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

4:15 p.m.

Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, CPC

Steven Blaney

Ms. LeBlanc, you mentioned...

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

We love hearing from you, but we're at five minutes.

4:15 p.m.

Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, CPC

Steven Blaney

I love hearing from them.

Thank you.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Sonia, you have the floor now for five minutes.

4:15 p.m.

Sonia Sidhu Brampton South, Lib.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, panellists, for being here.

We heard about a huge gap in medical treatment. Last week, we had a panel that said the national housing strategy is great, the poverty strategy is good, but we need social support. In order to have social support, what kind of model...? You said the cost-sharing model is good. What kind of model is good? What kind of support system is the ideal support system?

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre

Kristal LeBlanc

I think one of the biggest challenges is that, because the funding is not there, the vast majority of people working in transitional housing can't hire people who are specialized to deal with complex trauma. We know that over 80% of victims of domestic and intimate partner violence suffer from mental health and addiction issues, and they are often using their addiction to cope with their mental health issues, so it's a vicious circle.

If the non-profit organization that's managing the transition house has to refer someone for mental health services and is being told by government that the wait-list is 10 months to a year and a half, how do we expect that person to be able to move along into her phases of recovery if she's not getting the specialized supports she needs?

Also, can we even say that government mental health services are specialized in trauma-informed treatment? A lot of them, ironically, will refer back to us. I'll say that this is very flattering; however, we need the mental health services to provide long-term support for this person. I would say that I'm a general mental health professional, but I'm not really specialized to deal with trauma.

We need to have people who are trained in complex trauma and who can deal with the interrelationship between domestic violence, addictions and mental health.

4:20 p.m.

Brampton South, Lib.

Sonia Sidhu

This is the medical support we talked about. What about financial literacy?

There is a Regeneration Outreach in my area, and I went there last year. There was a person who was a survivor of human trafficking and drug addiction, and she did not know about the expense of things. She didn't know anything, so someone would have to go with that person to say, for example, “This is expensive”, because she didn't know how to buy.

Do you have any examples like that? How can we give this support system?

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre

Kristal LeBlanc

As a crisis centre, we see more than 2,000 people a year, and a big bulk of those are people with financial issues—for example, their electricity has been cut off and they come to us when they have an outstanding bill and they're in the cold. The honest answer is that they need that education and not the handout, so we need to be walking away from providing funding to non-profits that just want to write the cheque and think they're going to fix it.

We need to look at her budget and say, “Listen, do you think this is something you can save on and cut? If you choose to do so, I'm able to help you with x amount.” However, if I see that her ins and outs aren't going to change and she's still going to.... I'm not going to pay Mr. NB Power, because that's not really pulling her out of poverty.

A lot of what we have to do is financial literacy and education.

4:20 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Lethbridge and District

Jennifer Lepko

Again, it comes back to those building blocks that we need to put in place to teach them how to start again. We can't just assume somebody knows these life skills. We need to teach them, especially if they have been in generations of violence or generations of a culture of women not being allowed to make decisions and learn and be independent. We need to teach them the skills they need to have.

October 24th, 2018 / 4:20 p.m.

Brampton South, Lib.

Sonia Sidhu

Does your staff have special training, or is it just you?

4:20 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Lethbridge and District

Jennifer Lepko

We train all our staff. We do a number of trainings that are available across the country, but we do a lot of on-site training. YWCA Lethbridge has been providing services for nearly 70 years.

Also, to speak a little bit to what you were talking about in terms of a model, we very much provide a crisis response model. One example is our Amethyst Project, which is a sexual violence advocacy program. We designed that. It's now two and a half years old. It is one of the most low-cost and effective programs in response to sexual violence. It is about meeting the victims where they're at. It is about empowering them to make the decisions and to seek what they think they need. It's not about us making those decisions for them, but about us supporting them along the way. They have 24-7 access to that support.

Also, they get to decide what their healing looks like, again, giving them back the power and control. The same can be said for domestic violence. It's about giving them power and control and teaching them that they have the skills and the ability to move forward. It's really just meeting them where they're at.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you very much.

We do have a few extra minutes, so I'm going to give each group one minute for a quick question and a quick response.

I'm going to start with the CPC, then Jenny, and then back to the LPC.

You guys have one minute, start to finish.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

All right.

Ms. Lepko, can you talk a bit more about the Amethyst program? What is it? What exactly does it do and what does it address?

4:25 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Lethbridge and District

Jennifer Lepko

Absolutely. Typically at the hospital, if you've disclosed sexual violence at any sort of emergency room, you are either treated medically or you are going through the criminal justice system where you have a sexual assault kit done and you're working with the police. What Amethyst has done is bring in a third option, which allows an individual to have a sexual assault kit completed and they have up to a year to decide whether they want to pursue charges.

They meet with every single individual who comes in with a disclosure, no matter what age or gender, and provide support right from the word go. They also do all follow-up appointments. They will do referral to clinical support, but it's really meeting that individual in the crisis and giving them the support they need right then.

They work with a number of our domestic violence clients as well, simply because we know that more than 80% of those who have experienced domestic violence are also experiencing some form of sexual violence.

It's a 24-7 service, with advocates who are advocating on behalf of the victims and supporting them.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you very much.

Jenny, you have one minute, start to finish.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you very much.

As we know, the threat of financial insecurity often prevents a woman from leaving, and at the federal level we're still waiting for the federal government to act on the five days of paid leave for women in those situations. We don't know when it's coming or how it can be accessed. There is no money budgeted for it.

How important is this component for women who are faced with domestic violence?

4:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre

Kristal LeBlanc

It depends on how it's rolled out. In our rural community, the biggest challenge will be that people are on seasonal employment, so it will depend on whether that applies to everybody or just certain sectors. We hope that low-income people in certain sectors aren't at a disadvantage and that they, too, can receive that leave.

In our province, they released a new act in May about emergency intervention orders, and that has provided some remedies for victims of domestic violence, such as removal of firearms, temporary custody of the children, or temporary possession of the home so they can get their belongings. In the meantime, that has helped. It's not a perfect system, but it is a step in the right direction.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you very much.

We're going to move over to Pam, for one minute.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Do you find that municipalities have a lack of understanding of what transitional housing is? In my area, there is a complete understanding of the affordable housing piece, and people get the emergency shelter, but one of the reasons women are staying longer in the emergency shelter is that they don't have that piece to go to.

Do you think there is a real lack of understanding of the need of that transitional piece?

4:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre

Kristal LeBlanc

I think they gloss over it a little bit. I don't want to say they don't care. I think they are scared of it. The stories we tell can sometimes be disturbing, and they just say, “You just keep doing your job. Good job, keep it up every day.” Yes, but you're not listening. These are the things that aren't necessarily working in your region, and these are your citizens. This is just as important as a festival or something else that is being offered to the community.

I don't think there is complete investment there. We have come a long way, but they need to be at the table more frequently.

4:25 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Lethbridge and District

Jennifer Lepko

I believe there is a very large lack of understanding from many people, simply to understand the complexities of somebody who has been victimized. When we have been given the privilege of power and decision-making on our own, we cannot understand what that person has gone through in terms of trauma. We don't get it. Unless you're living it and working with it daily, you really don't get it.

So how do we educate them? They need to invest in the education and need to want to know it, and I don't think this is a priority. In reality, it's an issue that we want to put out of sight, out of mind.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

I'd really like to thank Kristal LeBlanc and Jennifer Lepko for being here. This has been an excellent panel with great information.

We are going to suspend for about two minutes, and we'll be right back.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

I'd like to welcome you back to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

We are ready to begin our second panel. For the second hour, I am pleased to invite Lyda Fuller, executive director of the YWCA Northwest Territories.

I'm going to pass the floor to you for seven minutes. Thank you.

4:30 p.m.

Lyda Fuller Executive Director, YWCA NWT

Thank you very much for inviting me to present at this meeting.

First, I want to talk a bit about the context in the Northwest Territories. We are remote, and women describe that remoteness as having no place to hide and no place to go. They are isolated. They have no telephones. There's limited transportation, and it's an expensive place to live.

Remoteness makes you think of places that are far away with sparse population, and that is for sure the case in the Northwest Territories. Twenty-seven of our 33 communities in the NWT have a population of 1,000 or less, and 15 communities have less than 500 people.

Barriers that women face include not having access to telephones and not having a central emergency number. We don't have 911 in the territory. In fact, if it's after hours and you phone the RCMP from your community, you get the dispatch in Yellowknife.

Community helpers cite struggles in remote communities for women to access shelters. These include logistics, anonymity and weather dependence. Imagine yourself as a woman with two or three small children in a tiny airport in a community, waiting to fly out to a shelter. You're not sure if the plane is going to be able to land or take off again. What will you do if it can't? What are the challenges you have to face in leaving that community?

The geographic isolation is the reality in many northern communities, and it creates risks for women above and beyond what you would see in southern Canada in the more populated centres. We've had women skidoo out or walk out and have somebody extract them.

It's a real challenge. There's no privacy and no confidentiality in those kinds of circumstances in the small communities. Everywhere you go, everybody knows you and you're visible to everyone. Because of the lack of confidentiality, the gossip, and the shaming and blaming that happen toward women, they're reluctant to share accounts of abuse and violence. They're reluctant to take part in anything where their personal information is going to be disclosed and they might hear it at the Northern store later on.

When they seek help, they often have a different reason for seeking help. They might go to the health centre and say they have an earache or a sore throat, but what they really want is to talk about the violence they're experiencing. Living in northern communities makes it much more difficult for women to seek help.

In 2014-15, indigenous women made up 94% of all the admissions to the five shelters in the Northwest Territories. When you look at reported incidents of intimate partner violence across the three territories, 75% of the victims were indigenous, and 93% of those individuals suffered “the most severe forms of spousal violence, that is, having been beaten, choked, threatened with a weapon or sexually assaulted.” We can certainly say that in the NWT, we see this frequently. NWT shelters serve women who have a high risk of lethality.

There's also the scarcity of resources in the northern communities. For the 33 communities we have, 33% of them, or a third, have no RCMP presence, 80% have no victim services, and 85% do not have a women's shelter. The women's shelters are only in Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik, Fort Smith and Tuktoyaktuk.

Women have a lot to lose if they attempt to leave the abusive partner. They worry about whether their children will be apprehended, whether they'll lose their housing, and in communities where there are no police or victims services, they need immediate access to safety and to support, a place to sleep, and food.

Women have been kicked out of their homes in the middle of the night with no shoes or boots in the winter; they've been beaten and left for dead; they've been choked and pursued as they fled for help. We actually did a transfer of a woman from one shelter to the shelter here in Yellowknife by forming a caravan to escort her the distance, because she was being pursued by her partner.

There are five women's shelters in the NWT, with 45 beds and 21 rooms. Shelters are the only resource for women with a wide variety of needs, and they're not well funded. They run at capacity, and two-thirds of women are turned away. For every 300 women we see, we turn away 200 women.

The lack of funding for shelters is a serious issue. There are no shelters in three regions in the NWT, namely the Sahtu, Dehcho and Tlicho regions, and the shelters that are here serve many square kilometres. Funding for the shelters is insufficient to provide ongoing maintenance, operation, repairs, and recruitment and retention of staff.

In fact, we had a recent meeting of the shelters, because we're the capacity organization for the five shelters. The shelter in Tuktoyaktuk was telling us that they don't think they have enough money for food to last throughout this year. Shelters have had to close here for lack of funding.

Even with five shelters, help is not consistently available to women, for several reasons, including shortages in funding, recruitment and retention of staff, and beds.

The recommendation we would have for this essential life-saving service in northern Canada is to find a way to better fund the shelters. I know that the three territorial premiers have asked the federal government to look at whether in fact they can have accessible funding. We don't have reserves; the federal funding goes to reserves in the southern provinces, but that's not available here. Maybe shelter services can be included as a mandatory service in transfer payments.

We need to find a way to have annual growth for the shelters, and we need to continue to fund repairs and maintenance. The money that rolled out for shelter enhancement in the last couple of years was a lifesaver in northern Canada, but only one of the five shelters can serve women with physical mobility impairments. We need to fast-track some construction. The Hay River shelter has demolished its building and is looking to rebuild. We need to be able to do that, and to have shelters in the Dehcho and the Sahtu.

Our other recommendations are to promote affordable housing, consider options for alleviating poverty for women leaving violent relationships, and develop a national action plan on violence against women, with a particular section on meeting the needs of northern Canada.

Thank you.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Lyda, thank you very much.

I'll just let the committee know that we're going to be doing only one round of questioning. If you wish to split your time, each group gets seven minutes.

Also, we'll have to do about five minutes in camera. There's something that just came up.

We're going to start with seven minutes for Eva Nassif. Split it as you wish.