Canada: Women's Voices Silenced Yet Again

10 February 2010

The Ad Hoc Coalition for Women's Equality and Human Rights comment that while the end of Canada's parliamentary session has stopped a national investigation into violence against Aboriginal women, Bill C-139 to repeal the gun registry will proceed. The private members bill passed its second reading in November 2009. Upon return of Parliament on 3 March 2010, the bill will be revived to the stage it was at prior to prorogation. That means it will be subject to a third reading when Parliament resumes its next session. If the bill passes its third reading, the long gun registry set up in response to the Montreal massacre of 14 women will no longer exist.

Repealing the registry would destroy eight million firearms records. This means Canadian police will no longer know the whereabouts or ownership of millions of guns in Canada. The registry is a critical tool for police attempting to assist domestic violence victims – the vast majority of whom are women. It allows police to check if a house contains long gun arms – critical knowledge as a woman is 12 times more likely to be murdered if their abuser has a gun. The Domestic Violence Death Review Committee found access to firearms was present in 47% of domestic homicides in 2007.

Read the complete release below.

WOMEN’S VOICES SILENCED YET AGAIN

Who could have imagined Canada would need a pro-democracy movement? That thought was expressed at the January 23 Parliament Hill rally to protest Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s two month prorogation of Parliament. By shutting down Parliament, Harper shut down the voice of the people of Canada.

Silenced yet again, are Canadian women. As if slashing funding to women’s advocacy groups and eliminating the Courts Challenges Program wasn’t enough, Harper has shut down women’s yet voices again - this time on the disappearance of Aboriginal women and a bill to address Canada’s homelessness crisis.

These issues of vital importance to Canadian women would have tackled on a national scale Canada’s homelessness crisis and the disappearance and murder of more than 500 Aboriginal women since 1970.

Canada is the only country in the G-8 without a national housing strategy. The New Democratic Party’s Bill C-304 “an Act to ensure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians,” would have forced Parliament to establish one. The bill introduced by New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies would have achieved a National Housing Strategy through consultation between the Minister for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, provincial ministers, municipalities and Aboriginal Communities. The bill passed its second reading in November 2009, upon a successful third reading the bill would have become law.

The recession makes affordable housing an issue that can no longer wait. More than half a million jobs were lost in Canada and more than 150,000 Canadian households have been evicted since the start of the recession. Worse, Canada’s housing supply deficit (the difference between the number of rental seeking households and rental units available) is growing at 220,000 households annually.

Prorogation stopped progress on this important bill. Closing the doors of Parliament means up to 300,000 Canadians are spending another winter on the streets. Another three million Canadians – nearly 15% of the Canadian population - live in unaffordable housing. More than 705, 165 households subsist in over-crowded housing. (Figures from the Wellesley Institute – Submission on Bill C-304.)

Why is Bill C-304 important to women? A Canadian Medical Association study published in April, 2004 stated homeless women in Toronto are dying at ten times the rate of non-homeless women aged between 18 to 44 years of age. In the same year, a Statistics Canada study showed 20% of homeless women in Toronto had been sexually assaulted or raped in the last 12 months. This compares to 3% of women in the general population. For Aboriginal women, the situation is even more desperate. There are an estimated 3,000 homeless women and their children in Canada’s North, where the temperature can dip to –60 degrees Celsius. Greater Vancouver has an Aboriginal population of 2%, while Aboriginal people comprise up to 30% of the City’s homeless population.

“It is simply unacceptable that Canada’s most vulnerable citizens – women and children living in absolute homeless have to endure two more months of fear and human degradation due to prorogation of Parliament,” said Jessica Notwell from the Ad Hoc Coalition of Women’s Equality and Human Rights. “Harper needs to get back to work and allow Parliament to discuss and hopefully turn into law this urgently needed bill.”

Homeless Canadian women and their children will now suffer the indignities of homelessness for more weeks to come - all because Stephen Harper decided he wanted a break from work. The homeless have waited a long time for their voices to be heard. The Harper Conservatives have obstructed two other bills (Bills C-382 and C-509) calling for a national housing strategy which date back to 2005. Through prorogation of Parliament, Stephen Harper has made it clear that homeless women and their children don’t count.

“Canada ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which includes the right to adequate housing, Stephen Harper needs to open the doors of Parliament immediately to allow Canada to meet its international obligations under this Covenant,” said Jessica Notwell from the Ad Hoc Coalition of Women’s Equality and Human Rights.

Stephen Harper has also made it clear that Aboriginal women don’t count. Since 1970, 520 Aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing – almost half of them in the last decade. Of that number, 67 percent were murdered and 24 percent are still missing. Fourteen percent of the missing girls were under 18 years of age. Many of the missing Aboriginal women and girls disappeared along the Highway of Tears in the interior of British Columbia.

Liberal Status of Women Critic Anita Neville has repeatedly called for the Conservative Government to launch a comprehensive and national investigation into the missing Aboriginal women. Time and again, the Conservatives have failed to take action on the matter. In May 2009, the Liberals asked for a full investigation in the House of Commons. A reply was received in June from the Conservatives that did not address the request for a national investigation. The most recent request was made by Ms. Neville on January 29, 2010. In August 2009, the Manitoba Government intervened and announced it would investigate unsolved cases in its provinces. While welcome, this falls short of a national investigation. Prorogation by the Conservative Government has further delayed democratic discussion on this important issue.

“Despite the Harper governments so called law and order agenda, the Conservatives have conveniently ignored the issue of the disappearance of Aboriginal women in Canada,” said Jessica Notwell of the Ad Hoc Coalition of Women’s Equality and Human Rights.

“It is completely unacceptable for 520 women in Canada to go missing or murdered and for there to be no national investigation into the matter. This is just another example of the Conservative Government treating women as if they do not count.”

Ironically, while prorogation has stopped a national investigation into violence against Aboriginal women, Bill C-139 to repeal the gun registry will proceed. The private members bill passed its second reading in November 2009. Upon return of Parliament on March 3, the bill will be revived to the stage it was at prior to prorogation. That means it will be subject to a third reading when Parliament resumes its next session. If the bill passes its third reading, the long gun registry set up in response to the Montreal massacre of 14 women will no longer exist.

Repealing the registry would destroy eight million firearms records. This means Canadian police will no longer know the whereabouts or ownership of millions of guns in Canada. The registry is a critical tool for police attempting to assist domestic violence victims – the vast majority of whom are women. It allows police to check if a house contains long gun arms – critical knowledge as a woman is 12 times more likely to be murdered if their abuser has a gun. The Domestic Violence Death Review Committee found access to firearms was present in 47% of domestic homicides in 2007.

The delay prorogation has caused in investigating the deaths of Aboriginal women and a national housing strategy adds to the pain women have felt under the Harper Government. Since coming to power, Harper removed the pursuit of equality” from the mandate of Status of Women Canada (SWC), closed 12 out of 16 SWC offices in Canada and cut $5 million dollars of funding to the already underfunded Status of Women. Any women’s groups that advocated for women’s equality had their funding removed completed.

The Harper Government abandoned the Liberals’ plan for universal child care, put pay equity on hold and cut funding to women’s advocacy groups. The Court Challenges Program that subsidized test cases under the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms was killed off. The program allowed financially disadvantaged groups to assert their constitutional rights. A major beneficiary was the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) which intervened in over 150 constitutional equality cases including violence against women, sexual assault and pay equity issues.

The prorogation of Parliament and the loss of democratic discussion on these two key issues is another assault by the Harper Government on Canadian women’s democratic rights. The Harper Government’s prorogation represents the most recent attempt to shut down female voices in Canada. The Coalition strongly believes women in Canada won’t be so easily silenced.

http://www.womensequality.ca

Source:
Ad Hoc Coalition for Women's Equality and Human Rights