Thanks for the invitation. We commend you for this study.
Following Monday's session, however, we are concerned by the fact that there was quite a bit of misinformation circulated and that there appears to be some confusion in terms of the focus of this study, which is violence-against-women shelters and transition houses. Part of my presentation is, in one sense, a violence-against-women shelters 101, which I think will be good to set the context for this study.
I believe you are aware of the statistics on violence against women. The only one I will remind us of today is the fact that, in Canada, every six days a woman is killed by someone she knew.
To make the last two weeks real, on October 8, Nathalie Blais, a 48-year-old woman, was killed by Pierre Chaperon in Drummondville. On October 14, a 16-year-old woman died in Regina and a 15-year-old boy was charged with second-degree murder.
According to our internal database, there are approximately 550 shelters in Canada today, of which two-thirds are first-stage shelters and one-third are second-stage shelters. It is important to note that there is no single model or governance structure for violence-against-women shelters. All operate individually, and all are governed by their own board of directors. Their creation was and continues to be the result of the determination and perseverance of feminists across the country.
Across Canada, how we refer to violence-against-women shelters varies greatly. For the purpose of this presentation, we will use the term “shelter” to refer to all violence-against-women facilities.
First-stage shelters provide women and their children with accommodation and safety, along with various programs. Length of stay may be days, weeks or months, depending on the shelter and location. Women do not need to stay at the shelter to receive services such as counselling and safety planning.
Second-stage shelters provide longer-term accommodation to women who still require vital security as well as other supports. Residents pay rent geared to income for their unit, and accommodation may be months or years, with the maximum length of stay rarely exceeding two years.
Shelters contribute much more than a safe place to stay. They provide vital services and resources that enable women and their children who have experienced abuse to recover from the violence, rebuild self-esteem and take steps to regain a self-determined and independent life. Shelters also contribute to awareness raising and social change as part of broad efforts to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls.
The distribution of shelters across the country varies widely. To be noted is the low number of shelters in the three territories, despite the fact that rates of female victims of violent crime are eight times higher in the territories and nearly three times higher in the provincial north than in the south. There are four shelters in Yukon, five in the Northwest Territories, and five in Nunavut.
Also of significance is the fact that Indigenous Services Canada provides funding for 41 shelters to serve the 634 recognized first nations communities in Canada. The National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence speaks to their needs, and I do hope they are meeting with you.
For the 53 Inuit communities across the north, there are only 15 violence-against-women shelters. I must note our deep disappointment in the fact that the committee has not invited Pauktuutit, the national Inuit women's organization, to appear.
Given that the policy and legislation that informs the work of violence-against-women shelters is largely governed by provincial and territorial governments, how shelters operate and are funded also varies widely across the country. The result is that women often do not have access to comparable levels of services and protections.
How shelters are funded varies widely across the country. There is a distinction between operational funding and capital funding. With the exception of on-reserve shelters, the federal government does not provide any funding to cover the operational expenses of violence-against-women shelters. The bulk of federal funding for shelters is from CMHC for capital expenses, which is renovation and new builds of shelters.
One commonality is that the funding provided is insufficient for the work carried out. A number of provinces, among them Manitoba, B.C., Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, have not provided meaningful increases to violence-against-women shelters for over 10 years. Running a shelter is like running any other home: There are utilities to pay, insurance, property taxes, food, you name it. As you know, all these expenses have been rising over the years, but not the funding for them.
I must also note that on-reserve shelters receive less operational funding via ISC than shelters funded via provinces.
Given that levels of fundraising often determine the extent of services provided, shelters in rural, remote and northern areas are clearly at a disadvantage. Fundraising in impoverished areas is extremely challenging.
Once again, women across the country are left with varying levels of services. Who pays the price? It is the workers, the great majority of whom are women. Retaining qualified staff is a significant issue for shelters. Ultimately, it is the women and children fleeing violence who pay.
I would now like to speak to the issue of capacity, or rather lack of capacity. Although many provinces have set standards, the reality is that shelters must often exceed these time limitations as women have nowhere to go due to the serious lack of safe and affordable housing across the country. Because of this, VAW shelters are far too often at capacity and are having to turn away women and children on a daily basis. These are but a few of the challenges facing shelters. It has also been widely documented, and I am sure you will hear first-hand from shelters, that the complexity of the work is increasing daily. Central to the situation that shelters find themselves in is the fact that their work is not considered an essential service. The government’s own data clearly show that this is a societal issue of concern to us all, not just those fleeing abusive situations.
Before I speak to the recommendations, I'd like to say that Women's Shelters Canada believes the federal government has a leadership role to play in addressing violence against women, and this includes, of course, the work of shelters.
Our first recommendation is that the government take a leadership role in addressing gender-based violence beyond the scope of its current gender-based violence strategy. This includes developing a national action plan that includes the provincial and territorial governments and addresses the fact that women do not have access to comparable levels of services and protection.
In terms of addressing the gap between the number of beds required and the number of beds provided, we have several recommendations:
We recommend that funding from the national housing strategy’s co-investment fund encourage the expansion of the number of first- and second-stage shelters across the country. To be successful, the gap that exists between capital funds provided by the federal government via CMHC and operational costs provided by the provincial and territorial governments must be addressed.
As part of the national housing strategy, the federal government is partnering with provinces and territories to develop a $4-billion Canada housing benefit, beginning in 2020, to provide affordability support directly to those in need. We recommend that there be a specific stream within this program for survivors of domestic abuse and that the federal government ensure that this is enforced within all provinces and territories.