from members who make cars right up to pilots. About one-third of our membership is female, so just around 87,000 members. Of our membership, we represent over 40,000 skilled trades.
For our skilled trades numbers, we track about the same as the numbers you've been hearing here, which is around 4% female membership in the trades. In the STEM occupations it's a little bit more difficult to get the numbers on those because as you heard from one of your presenters in an earlier session, there isn't complete agreement on what makes up STEM occupations. But I can tell you that we represent significant numbers of members in aerospace, telecommunications, health care, and the education sector, and I'll give you some examples from those areas.
Across the board we hear from our female members that they have issues with accessible, affordable child care. That is a fundamental issue that affects many of our members no matter which of the areas they're going into. Where we have members who work in shift work or in intensive work scheduling, there is also a difficulty in balancing the roles that women play in taking care of their family members—their children, their parents—and fulfilling other roles, and balancing that with work as well.
We've identified some of the same issues you're hearing from others, the streaming and the lack of role models. You'll hear from Ms. Weymouth about how you need to see it to be it, and you'll hear about some of the role modelling that we've been trying to be party to. There is attitudinal barriers not only within young women in what's open to them but there still remain attitudinal barriers of employers in giving opportunities. Again, I won't go through all of our brief but you'll see some more examples in there.
We have looked at the women in our STEM occupations and found that they still cluster in the lower wage and lower security occupations. The example I've given is that we represent a university that does a lot of health care research, and the principal investigators who have more secure jobs tend to be male, and the women tend to be the research assistants working on one-year and 18-month contracts. Eventually we hear from our members that they need to leave that precarity in order to seek out something more secure that might take them out of a STEM occupation and certainly take them out of the trajectory they might have otherwise been in. So movement within the careers is identified there.
Harassment is still an issue where an employer is not giving a clear signal that women are welcome and that women are there because of their ability. We do find there is resistance to women being in workplaces where they are the overwhelming minority.
I'm going to throw it over to skilled trades specifically and to some promising examples. But before I do, again on a broad basis, in our trade union education we try to make sure people are exposed to diverse members delivering that education from different occupations.
I'm happy that we're going just after the Irving Shipbuilding example and that it's not just white women. It's also women of colour, it's also women with disabilities, and it's also racialized men. We try to bring in our anti-harassment, respectful workplace education. We also have a program of joint investigation where there are allegations of harassment or of a lack of a respectful workplace.
We have a scholarship offered to women going into a male-dominated field. That was put in place by one of our predecessors, the CEP, following the Montreal massacre, and tries to encourage women and give them the support they need in order to take steps that at the time when that scholarship was put in place were usual for women.
I'll throw it over to Terry.
View Mylène Freeman Profile
You mentioned safety and security guidelines and being able to understand security measures and things like that and really having access to those. We've had quite a few witnesses point to things like microaggressions as well. What they mean by that is not being taken seriously on the job, things like that, or as women being denigrated.
Have some of your students, or those who have gone into apprenticeship programs, experienced that kind of thing?
Nancy Darling
View Nancy Darling Profile
Nancy Darling
2015-04-28 11:43
They have.
It is a part of it sometimes. It's not just with the employers; it can sometimes be in the institutions as well, where women are maybe not perceived as taking it seriously. They've had comments such as that maybe they are there to find a husband more than to be a welder, and things like that.
We do a lot of work with the mentors and with our students on communication, and I think a lot of these things are about communication, being able to stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself on a job site. These are some of the things they need to know. But, yes, we have had those things reported for sure.
View Mylène Freeman Profile
Having more security around that would also be helpful instead of always putting the onus on them.
Nancy Darling
View Nancy Darling Profile
Nancy Darling
2015-04-28 11:44
One of the things we've heard is that if an employer is hiring a woman, everybody on that crew gets a call the night before with a heads-up that there will be a woman on site the next day. So the women have told us that when they come on site everyone says hello and then they clear a path around them. They're afraid of saying something to offend them, or maybe if the girl has really good skills they're a little bit afraid that she might take their job and they might not get picked up on the next project, and that sort of thing. So we have heard of that.
Saira Muzaffar
View Saira Muzaffar Profile
Saira Muzaffar
2015-04-21 11:26
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I thank the committee for inviting TechGirls Canada to present and to participate in this important study along with the other panel members here. In my statement, I will focus on six key reasons why our efforts to date are failing to achieve equitable change and equal compensation for women in STEM, and how we need to approach solutions going forward.
TGC focuses on building community and driving change by spearheading and amplifying support for women's leadership in STEM fields. Our platform provides national leadership to over 300 organizations working to encourage more women and girls to consider career options in tech fields.
Through numerous documented studies, we know that women's access to roles in leadership positions and their financial compensation in these positions do not competitively or equitably compare to the access and compensation available to men who have similar experience, expertise, and qualifications. This is true for most industry sectors, not just STEM fields, meaning that with all things being equal between two job candidates, one man and one woman, even in the average best-case scenario the woman will make 20% less money than the man and will face more barriers when applying for senior leadership positions than he will.
We in both the private sector and the public sector question why this is still the case at a time when we have the largest number of educated women and women in the workforce than we have ever had historically. This can be understood if we always remember the following.
One, simple access to education is not a good enough solution to attracting and retaining women in STEM fields. The education itself needs to be considered.
Two, there is no equality without equitability. When industry, institutions, education, and culture, both social and corporate, are designed to benefit the status quo and the privileged group, we cannot achieve equality between men and women without changing how we educate our youth, how we support professional development, how we structure and exercise hiring practices, and how we foster and promote leadership and excellence.
Three, individual merit does not trump and cannot balance the influence of institutional and behavioural barriers. Leaving the onus on the individual to represent themselves and transcend both institutional and social barriers is not a good enough solution and speaks to neither equality nor equitability. We have seen time and again how women in general are chastised for not negotiating better and for not being more assertive. These claims do nothing to address the systemic institutional barriers that keep women in the workforce from building STEM careers whilst being fairly compensated.
In order to address equitable change in STEM fields and others, we in the private sector and the public sector need to understand the language, the cues, and the baggage of being a woman in the workforce. A majority of our decision-makers are men in positions of authority who have blindly enjoyed their privilege without ever having to understand what micro-aggressions are, why safety and harassment at work go hand in hand with job security, and why having a family and more responsibilities can be perceived to mean one is less serious and less capable of taking on a prominent role in a company, instead of the opposite.
Real solutions lie in helping us become better at identifying and mitigating our learned and subjective biases, individually and organizationally. We need to think about merit at the same time that we think about privilege. We need to think about professional development at the same time that we think about meaningful access and support. We need to think about education and behavioural change for everyone, not just women. We need to deal with the issues at all stages simultaneously, from elementary school, to internships, to continued development and advancement appointments, because tackling only the pipeline portion of this problem does not provide any solutions to the women who are already in the workforce.
Real solutions lie in challenging the notion of fostering, hiring, and promoting only those who look like us. Most hiring policies in the private and public sector favour candidates who are a good cultural fit, a fit decided and informed by the existing privileged class. Lip service to race, gender, and social class understandably does not go far enough in helping decision-makers take into account how social barriers can shape a candidate's experiences and our perception of them.
I would like to close by helping you focus on a statistic that has terrified us at TechGirls into taking action, and I will caveat this by saying that the stat comes from U.S. Labor. A white woman makes on average 77 cents to every dollar her male colleagues earn. When we look at women of colour, that average drops to 55 cents. This is the state of things before we even look at the barriers of social class, access to education, support in professional development, and institutional barriers to health care, the judicial system, and a host of other relevant factors.
The situation is dire but not impossible to resolve. The solutions, however, need to be encompassing and, more importantly, they need to be tried, tested, measured, and improved, as all the panel members have spoken to.
We greatly look forward to the committee's study and recommendations and would like to support you in this in whatever way we can. The top three things we would like to communicate to the committee in regard to what we can do for women in the workforce right now are these: create legitimate transparency in hiring, compensation, and performance reviews; create and support awareness of learned and unconscious biases around race and gender; and invest in and incentivize flexible work infrastructure for both men and women.
Thank you.
View Kirsty Duncan Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Karen.
Ms. Muzaffar, you raised a really good point on micro-aggression. As you say, women are still chastised. The reason women aren't making the same amount of money is because we don't negotiate.
Can you comment on what your very specific recommendations would be here?
Saira Muzaffar
View Saira Muzaffar Profile
Saira Muzaffar
2015-04-21 12:30
My very specific recommendation would be that, as a government, you could gain a lot for us by incentivizing industry to change behaviours within workplaces. As a government, you cannot sit in boardrooms, cannot sit in on performance reviews, cannot sit in on all these other touch-points where micro-aggressions make a play, where women feel unsafe or feel what is now known as imposter syndrome. The specific recommendation would be to let TechGirls Canada, or organizations like TechGirls Canada, run beta tests on how things can change within workplaces; incentivize or make it easier for industry; and celebrate the fact that industry is getting behind changing the ratio, addressing intersectional issues.
Saira Muzaffar
View Saira Muzaffar Profile
Saira Muzaffar
2015-04-21 12:31
A micro-aggression would be if you sit down for a performance review and somebody tells you that when you're sitting with clients you should smile a lot more. That's a micro-aggression because that comment would not apply to a male counterpart. “Smile more”, “be polite”, “be nicer”, those are micro-aggressions. They are subtle social cues. Usually, but not always, these cues are socialized through men and women to the women in the workforce to make them fit a certain part. They're not saying anything that's illegal; it's not overt harassment. I am not the best person to give you more examples right now.
View Kirsty Duncan Profile
Lib. (ON)
I guess I will.
Ms. Muzaffar brought up a very difficult topic, which is micro-aggression. It does occur.
Would any of the other panellists like to address this?
Karen Low
View Karen Low Profile
Karen Low
2015-04-21 12:55
I'd just like to make one comment. As females, I think we've all been in situations where we've had it. I have found that perhaps the best thing I can do if I'm in that situation is to just take a moment, one to one.
If you as a male said something to me, John, and I was uncomfortable, I would come back and say, “John, I'm really uncomfortable with that. Can you tell me what you meant?” Would that make you think about what you said?
Female to male, that's what I have done. I've said, “Can you reframe that? Because I'm really confused now. I thought we were looking at my actions and the results, not whether I smiled or blinked my eyes twice.”
Saira Muzaffar
View Saira Muzaffar Profile
Saira Muzaffar
2015-04-21 12:56
This is what happens. Women are very good at problem-solving on our feet. This is what we do. We get stuck in a certain situation and we will deal with that situation, but we won't turn it into a practice or a recommendation. The recommendation is education and awareness, and it needs to bring in everyone, not just women. Lessons learned—
Linda Savoie
View Linda Savoie Profile
Linda Savoie
2015-03-24 11:26
Madam Chair, I am pleased to be here today on behalf of Status of Women Canada. We welcome your committee's timely study of women in skilled trades and the STEM occupations. It truly underscores the vital contribution that women make to the economic life of Canada.
In terms of the important role that women have in Canada's workplace, the good news is that in recent decades we've made considerable progress in workplace diversity. As my colleague from ESDC mentioned earlier, women now represent close to 50% of the Canadian workforce.
However, the same progress cannot be found for women's representation in skilled trades and STEM occupations. In 2011, men accounted for approximately 95% of all trade workers in Canada, and this proportion has not changed materially over the past two decades. As to the STEM occupations, women represent only some 22% of the workforce.
As we look to the future, Canada is facing a significant shortfall of tradespeople, since more than 25% of its workers are expected to retire over the next decade. Bringing women into the skilled trades can alleviate this labour force shortage that's anticipated in many sectors. As has been demonstrated by a number of studies, it can also help Canadian employers become more productive and globally competitive. Moreover, and to some degree more importantly, greater access for women to these well-paid positions will help women prosper, which in turn will benefit Canada's economy.
To increase the representation of women in some of these sectors, a number of challenges need to be addressed. The barriers to participation for women in the skilled trades along with technical and science-based occupations are complex, and they exist at various points on the path to education, training, employment, and advancement.
These barriers are found in curriculum development in elementary and secondary school, in college and university recruitment approaches, in hiring practices, and in workplace culture, to name just a few. For instance, in general, young women are still not being encouraged to consider the skilled trades or the STEM occupations as promising careers. Enlisting the support of parents and teachers can play an important role in helping young women see the full scope of these career opportunities.
In terms of the workplace, women working in these occupations report challenges such as inflexible schedules, few role models, an unwelcoming atmosphere, unsafe working conditions, or few advancement opportunities. It is also the case that some industries largely dependent on skilled trades workers and STEM professionals are not completely ready to consider hiring women or ready to be adjusting the workplace culture or its physical environment to welcome them.
To address these barriers, Status of Women Canada has undertaken a number of actions. For instance, our women's program funds a number of projects intended to support women in skilled trades and technical professions.
Since 2007, over $15 million has been invested in such projects. These are taking place in a variety of sectors ranging from mining, trucking and construction/building to communications and technology, science, engineering and energy—including oil and gas. And all these projects involve some form of collaboration between stakeholders such as industry/trade associations, industry human resource councils and other organizations.
In addition to projects, Status of Women Canada sponsored a knowledge exchange event, last year, to explore best practices to support women in the skilled trades and STEM.
The president of the Mining Association of Canada spoke about the need to get more women into mining. That position was echoed in a Globe and Mail article earlier this month, in which Goldcorp's vice-president of people referred to women as mining's untapped resource. She spoke to the need to address perceptions. Mining is no longer about going underground with a pick and axe. This is a highly technology-driven sector that can employ a range of professionals, from heavy equipment operators to engineers and technologists. Women can do all this and more, but they need to see how these sectors have changed in order to imagine themselves in these jobs.
Status of Women Canada also works with the provinces and territories. We are collaborating with the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum to develop a business case for women in the skilled trades and technical professions.
As a final example, in February 2014, Minister Leitch launched the Group of Leaders on Women in the Economy to look at ways to support women in the skilled trades and technical professions. In the coming weeks, the group will host a series of regional round tables to identify employer issues.
The initiatives that I've mentioned today reflect our recognition of the benefits of working with a wide variety of partners to support the advancement of women in skilled trades and technical professions as well as STEM-based careers.
I hope the information I've provided will be useful for your committee study and that it will spark your interest in meeting with some of the many very committed organizations that we have the privilege of working with on this issue.
I would be pleased to answer your questions. Merci.
View Sana Hassainia Profile
Ind. (QC)
Thank you, Ms. Wilson.
I now have some questions for Ms. Davis.
Good morning and welcome, Ms. Davis.
The documentation frequently shows that one of the problems for women in the Canadian Forces is the warrior culture.
Could you please explain to us what that is exactly, if the individuals who are primarily responsible are aware of this problem, and what measures could put a stop to this culture, which tends to belittle women and other minorities?
Karen Davis
View Karen Davis Profile
Karen Davis
2013-02-12 11:39
The warrior culture generally refers to those values that were assumed to be essential to operational effectiveness, especially in the combat arms domain: assumptions that women and men are different; men are strong, women are weak; women are protected, men protect women; women are emotionally unstable, men are more stable for fighting in war; that sort of thing. Up until 1989 when the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal said that women would be integrated into all environments and roles, the warrior culture and the values associated with an all-male environment were held as essential to combat effectiveness. We've learned since then that the all-male domain is not essential, but there are still strong values related to that, I would say, especially in the land combat arms.
View Stella Ambler Profile
Thank you.
Both of you mentioned culture change. I think we've heard from a number of our witnesses that things have changed over time. Your experiences have been since 1998, and I think, Ms. Davis, your experiences date back to when you joined the forces in 1978, I believe.
Ms. Davis, you spoke about the culture change. Can you tell us why the numbers are decreasing? We did hear from Mr. Karol Wenek that the incidences of sexual harassment are decreasing. We've also heard that of all the complaints in the Canadian Forces, 8% of all the harassment complaints are of a sexual nature. Actually, I don't know if it's 8% or 3.7%. It's in the single digits, in other words. Can you tell me why, in your experience over the years.... Has the culture change contributed to the decrease? I guess that is my question.
Karen Davis
View Karen Davis Profile
Karen Davis
2013-02-12 11:44
I think as more and more women are serving in the military, and especially moving into leadership roles, that can definitely have an impact on the culture.
In terms of whether the incidence of sexual harassment has actually gone down, I would reserve my opinion on that until I see the results of the 2012 survey, because I really do believe, having conducted interviews with close to 100 women who have served in the Canadian Forces, that a formal complaint is very much a last resort. The anonymous survey process is our best chance at getting a realistic measure of perceptions of harassment, but women perceiving that they've been harassed, again whether they're founded or not, is another question.
Overall, probably.... There are indications. For one thing, I think our leadership doctrine and our leadership training has developed considerably. Throughout the 1990s there were many investigations and boards that looked at the Canadian Forces very closely. In 1997 the Minister of National Defence at the time issued a report on the leadership and management of the Canadian Forces. That resulted in significant change in the way we developed military leaders. We shifted very much to a values-based model with an emphasis on Canadian values, representing what Canadian citizens wanted to see in their military.
View Lise St-Denis Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you.
Madam Chair, I apologize. I was absent from the previous meetings. I was not present for all your discussions, but I find the topic very interesting, and I have a few questions.
My first question is for Ms. Davis.
A little earlier, you spoke about the warrior culture. You said that women were welcome as long as they could adapt. My question is about the culture. What do you mean when you say that the women must adapt? Does that mean that they must adopt the same attitude as the men so that the men will accept having them there? I would like you to expand a little on this. What do you mean when you say that a woman in the field must adapt?
Karen Davis
View Karen Davis Profile
Karen Davis
2013-02-12 11:50
When a woman joins an occupation like combat arms in particular—sort of the last domain that women are integrating into—what I'm saying is that there are certain things that are considered very important in combat arms, such as physical strength, being able to withstand various types of adversity, and that sort of thing. When women come into that environment, there is a certain culture that supports that kind of toughness, that warrior resilience.
If women come into such an environment and start complaining, about people swearing in their presence, for example, and those sorts of things, they will soon lose credibility. So women learn to accept the way the environment is, in certain ways, in order to be accepted by their peers and become an integrated part of the unit.
One of the things that have been noticed by many over the years is that when a woman joins a traditional all-male environment, she believes she's been accepted when she's become one of the guys. Women aren't given opportunities to change the values in those environments or the way they operate, but they are accepted, as long as they can perform effectively within the environment.
View Lise St-Denis Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you.
My second question is for Ms. Wilson.
We are saying that women are accepted by men if they adopt a certain attitude. How do women behave toward women in that environment? Is there a lot of competition between them? If not, do they protect each other? Do they form separate groups? Do they try to completely integrate with the men?
Shanna Wilson
View Shanna Wilson Profile
Shanna Wilson
2013-02-12 11:52
I think, as Ms. Davis said, it depends. When you get into an environment such as combat arms, which is a very masculine-type environment, I think that sense of needing to integrate is probably stronger than in, say, a logistics-based environment, where that stress and that need to be very masculine is reduced.
My experience from the private sector to the military has been very, very similar to that of other women. I think it depends on the nature of the individuals you have there. I think it also depends on the leadership to manage those personalities.
Even within my time within the forces, if I were to do something very physically competitive, I'd probably be surrounded by other women who were also apt to be very competitive, for example, with some of the base teams. You'll see that just based on the interests of that group.
I've also been in environments where it's very female heavy and very supportive as well, in particular for those who seem to have already gone through the military, let's say 10 years prior. There's a mentorship role that quite often gets adapted.
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