Evidence of meeting #33 for Finance in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was pandemic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Steven Grenier  President, Association des camps du Québec
Benoît Fontaine  President, Chicken Farmers of Canada
Joe Belliveau  Executive Director, Doctors Without Borders
Daniel Bernhard  Executive Director, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting
Kevin Neveu  President and Chief Executive Officer, Precision Drilling Corporation
Michael Wood  Partner, Ottawa Special Events
Alan Shepard  President and Vice-Chancellor, Western University
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. David Gagnon
Michael Laliberté  Executive Director, Chicken Farmers of Canada
Jason Nickerson  Humanitarian Affairs Adviser, Doctors Without Borders
Katherine Scott  Senior Researcher, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Nina Labun  Chief Executive Officer, Donwood Manor Personal Care Home
Megan Walker  Executive Director, London Abused Women's Centre
Vicki Saunders  Founder, SheEO
Melpa Kamateros  Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

6 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Donwood Manor Personal Care Home

Nina Labun

Yes, and thank you for asking about that. The Province of Manitoba just announced today the rollout of that financial top-up. I do think that will be very helpful for the direct care staff. Some of the parameters are obviously exclusionary—it's income-tested—but hopefully.... It is something that my staff certainly are waiting for and looking for.

6 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thanks, all of you.

We have Mr. Ste-Marie, followed by Ms. Mathyssen.

Go ahead, Gabriel. You're on.

June 2nd, 2020 / 6 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First, I want to thank you for your presentations. They're certainly some of the most moving and touching presentations that we've heard since the start of COVID-19. They were also very informative.

My first questions are for Ms. Kamateros.

Regarding conjugal violence during COVID-19, can you elaborate on what you're seeing on the ground? Are you seeing more reports, or are you concerned that there may be more unreported conjugal violence?

6 p.m.

Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

Melpa Kamateros

According to Canadian statistics, only 30% of the cases of conjugal violence are declared. The underlying majority of 70% of the cases never are, and this is for many reasons: the shame, the secrecy, the silence and the fear that still surrounds this topic, even today in the 21st century.

With women who cannot speak the language.... I always revert to this, because for this clientele, they are called doubly vulnerable clientele. You see, if I speak English and you speak French, and somebody else speaks Swahili, Kirundi or another language, then there's no equality of access. There's no choice of action.

Here in Canada, unfortunately, in the 21st century, there are women victims of conjugal violence who still do not have that equality, that choice of action that either I or somebody else might have because we speak English or French. This is what I've seen in the field.

We presume also that because we have such wonderful services in Quebec and in Canada—we've presented many times internationally on the services we have here at home—it means immediate access. It doesn't. There is a large sector of the population that does not know and cannot access. There is this inequality. This is what I've seen in the field.

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Thank you.

You spoke of the lack of housing for abused women and the lack of shelters and safe houses. You also spoke of the significance of the social housing agreement. In recent years, a significant amount of money has been announced. However, unfortunately, the agreement between Ottawa and Quebec still hasn't been signed. We hope that this will happen soon and that some money will be freed up.

You said that there was a housing shortage before the COVID-19 pandemic and that, since the current crisis, the situation is even worse. How are the instructions for physical distancing during the pandemic affecting the housing situation?

My colleague Andréanne Larouche, the member for Shefford, suggested that, since hotels are currently underused, the government could act as a facilitator to ensure that hotel rooms serve as emergency shelters for women and their families who are being abused. What do you think about this?

6:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

Melpa Kamateros

As I've said, the underlying issues that were there prior to COVID are still there. One of these pressing issues is social housing. In Quebec now they have established what we call alternative housing, which includes some rooms in hotels.

However, a key problem with having the rooms is that you don't have the services. A key issue that is also associated with the social housing is that if you give the money to increase the social housing and to increase the space in shelters—and our shelter and others were working at 105% occupancy rate last year—you have to also give money to provide the necessary services. A key problem with the hotels they have set up in Quebec is the lack of services. For example, if a woman is referred to the hotel and stays in quarantine, she has to stay there for 14 days. It's too long a time. If there's nobody to speak to her, she leaves. Half of the people who went there left, actually. It's an issue.

Overall, I would say that funding is the issue, funding for the social housing and funding also for the services.

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Thank you. That's very informative.

How can the federal government provide support and help reduce conjugal violence? You spoke of funding for the services that you just mentioned and for more housing. You also spoke of an allowance that would go directly to victims of conjugal violence. That's also very valuable.

Can you elaborate on what the government can do?

6:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

Melpa Kamateros

As I said in my presentation, the funding for the social housing and for the services is lacking. It has come now within a pandemic, so we're scrambling to make things happen. What we really need though, also, is more funding for the victims themselves. The situation of being in conjugal violence is an emergency situation. It is a situation that affects the well-being, the human rights and the civil rights of a person who is living in Canada.

Women, according to our experience, who are financially dependent and who come into our services with nothing need financing in order to be able to provide services for themselves and to be able to support their children. We believe strongly that the federal government should provide some sort of allowance or financial contribution to victims because they need this. They need this.

Given the experience that any of the hundred or so shelters in Quebec have or that the shelters all over Canada have, I think they would all say the same thing: Please give financial support to all victims of conjugal violence.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you.

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Thank you.

Mr. Chair, I want to inform you that I'll once again be speaking as the Bloc Québécois representative in the second round.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thanks, Gabriel.

We will turn to Ms. Mathyssen, who will be followed by Ms. Harder.

Go ahead, Lindsay.

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, all, for joining us today and sharing what you've presented. It's really clear that this pandemic has certainly been having long-term gendered impacts, and with everything you are doing within that sector to help women, your sector is so crucial.

Ms. Scott, from the numbers you showed us today, we see that many women, obviously, work in those low-wage precarious jobs. They don't have the benefits that people with higher-paying jobs have. They don't have the sick leave benefits. You mentioned the universal paid sick leave, so as a New Democrat I'm really happy to hear that.

How would you recommend putting in place that paid sick leave to best benefit women, and has your organization gone through research and looked at how that could be best implemented in Canada?

6:10 p.m.

Senior Researcher, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Katherine Scott

Thanks so much for that question.

No, the whole issue of paid sick leave obviously has risen to the top of considerations. We're looking at different models now about how you would implement that. Certainly that's been an issue on our radar. My colleagues in British Columbia are looking at different models, and also in Ontario. We don't have a particular model that we would be proposing now. It remains a critical problem.

Canada, actually comparatively, has really fallen quite behind in terms of the amount of paid leave typically that's available to Canadian workers. The issue here, of course, is that such large numbers of workers don't have access either. They might have access to the EI system but many workers actually don't qualify for EI. It's estimated that only 40% of workers do.

The sick leave there isn't widely available. Labour and employment legislation and regulations at the provincial level don't provide necessary leave as well, particularly for precarious, marginalized or migrant workers, which is another critical group of workers who are hugely vulnerable right now and are being felled by the illness.

Yes, we're looking at different models. Hopefully that will be one of the lasting impacts of the model. We have to revisit all of our income security support systems. This has graphically revealed the gaps and the failure of our social security system safety net to protect upwards of a third of our workforce that is engaged in part-time, precarious, temporary contract work.

That's really something that we have to pay attention to, going forward, as we start to track the polarization between workers: those of us who can stay home and do our work and enjoy that privilege, versus the many workers in Canada who simply cannot do that. Reforming labour legislation and income security has to be a piece of what we're doing.

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Yes, absolutely. That divide between those who have and those who have not was certainly evident before, but it is growing.

Just quickly, and this can be answered by whoever wishes to address it. There's been a lot of talk about child care. I do find it interesting that there was a hit, considering there was 13 years of a Liberal majority governments where they chose not to provide that child care, and another four years of a majority government just recently where choices could be made. That federal leadership is extremely necessary.

I think we've seen a bit of shifting of that lack of leadership, trying to put it onto the provinces. Would Ms. Scott or whoever else like to discuss specifically the creation of a pan-Canadian child care network and system, so that a lot of the different provinces aren't unequal? They would ensure that we retain those high-skilled workers who aren't paid a decent amount, so that we ensure that monies are provided to increase the spaces available.

6:15 p.m.

Senior Researcher, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Katherine Scott

I can speak briefly to that since I already alluded to it. I'll leave the floor for someone else.

Obviously, child care is critical. We have a model in Canada that certainly isn't worthy of emulation. It's largely driven by private fees, the parent fees and the like. It's enormously expensive. The research that we do every year where we survey over 10,000 child care centres and whatnot to produce the child care fees report speaks to the very high level. Next to shelter, it's one of the highest expenses, certainly, for families.

With the idea of stabilizing that money, we really have to direct money. The federal government has a critical role to play in channelling those monies to centres to stabilize, so they are not directly reliant on parent fees. We really have to get into child care and understand it is an essential public service and start to fund it like that.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Does someone else want to add to that answer?

Ms. Mathyssen, do you want to go again? You have a quick question.

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Absolutely.

A lot of the women who work in organizations that I've spoken to consistently struggle with that idea of project funding. I know, Ms. Walker, this was a key example of what your organization faced in terms of it being the end of one program and the fund associated with it. Obviously the services and what you provide to the community needed to continue.

I've heard consistently that project funding alone is not sufficient. It wasn't sufficient before and it certainly isn't sufficient now when we live in this pandemic world where you are facing emergencies, crises and situations you never thought of. You can't allocate any sort of core funding that you might have had before or should have to some of those services that you need.

Do you support converting the capacity-building fund grants to more of a core funding allocation? How would that help support your organization?

Again, perhaps other people want to address that, not just the London Abused Women's Centre.

6:15 p.m.

Executive Director, London Abused Women's Centre

Megan Walker

Lindsay, I'll say something really quickly, which is that if it is the government's priority [Technical difficulty—Editor] in all of its forms, then it should be the government's responsibility to ensure ongoing access to funding, because if you close a program, first of all, it's very costly, then, if you have to reopen it. Secondly, it leaves women and girls destitute, with nowhere else to go. In cases of trafficking, they return to their trafficker. In cases of intimate partner violence, they return to their abuser.

I've heard from the Liberal government many times that ending violence against women and freeing women from oppression is a priority. It can't be just spoken about. It must be backed with funding.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

We'll now go to five-minute rounds.

We'll start with Ms. Harder, followed by Mr. McLeod.

Go ahead, Ms. Harder.

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you so much to all of you for joining us today.

One of the last things that the status of women committee looked at about a year ago and submitted a report on was shelters and the fact that there is in fact a lack of funding and a lack of policy from the government in terms of supporting the vulnerable women who would use such centres.

Further to that, we've once again seen a cut, actually in the midst of this pandemic, where, Ms. Walker, you've said that your centre isn't receiving funding. We know of about 600-plus centres across the country that are not receiving funding. This seems to be contrary to the report and what it called for just last spring. What a time to cut or to reduce that funding when we're in the middle of a pandemic and we're seeing a dramatic increase in domestic violence against women and girls.

Further to that, funding was also cut with regard to conquering or going after those who would victimize women and girls through sex trafficking. Ms. Walker, you talked a bit about this and the impact it has had on your organization, and about the fact that it has of course stagnated or threatened to stagnate some of the really great work that you folks are doing there in London, Ontario.

Ms. Walker, just to begin with, I wonder if you could address this misnomer that trafficking happens in other countries and perhaps, the perception is, even in developed countries, but surely not in Canada. We know that is not in fact the case, but I think it's really difficult for many people to wrap their heads around what trafficking looks like here in our own country. There was a recent report just this winter that came out from CTV news. They reported that 93% of those who are trafficked within this country are in fact Canadian citizens.

I wonder if you could shed light on what it looks like to be an individual who is trafficked within the nation of Canada. In a really practical sense, how does that work?

6:20 p.m.

Executive Director, London Abused Women's Centre

Megan Walker

It's very easy. In fact, since COVID, we see all sorts of children at home because they're no longer in school, their parents are working from home and they're on the Internet quite a bit.

We've actually received six phone calls now from parents who, since COVID, have had their children, their underage girls, lured online by a man who pretends to be a young boy interested in the girl and who asks her to do sexual things online and remove her clothes. He then uses that against her, indicating that if she doesn't provide him with more, he will call her parents and tell them or, also, he has oftentimes seen other family members in the videos and he will lure her younger sister. This is going on every day, on an all-day basis.

London is a hub for trafficking, so I'm very familiar with what happens. It's partly because we have a college and a university and also because we have easy access off Highway 401 and a number of entry points. This is happening across our country. It used to be that traffickers would traffic guns or drugs, but that meant they always had to go back and buy more drugs or guns to traffic. Now they can lure women and girls and not pay one cent for them, traffic them and make their living. They're making approximately $300,000 per year per woman and girl.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Wow.

Ms. Walker, the fund that was put forward in order to support the combat of human trafficking in 2009 was $57.22 million, which is a significant amount of money. Certainly there could be more, but now there's zero due to the reduction by this government.

You've outlined a few ways that women and girls can be trafficked. Further to that, it's my understanding that women and girls can also be trafficked through their schools, in shopping malls. You mentioned colleges, universities, online, massage parlours. All of these serve as venues through which women and girls are trafficked.

You mentioned earlier in your testimony that they are not actually paid; it is the person who traffics them who is paid. These women and girls unfortunately go without a sum of money.

What I find interesting is that the current government is giving a wage subsidy to many of these organizations that are responsible for the trafficking of these women and girls, but providing zero when it comes to helping the women and girls themselves.

Can you comment on that further?

6:20 p.m.

Executive Director, London Abused Women's Centre

Megan Walker

Well, we always say that all girls and women are potential victims of violence for no other reason than the sex they were born with. Traffickers are searching for girls to go across the country to sell to be raped basically. The younger the girl is, the more money that trafficker will get, and if she's underage and a virgin, he's hit the jackpot.

That's the reality of the work that we do every single day. When women and girls who are trafficked walk into our office, they largely come because of referrals from police. They don't want to stay; they want to go home. They miss their moms, their dads. They don't want to be used in this way any longer.

This is a very serious issue, and if there is no funding to address it, as I said earlier, these girls will go right back to their traffickers. Trafficking is a very complicated issue, and I would love to have hours to be able to explain it.

Traffickers know that recruiting other girls is illegal, so they use other women within what they call their “stable”—like animals, their stable of women—to go out to do the recruiting. Oftentimes you'll read that it's young women who are being arrested and charged with recruitment actions, and that's because they're termed “the bottom bitch” and they're turned out to do that very job.

This is a crisis. We have a crisis. We are losing girls and women. We are working in youth detention centres where traffickers are planting girls there to recruit the girls when they come out. This is a very serious issue.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you, both.

Mr. McLeod.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all the presenters today. This is a very interesting discussion, for sure.

I am the member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories. I represent a large indigenous population; over half of my constituency is indigenous. When word of the pandemic started to surface, we were all very concerned. The history of epidemics and pandemics shows that indigenous people always pay the highest price. A lot of times—almost all the time—we've been left to fend for ourselves, with very little government support.

We've been quite happy, then, to see the investment made by this government. It's very significant. It's actually historic. Over 500 shelters and sexual assault centres have been funded. Money is flowing to the north. We have many people who are unemployed, and we've seen some really significant and new types of investment in the north. We've seen it across the country, for that matter.

In terms of indigenous community support, we've seen money for on the land programs, which has really helped us out. Our friendship centres got support. That really helped us out. This is the first time we're seeing that type of support. It's bringing communities together. At the same time, more people are venturing out into the wilderness and back on the land than I've ever seen. It's been a long, long time. It's allowed our communities to do different things. It's allowed our communities to restrict alcohol sales. It's allowed our communities to put more security on our highways. It's stopped a lot of the bootleggers and drug dealers. Of course, we're able to do that because we're fairly isolated. We've also been able to set up on the land counselling camps, where people who are traumatized, people who are having a difficult time, can go and talk to elders and talk to some of the knowledge-keepers. It's working really well for us.

I don't think it's the same in the south. Different issues challenge people in urban centres versus rural. I know that there are differences when it comes to how indigenous women are dealing with the pandemic versus non-indigenous.

To SheEO, is there any information pointing to the fact that indigenous women and non-indigenous women are affected differently by the pandemic?