Evidence of meeting #19 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was women.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Paulette Senior  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation
Angela Bonfanti  Senior Vice-President, Foundation Programs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Marie-France Lafleur
Elizabeth Cahill  Committee Researcher

June 15th, 2020 / 2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kate Young Liberal London West, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to go back to you, Ms. Senior, and talk about some of the programs our government has put into place. I'm so proud that we were the government that actually made Women and Gender Equality Canada a full-time ministry. We're really working hard. We put aside $57 million to help combat human trafficking. I think it's a much broader plan than what was previously announced.

Certainly, we know that the money does take time to get out and that COVID-19 has increased the concerns about making sure the smaller agencies do get the money they need. How do you see this influx of dollars helping in the long term with this tragic circumstance of human trafficking?

2:40 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

I think we continue to learn from what our grantees are telling us with respect to trafficking. It's an area of work that the Canadian Women's Foundation has been funding for several years. I think the more we learn, the better we are able to protect all kinds of folks who get caught up in this terrible experience. We're able to see it as part of the bigger picture when we talk about gender-based violence, but also the exploitation of women as it concerns sex, as it concerns labour and as it concerns many types of areas.

Sexual exploitation is one area. Labour exploitation is one. Women who are in precarious circumstances will also experience that. Women with disabilities will also experience that. I think it's important that we have a lens to look at the issue with a broad perspective and to learn. The learning that we have been informed by at the foundation continues to help shape the kinds of programs that we are seeing happening in local, grassroots communities across the country. I think it is very important as we forward that we include that, as well, in a national action plan on gender-based violence.

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kate Young Liberal London West, ON

I've been working with the Minister for Women and Gender Equality and also the Minister of Public Safety to see if the funding available for the London Abused Women's Centre and their human trafficking component can be accessed through other sources.

I know that this is a concern of many organizations, but I think what I'm seeing is a government that really is trying to make sure this issue is addressed. I hope that you would agree with that.

2:40 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

Absolutely, I would agree with that. It's important to always be addressing the issue of trafficking, which is one aspect of gender-based violence, but it's also about being able to keep women safe in their communities, and children as well. I think it's important to consider all aspects of that. I know that Public Safety has been the source of the funding. Like many other organizations that are serving folks who are victims of trafficking across the country, I think all organizations need to be supported.

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kate Young Liberal London West, ON

Thank you very much.

Ms. Bonfanti, I'll turn to you for a moment, if I could. I was so impressed when you made your presentation and said that the CNIB had reached out to nearly 10,000 Canadians since the beginning of COVID. I'm sure their concerns have changed over the last couple of months, but just to go back to what we were saying before, it is so important for the government to move forward and to make sure that people with disabilities do get the money that they desperately need.

2:40 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Foundation Programs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Angela Bonfanti

Yes, absolutely. I don't know if there was a question there that you wanted me to answer specifically, but I would absolutely agree. We're at just about 10,000 calls completed. These are unique calls. They are conversations; they're not attempts. We have tens of thousands more in attempts.

What we're hearing hasn't really changed, if I can be honest, over the last couple of months. People are still afraid. They still don't know what this means for them in the long term. They don't know what this means for them and their jobs and their families. Many of them have young families and have been forced to stay away from work.

Also, we're hearing about a lot of discrimination. It's unintended, yes, and we understand that people are scared for themselves, but we're hearing about people being ostracized because they have to use their fingers to touch an elevator button. Well, they can't see to use their elbows. We're also hearing about people being ostracized at grocery stores because they need a sighted guide. They're showing up at their local grocery stores, which have had to change the whole layout of their supermarket, and they have no idea what's in an aisle anymore, and there's a piece of paper with writing on it in pencil.

In a world where we're trying to be contactless for everything, we really have a huge opportunity to not forget about individuals who see the world through touch. That is a major concern for us. We hear that on nearly every one of our calls. That continues to happen on a daily basis.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. Bonfanti and Ms. Young.

We're going to go back to the Conservatives for five minutes.

Is it Mrs. Kusie?

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Stephanie Kusie Conservative Calgary Midnapore, AB

No, it's Ms. Vecchio.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Ms. Vecchio, it's over to you for five minutes, please.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Thanks very much. I really appreciate that.

Carrying on, Ms. Senior, with what Ms. Young asked about, when we talk about human trafficking, we know there had been some funds through the MAPI that are no longer being provided. Can you share your view on that? Are there any transitions that you're seeing taking part in the programs you're working in with human trafficking during this time when there is no funding available?

2:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

I couldn't speak to that issue specifically. I've certainly seen and heard some of the reports in the news, but I can't speak to that. My understanding is that funding was available multi-year through Public Safety, and that's no longer available. I understand that when contracts end, it could be a problem. I think it's possibly.... Even now, during the pandemic, it's difficult to say. As I said earlier, we fund a number of organizations across the country that provide funding to organizations that do work in trafficking, along with other things they do.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Excellent.

2:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

They share their experiences with us from time to time. What they're talking about in terms of needs at the moment is still to be able to keep their doors open, to be able to do their work and to have the funds they need, whether they need that to work from home and have the technology to do that or to provide PPE, but in terms of London, I can speak to them directly.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Okay. You provide funding to some of these organizations in terms of human trafficking. What is that funding specifically for? Is it to fill a void or a gap that the government doesn't fill, or is it to supply an education piece? What do you direct your funding for, in terms of human trafficking?

2:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

It's for a number of things. It's to be able to understand what's happening in the community, particularly with vulnerable young women, but also with women overall and women who are in specific, precarious areas of work. They may also have some precarity around their immigration status. There are a number of different kinds of folks they're working with. To be able to understand what their specific vulnerabilities are and how that differs across a spectrum is also important because then it informs the kinds of funding that we continue to do.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Looking at your funding, you're giving it to some of these organizations. Is it across the country, or are they specific? Where do you give your funding to?

2:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

It goes to different organizations across the country. A good example would be YWCA in Halifax, where they do a community-based program. They have a number of partners they work with, and they also meet together to share some of their evaluation results. They certainly share their work with each other, and then we get the reports that they share with us, which then continue to inform our work.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Have you seen any of the reports regarding domestic violence or human trafficking during this pandemic? Have you had that lens these last few months?

2:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

We have certainly surveyed a number of our grantees, who have told us some of this information. Some of them have reported even up to a 400% increase in terms of calls. Some of them have talked about having to change their practices, and the increased costs in terms of cleaning and the PPE that they need, which they wouldn't have had in their budgets. There is also the cost of the technology, as I said, in terms of some of them being able to work from home. Some have extraordinary costs in terms of safe practices in the shelter around isolating folks who may actually have contracted the virus.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

That's wonderful to hear.

When it comes to dealing with women in this pandemic, what should the top three priorities be, looking at this specific issue?

2:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

Clearly, gender-based violence has to be at the top of the list, both in terms of response and also recovery, in that context.

We need to ensure that, as the economy starts to reopen and employers call back their employees, there's child care that's simultaneously available. As you know, schools have been closed and they won't be reopened, at least in Ontario, until September. Some camps are also closed, so what's going to be the solution to ensure that women can go back to work?

Then, I would say, we need to address issues around pay equity. A lot of women have lost their jobs, in particular women in low-paying jobs. In addition to addressing issues around pay equity, we need to ensure that their pay is commensurate with the kind of work they're doing, which we know already is essential to a fully functioning, healthy society.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Thank you very much.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. Senior and Ms. Vecchio.

It's over to Mr. Vaughan, please, for five minutes.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

Thanks very much.

Ms. Senior, I have a couple of questions. You detailed some of the lists of federal expenditures, but not included in that was the $6-million transfer to Quebec under the Quebec-Canada violence against women agreement. Also not included are the indigenous transfers. Your organizations didn't manage those funds, did they?

2:50 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

No, we didn't. That was done separately.