Good morning. Gilakasla.
Thank you, Madam Chair and other members of the standing committee, for including our testimony on Bill S-2. Deborah Campbell sends her regrets; she's not able to make it this morning. I too would like to acknowledge the Algonquin nation, with whom you're meeting today, for having you on its territories.
My name is Kim van der Woerd. I'm a member of the 'Namgis First Nation from Alert Bay, B.C. My traditional name is T,lalisam, which is from the killer whale clan. I also serve on the board of directors with the YWCA in metro Vancouver and I'm here today to represent the YWCA.
I was speaking with my grandmother in Alert Bay about Bill S-2 and asked her if she was familiar with it, and she said she was. She told me about many situations in our community where women were removed from their homes and had nowhere to go with their children. She said that sometimes they were able to deal with this when they had family who could take them in and support them physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, as well as the financial support.
I asked her about what life was like in our community before there were rules and laws around property and housing. She told me about life when she was growing up, and she told me stories that her father would tell her. She said children grew up learning and knowing that they would build their own homes as young people and that they did not rely on government for housing. She spoke about how we were all independent before many of the laws of the Indian Act and that we were able to be independent because of the support from our communities and that the provisions were in place to be independent.
I would first like to acknowledge and recognize the positive intent with the proposed changes to this bill and the intention to improve the lives of aboriginal women. We appreciate, applaud, and respect the efforts made in this regard, and what we would like to share with you today is the YWCA's perspective on provisions that would make Bill S-2 successful.
We understand that the purpose of Bill S-2 is to provide powers to enact laws relating to the use, occupation, and possession of family homes on reserves. The bill and any resulting legislation would apply to all first nations and be implemented within 12 months of enactment. While changes to the bill have been positive with this fourth iteration, we find that there are still factors that need to be addressed.
We understand there has been opposition in the following areas that have been mentioned, from what we've been hearing already. First is the lack of first nation consultation. We recognize that we're currently in a round of consultation, but going forward we recommend open and meaningful engagement in this process. We understand that there has been opposition around jurisdiction with first nations' governments, and issues related to provincial courts and the Indian Act rules. We understand there are issues around community capacity to implement, which my colleagues have been discussing. We also recognize that there are burdens on citizens and safety considerations. Opposition to the bill highlights the complexity of violence in aboriginal communities and the need for comprehensive responses.
With respect to burdens for aboriginal women and families, the bill does not address the following considerations. There is a lack of access to emergency shelters, both on and off reserve. There is limited access to nearby and cost-appropriate legal services. There is a lack of adequate housing on reserve. There is limited access to counselling and other support services, and there is a need for infrastructure and human capacity investment that benefits aboriginal women.
I will now briefly speak about what we know about aboriginal women in Canada with respect to the experience of violence, housing, migration off reserve, and access to legal and emergency services. In 2011 the YWCA Canada commissioned a report, “Aboriginal Women's Initiative”, and some of the key findings are as follows. With respect to violence, aboriginal women experience spousal or partner violence at a rate three times higher than non-aboriginal women. With respect to housing, aboriginal women are more likely to experience homelessness than aboriginal men, and this homelessness is often related to their experience of violence and escape from violence.
We know that many aboriginal women leave reserves and our research tells us that they leave reserves because of experience of violence, difficulty in accessing services and supports, lack of housing, and discrimination in legislation around aboriginal women's rights on reserve. Many reserve communities are not located near legal services or emergency support services and this report summarizes the need for 24-hour services, increased community awareness, emergency support, and the need for transition and support services for aboriginal women and single mothers.
The YWCA is committed to ensuring that women and children are able to live safely and securely. The YWCA is the single-largest provider of shelter services to women and children fleeing violence and provides holistic programming that reaches out to more than one million women and children in Canada.
The YWCA Canada recognizes the rights of aboriginal communities to self-government. The YWCA Metro Vancouver has a long history of supporting aboriginal women and children in our community by providing tailored programs such as infant development, violence prevention, legal education, financial literacy, FASD awareness, housing, and mentorship. We have served tens of thousands of women through these programs.
The YWCA Canada is currently working with 10 member-associations on an access to justice project for aboriginal women dealing with violence. That's just under one-third of our membership. Each of these 10 member-associations have service populations of 65% aboriginal women or higher.
The YWCA Canada identifies interlocking advocacy priorities for women that complement the analysis of Bill S-2 as it applies to aboriginal women who experience domestic violence on reserve, including ending violence against women and girls, access to affordable housing, and achieving women's economic security.
Based on our services, advocacy, and research, the YWCA has the following conclusions and recommendations for ensuring the effective implementation of Bill S-2 to fully support aboriginal women and children. YWCA Canada understands that there needs to be a comprehensive response to Bill S-2 to go beyond the jurisdictional issues and address burdens for aboriginal women and families. YWCA Canada emphasizes the right of aboriginal women on and off reserve to have access to safe and secure housing and shelter, and advocates for a national housing strategy to raise awareness and support for the provision of affordable housing.
The YWCA recognizes that Bill S-2 has the following provisions. In cases of death of a spouse or partner, occupation can be granted for 180 days from the date of death, and in cases of domestic violence, the person who applies for access can be granted 90 days of occupation without the offender in the home. Our research and experience in delivering services with the YWCA finds that 90 days is not sufficient time for a woman to develop and execute a plan to lead an independent life. This is of course in the cases where the women does not hold the certificate of possession. We recommend a review of this timeframe to accommodate the complex needs of women leaving abuse. However it is appreciated that this provision can be modified on a case-by-case basis. We do note the potential additional burden for aboriginal women applying for these additional days.
The comprehensive recommendations advanced by the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada overlap with the YWCA's stated positions on violence against women and economic security. Responses must be comprehensive and consider family support services, emergency support, shelters, effective cross-jurisdictional policing, services to prevent child welfare interventions, and increased awareness of and support for affordable and appropriate housing.
Finally, we note the emphasis on legal remediation—