Evidence of meeting #117 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was shelter.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kristal LeBlanc  Executive Director, Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre
Jennifer Lepko  Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Lethbridge and District
Steven Blaney  Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, CPC
Sonia Sidhu  Brampton South, Lib.
Lyda Fuller  Executive Director, YWCA NWT

October 24th, 2018 / 4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Ms. Fuller, thank you very much for all the services you provide in your territory, and all of the things you manage to do despite the lack of funding. I'm not going to ask you what's missing, since there is almost nothing. You said that for 33 communities, there are only five shelters for women victims of violence and their children.

What do you do if a large number of women come to you for help and you have no available beds?

4:40 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Lyda Fuller

That can be a real challenge for the shelters. If we don't have a bed at the closest shelter, we'll call the other shelters and see if there are beds in those shelters, and then transport the women to another shelter.

In Yellowknife, we also do overflow in our shelters, so we might take more women than we have space for. For example, we have a list of women who are so high-risk that no matter when they present, we would take them in, even if we have to put mats on the floor.

We've had women leap out of taxi cabs at the liquor store, because their partners have driven them to the community, and that's the only way they can get away from them. It's a real problem in terms of having to turn women away. We say to them, “Call back.” We also do emergency protection orders. We'll get phone calls from across the territory from women seeking emergency protection orders. We facilitate those.

If you live in a community with no RCMP, we don't recommend an emergency protection order, because there's nobody to enforce it, but if you are in a community with RCMP, we will often also recommend that as an option.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Tell us a bit about the services provided in those five shelters. What type of staff do you have? Are they social interveners? Are they often indigenous persons who experienced family violence and come to offer their help? Can you tell us a bit more about that?

4:45 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Lyda Fuller

The staff are generally indigenous women who have had experiences of violence. We do training with the staff, and we also get the staff together from all five shelters in the NWT. We do training as a larger group and bring in resources to do that training.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

You said that these were often small communities of 500 to 1,000 persons. Can you tell us a bit about their needs? How many additional shelters would be required to meet their needs? You said that five shelters were not enough. How many shelters would you require to answer the needs of the 33 communities in your catchment area?

4:45 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Lyda Fuller

I think there should be a shelter in each of the regions. That would mean probably three more shelters: in Fort Simpson, Norman Wells and Behchoko. It would be nice to see if there could be some form of a safe house in some of the other communities. Sometimes that happens informally, where a woman in the community will take other women in, but it poses some risk to that woman.

It would be good to see if the communities could come up with options themselves for how they might do that. Perhaps there are safer options for women. While it wouldn't necessarily be a shelter, it may be a place the women could go and spend the night, and have some level of protection, because we've certainly seen the consequences of not having that in terms of women being killed.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

According to what you said earlier, 75% of the women in your shelters are indigenous, and 80% of them have been subjected to a lot of violence. You referred to cases of strangling, sexual assault and many acts of family violence.

How do you explain that?

4:45 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Lyda Fuller

How would I explain the fact that it's so high in northern Canada?

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

I'm not only talking about the fact that the figures are that high.

The type of violence is also incredible. It's not only about asking for consent; it's horrible.

4:45 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Lyda Fuller

Yes, it is horrible.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Tell us what you think about concentrating on education for boys, please.

4:45 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Lyda Fuller

Yes, I definitely think education for boys and young girls.... We do that piece in Yellowknife, but I'd like to see that throughout the territory, to help boys understand that violence is not the answer. It's so prevalent here that you need to give that message strongly and continuously, that there are other ways to solve problems that don't harm people.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

That's excellent.

We're now going to pass it over to Rachael Harder for seven minutes.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you so much.

Thank you for giving us your time today; we really appreciate hearing from you about your experience in the north.

It's certainly a unique area in our country. Of course, you've hit on a lot of that with regard to the isolation and the vastness. One of my questions comes from this, and it's about transportation. If women have to fly or come on a snowmobile or some other form of transportation that would cost them money—flying, in particular, is a significant cost—how does that work and how does that impact a woman's access to help, to a shelter?

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Lyda Fuller

The flights would be paid for by the government, but you have to go through the social worker in your community and that person might be related to you or your partner so that poses a problem. If you get approval to fly out, that cost is covered. Our staff and the staff of the other shelters spend a good bit of time working with the social workers in the communities to get women out of those communities when they need to.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

I have one last question before I pass it over to my colleague. Could you comment a little on housing availability in the north? I have had the chance to go to Nunavut, and I know the scenario there, but it's a little different in the territories. I'm sure there are many similarities, though.

Can you comment with regard to these women? They flee violence; they're in a shelter but then their hope would be, I would imagine, to have their own secure, independent housing. What's the situation in the north, and what can be done to make it better?

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Lyda Fuller

That's an excellent question. We absolutely need more safe, affordable housing. We have one second-stage housing facility here in Yellowknife. I know Whitehorse has one second-stage housing facility. Nunavut has none, and I know Iqaluit is trying to have a second-stage facility. We need more housing, especially affordable, safe housing.

4:50 p.m.

Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, CPC

Steven Blaney

Thank you.

Thank you very much for your testimony, Ms. Fuller. I must say that this is troubling. As Ms. Nassif said, the gravity of these assaults and the circumstances of the women affected by violence seem particularly traumatic. Moreover, resources are limited.

You mentioned the need for long-term affordable housing, but did you also say that there was what is called zone 2 housing?

Can you tell us a bit about how the transition occurs when people who live in your five shelters reintegrate the community?

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Lyda Fuller

Likely women go back to their partners and their communities because of the housing situation. That's the most common outcome. We've had women coming into our shelter 14 times or more, because it's their respite from the abuse. They come with their children, and then when they feel rested and healed, they go back for a while again.

We definitely need more options for women. We opened our second-stage housing in 2014, after 10 years of planning and fundraising for it to happen, and I think Whitehorse opened theirs the year before.

We need options for women that are safe. You may have heard that we just had a fire in Yellowknife, and our transitional housing facility burned down to the ground. Some of the options we have had are now gone, which is very sad for us.

4:55 p.m.

Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, CPC

Steven Blaney

If I hear you well, basically what you're saying is that you can offer a temporary shelter, but the women in crisis return to hell.

4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

4:55 p.m.

Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, CPC

Steven Blaney

Okay. That's quite clear, but not pleasant to hear.

You mentioned that there could be three more shelters, one per region, in the three territories. Still, that transition bugs me. There has to be an exit. It seems like a cycle here; you just go back into it. It seems quite problematic.

What is the way out? What do you propose? How do you see a way for those women to get out definitively from the very difficult situations they experience?

4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Lyda Fuller

I think the way out is at the community level; it's for communities to really tackle the issue of violence in the communities.

We did a piece of work—it's several years ago now—where we went into some of the small communities with indigenous staff and just talked to women about how they could see a future without violence. But it's long-term work; it's real community development work, and I think it needs to happen.

4:55 p.m.

Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, CPC

Steven Blaney

Okay, thank you.

Basically, you have to make violence not socially acceptable in communities. Is that what you're suggesting?

4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Lyda Fuller

Yes, that's right.