Good evening, everyone. It's really nice to be with you this evening.
The London Abused Women's Centre is a feminist agency that takes systemic action to end the oppression of women and girls while providing immediate access to service for women and girls across this country who are over the age of 12 and who are abused by their partners, trafficked and/or sexually exploited. Last year, the agency served 8,137 women and girls.
The critical gap that we see in the government's COVID response is the lack of a feminist analysis. The response does not reflect fundamental power differentials between women and men in any of the measures taken to address COVID. A feminist analysis is essential to the government's response to this life-threatening virus that disproportionately impacts women, and in particular indigenous women and girls.
The $50-million measure to help manage or prevent outbreaks in sexual assault centres and shelters, including in indigenous communities, is woefully inadequate. According to my Liberal MP's office, this federal envelope excludes at least 600 agencies across Canada, including the London Abused Women's Centre. During this pandemic, when women are isolated in their homes with their abusers and their children are exposed to violence regularly, no funding is provided in the COVID response to allow women to have immediate access to potentially life-saving services.
The Canada emergency response benefit excludes eligibility for Canada's most vulnerable women and girls: those being trafficked and those trying to leave their abusers. Trafficked and sexually exploited women and girls require funding to leave their traffickers, funding that allows them to move back to their homes in other provinces and cities across this country, to re-enter the school system, to attend job training, to attend substance use services, to find housing and even to eat.
Trafficking and sexual exploitation is not a job. It is male violence against women. These women are not provided with T4 slips by their traffickers. They have no record of ever receiving money, because actually they rarely do. It is their traffickers who keep the money. Sometimes these girls experience paid rape for up to 20 times a day to satisfy their trafficker's quota.
Leaving a trafficker is extremely dangerous and difficult. This is especially the case during COVID, but the chances of being able to leave and be free are much better with comprehensive supports and funding to allow victims to live in freedom.
What of those women trapped in their homes with their abusers? Many have no work experience because many of those women are trapped in their homes, with or without COVID, and are unable to do anything without their abusive partner's permission.
There is no COVID funding available for women to help them leave their abusers in this plan, and while women abused by their partners and/or trafficked and exploited women will have no government funds, unfortunately their abusers do. Business owners in the sex trade—also known as traffickers or organized crime—are permitted access to an interest-free loan, with up to 25% of it forgiven if it's repaid before December 2020. While victims of trafficking are being raped every day, their trafficker will be taken care of through the Canada emergency business account.
We have serious concerns about the government's betrayal of Canadian women and girls. COVID has made their lives so much more dangerous.
Notwithstanding an announced $75 million to address sex trafficking, the Government of Canada has discontinued its funding to at least 11 agencies in Canada, all working to give freedom and hope to trafficked and sexually exploited women and girls. Instead, according to the Minister for Women and Gender Equality and the Minister of Justice, the government has decided that a third year—a third year in a row—of consultation on the issue is necessary. Three years of consultation is unnecessary. We know the problems and we have the solutions. Consulting around the country during COVID is costly and a waste of time.
The approximate cost to keep 11 agencies across this country open is $1.5 million per year. Refusing to fund these organizations until after further consultation is not based on a feminist analysis and it is not based on logic. It’s harmful and life-threatening to women and girls in need of services. That keeps my team up all night and it should keep all of you up all night as well.