Thank you, Madam Chair, honourable members.
My colleague Anne Levesque and I are pleased to be appearing before you on behalf of the National Association of Women and the Law.
NAWL is a national non-profit feminist organization that has worked since 1974 to promote the substantive equality rights of Canadian women through legal education, research, and law reform advocacy.
NAWL developed significant expertise in pay equity, and has worked collaboratively with federal unions and other women's equality rights organizations to provide evidence to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women multiple times, as well as to the Bilson task force on pay equity. We have, on numerous occasions over the last 30 years, presented on the problems with the complaint-based model under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the importance of proactive legislation at the federal level.
For ease of reference, NAWL will file its submissions to the pay equity task force from 2002 that, unfortunately, remain perfectly, if not more, relevant today. That report was endorsed by the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, La Fédération nationale des femmes canadiennes-françaises, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, and the DisAbled Women's Network of Canada.
At the outset, it's important to note that in 2006 NAWL was defunded when the previous federal government removed advocacy research and lobbying from Status of Women Canada's mandate, thereby preventing the agency from funding the critical work of equality rights organizations like ours.
Since 2007, NAWL's national steering committee and a group of feminist consultants have kept the organization alive on a volunteer basis. It is in this significantly diminished capacity that we appear before you today, which is really a loss for law and policy-makers, and for Canadian women broadly, given the very active role an organization like ours could and should be playing in helping government develop human rights and charter-compliant legislation.
Because we will be filing our report to the task force, which outlines NAWL's recommendations regarding the nature of proactive legislation, I will confine my comments today to two critical pillars in the way forward.
First, the government must implement the 2004 pay equity task force recommendations and establish a proactive regime. In keeping with this, it must establish and make public a time frame to get draft legislation on the table for feedback and comment from relevant stakeholders.
Second, as part of this committee's mandate, government must ensure funding is available for women's equality rights law organizations to participate meaningfully at federal law-making tables to ensure any proposed proactive regime is compliant with domestic and international human rights obligations as well as with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
With respect to our first recommendation, we hope that at this point there is consensus among committee members that gender-based wage discrimination is a serious and costly human rights problem in Canada, and that Professor Bilson did excellent work to chart the way forward. We know that pay inequity is particularly acute for racialized women, immigrant women, aboriginal women, and women with disabilities. We know that Canada is attracting sanction by international bodies and domestic courts because of its ineffective action on pay equity to date.
It is NAWL's position that in light of both domestic and international commitments and obligations, the Canadian government has a positive obligation to act immediately to table proactive legislation. The adoption of such legislation that applies to the entire federally regulated sector—public, private, large, small, unionized, and non-unionized players—and that recognizes equal pay for work of equal value as a human right is an essential step toward ensuring the respect of women as per section 15, equality rights.
This is not a radical claim. This recommendation is consistent with your committee's mandate, with six reports of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women issued between June 2005 and June 2009, and with the commitments of the previous Liberal government, and in particular of the ministers of justice and labour, who in fact had mapped a fairly clear path forward in their evidence to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women on November 21, 2005.
It's also consistent with the decisions of our highest courts. Indeed in 2004, in its NAPE decision, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized pay equity as constitutionally protected by the charter's section 15, equality rights.
In 2011, after nearly 30 years of litigation, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously adopted the decision of Justice Evans from the Federal Court of Appeal in the Canada Post pay equity case. In his decision, Justice Evans candidly recognized:
However, with the benefit of hindsight, it now seems to have been a mistake for Parliament to have entrusted pay equity to the complaint-driven, adversarial, human rights process of the Canadian Human Rights Act.