Evidence of meeting #125 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

Josie Nepinak  Executive Director, Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society
Viviane Michel  President, Quebec Native Women Inc.
Ron Liepert  Calgary Signal Hill, CPC
Sharmila Chowdhury  Transitional Support Worker, Minwaashin Lodge
Terry Duguid  Winnipeg South, Lib.
Rebecca Kudloo  President, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada
Samantha Michaels  Senior Policy Advisor, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada
Bob Bratina  Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, Lib.
Sonia Sidhu  Brampton South, Lib.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

If everybody can return and take their seats, we'll get started with our next panel.

On our second panel today, we have Shar Chowdhury, transitional support worker at the Minwaashin Lodge. From the Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, we have Rebecca Kudloo, president; and Samantha Michaels, senior policy adviser.

I'm going to turn the floor over to Shar.

You have seven minutes.

4:25 p.m.

Sharmila Chowdhury Transitional Support Worker, Minwaashin Lodge

I am Shar Chowdhury, and I am a transitional support worker at Minwaashin Lodge here in Ottawa, which is attached to our indigenous women's shelter, Oshki Kizis Lodge. I am speaking here on behalf of our ED, Mary Daoust, and our shelter director, Frances Daly.

I've been working in this position for 16 years. Our transitional support workers work with indigenous women who are fleeing violence and help them with all the practical needs that come up as a result of that. It could be a treatment program, housing, income or safety planning. It could be any practical thing that a woman needs to move forward and create a safer life. That's what I do.

I'll just give you a little history of Minwaashin and the shelter. Minwaashin started in 1993, as the Aboriginal Women's Support Centre, but it is now called Minwaashin Lodge - Indigenous Women's Support Centre. The centre worked to open an abuse shelter specific to first nations, Métis and Inuit women. Oshki Kizis Lodge was opened in 2001 from a building donation, but with no government funding, for a violence against women shelter. It was considered a homeless/violence against women shelter at the time.

At that time, the other mainstream VAW shelters were fully funded by the government, and Oshki Kizis Lodge received full funding as a VAW-status shelter in 2008. I'd like to point out that Oshki Kizis Lodge is the only shelter for indigenous women fleeing abuse in all of eastern Ontario. We get first nations, Métis and Inuit women from across Canada and from the remote northern communities and reserves.

Often they flee because—as I think was mentioned in another panel before us—there is a lack of confidentiality and safety in the smaller communities. A lot of the shelter and community workers are their aunts or their cousins, and they don't have real anonymity to get away from the abuse, so that's how they sometimes end up in Ottawa, a bigger city with a little more anonymity.

The way they get here is.... Sometimes they're coming in from, say, Nunavut, and they're actually coming for medical treatment, or they're accompanying someone for medical treatment here in Ottawa, and that's their opportunity to escape and not have to return to their community.

Also, there are examples of women coming from across the country. There was a woman coming from out west who tried to flee her abusive partner. She went to Calgary, I think, and then just made her way eastward, but he kept finding her. She finally landed in Ottawa, where, to this day, he hasn't found her. There's that anonymity here in Ottawa that women sometimes are seeking.

In terms of numbers, we are a 21-bed shelter. We are consistently full. We serve approximately 90 women and 70 children per year. On average, we turn away about four women per week. Two, for sure, out of those four will be women who are actually fleeing violence. Sometimes people call, and their issue is more about being homeless, not about fleeing abuse.

That's kind of average, so we're turning away at least a hundred women per year due to a lack of shelter space. We actually try to accommodate women. Even though we have only 21 beds, we will put out cots. We will have them sleep on our couch in the public spaces that we have for ceremony or meetings, but when we do this, there's no extra funding to support the bed space, the food, the electricity or the water being used by these extra people we try to accommodate.

If they don't get space with us at Oshki Kizis, what often happens is that the city tries to place them in homeless shelters. I don't know how many of you are from here, but that would be places like Shepherds of Good Hope. In these places, the risk to indigenous women's safety is quite high. Oftentimes, even their abusive partner is already staying there. Our women who struggle with varied issues, possibly of addiction, are even more at risk, going to Sheps.

Then, what we find is that they're making unsafe choices because they can't get in with us. What they are doing is possibly going back to the abusive partner. They may couch surf in less than ideal circumstances, or stay on the streets, rather than stay at the options provided that are not our shelter.

I wanted to speak to an analysis to consider, and then the impact and what it means when women are turned away.... Oh, I did speak to that, but I just wanted to give the analysis. It's important to understand that the inherent trauma and the intergenerational trauma that have occurred from the historical, political, cultural and spiritual genocide of indigenous communities, along with the effects of colonization, have put these communities at a much larger risk of violence generally, and domestic/intimate partner violence specifically. That translates into a great need in this population for safe, indigenous-specific shelter space.

I have this thing I want to say about the bigger picture. For people who live in Ottawa, I think it needs to be considered that we're talking about shelter space. Do we have enough space? Would it be fixed by just having more beds or more shelters? I think we need to look at the bigger picture, too. There is currently a housing crisis in Ottawa. There's not enough affordable or subsidized housing. What this means is that women are staying longer in crisis shelters, because they can't get housing. It blocks a space for new women in crisis trying to come in. There's that issue.

Some of you may know that there are some new provincial initiatives, such as portable housing, where women can get market rent, which is a barrier to women.

I'm getting the wrap-up. Okay.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

You're getting the wrap-up, yes. We'll wrap it up. That will give you the opportunity.... When we do have some questions, we can get back into that, if that's okay with you.

4:35 p.m.

Transitional Support Worker, Minwaashin Lodge

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

We're now going to move over to—come on, Terry, help me out here—Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.

4:35 p.m.

Terry Duguid Winnipeg South, Lib.

I would defer to the expert, Ms. Kudloo.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Rebecca and Samantha, you have seven minutes combined.

4:35 p.m.

Rebecca Kudloo President, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Ullukuut, members of Parliament, Chair, Vice-Chairs, guests and staff.

Pauktuutit is a national representative organization of Inuit women in Canada. We lead and support Inuit women through work and address our unique interests and priorities. We work for the social, cultural, political and economic betterment of Inuit women, their families and communities.

Our homeland is important to our culture and our way of life. The population is 65,000 and most live in 51 communities across Inuit Nunangat. Most of these communities are small, isolated and only accessible by plane. Also, over the past several years, the flow of Inuit into urban spaces has been happening, particularly women.

In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to gender equality for our women in Canada. The federal government also committed to reconciliation with indigenous peoples. Notably, the Minister of Status of Women, Maryam Monsef, was mandated to ensure that no one fleeing domestic violence is left without a place to turn, by growing and maintaining Canada's network of shelters and transition houses.

Despite this, violence against Inuit women and girls remains a systemic national crisis that requires urgent, informed and collaborative action. At the rate of 14 times the national average, the highest rate experienced by any group of women in Canada, violence is a preventable leading cause of injury and mortality in Inuit women. Family violence is compounded by poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, overcrowded housing, and suicide rates that are estimated to be nine to 20 times the national average.

Statistics Canada, from 2016, shows that over half of Inuit in Inuit Nunangat live in crowded housing, compared to the 8.5% of non-indigenous Canadians. Severe overcrowding, substandard homes and a lack of affordable and available housing options leave many women and their children unable to escape violence in one of the harshest climates in the world. Also, our population is very young and growing fast, with more than 50% of Inuit being 25 or younger. The number of poorly housed people will significantly increase if the physical housing shortage is not addressed.

Even with the highest rates of violence in the country, more than 70% of our communities across Inuit Nunangat do not have safe shelters for women. Often the homes of family and friends are overcrowded and food-insecure. Crisis and counselling services are also limited. Those experiencing violence and abuse in their homes often have no place in their community to seek safety. A plane ticket to another community may cost thousands of dollars, which is out of reach for most, particularly in times of crisis. In these cases, local social workers must arrange for a woman to be flown to another community.

There have been too many cases where the lack of access to safe alternatives in Inuit Nunangat has led to the loss of life.

4:40 p.m.

Samantha Michaels Senior Policy Advisor, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada

Programs and services are often underfunded and not sustainable, Inuit-specific or consistent between communities. In the north, many positions in health, mental health and social workers are left vacant. For the approximately 15 existing safe shelters and transition homes, very high occupancy rates, combined with daily challenges to meet operating and human resource requirements, contribute to high staff turnover—

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Sorry, can you just slow it down a bit for the interpreters?

4:40 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada

Samantha Michaels

Sure.

They contribute to high staff turnover rates due to burnout, lack of peer support, and often inadequate training because of geographic isolation and limited financial resources. Frequently, there is a lack of dedicated long-term funding, since funding is generally project-based and time-limited, making sustainability a continual challenge.

Also, there is no second-stage housing in Inuit Nunangat, which can be crucial to women's efforts to re-establish a life without violence. When violence does happen, Inuit women are regularly met with a critical lack of services and support to help them escape violence as well as recover from its impacts. The lack of access to safe alternatives can force women to move thousands of kilometres from their homelands to urban centres.

Living in a southern Canadian city can be tremendously isolating. Without the proper culturally appropriate and relevant supports and services to overcome the wide-ranging effects of trauma, many women remain unsafe, and they can experience other related challenges that too often lead to increased vulnerability to violence and abuse.

Last, the provinces and territories are responsible for housing and safe shelters for women. Indigenous Services Canada provides operational funding to shelters on reserve and also reimburses the cost for off-reserve shelter services used by first nations peoples ordinarily on reserve.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Slow it down just a tad, please. Thanks.

4:40 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada

Samantha Michaels

Shelters serving Inuit women in the Arctic are disallowed from accessing this funding because they are not on a reserve. This specifically excludes the development and access to shelters in the north. This also contravenes article 22 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which declares:

States shall take measures, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, to ensure that indigenous women and children enjoy the full protection and guarantees against all forms of violence and discrimination.

Just as the government funds shelters on reserves, so must they fund shelters in Inuit communities. In 2018, this is no longer acceptable.

4:40 p.m.

President, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada

Rebecca Kudloo

Every Inuit woman and girl deserves to life free from violence in her home and community. Pauktuutit recommends that Inuit women, in partnership with the federal government, advance a holistic strategy to ensure access to a high-quality, culturally safe continuum of prevention, intervention and after-care services and resources to provide for Inuit women and girls' safety, healing and long-term well-being.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you very much.

We're going to do our seven-minute round of questioning. We'll start with Marc Serré.

Marc, you have the floor for seven minutes.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses for the information. This will really help us with our study.

I'll continue with Minwaashin Lodge.

You mentioned the market rents. We heard in other testimony that one of the solutions is for women to buy homes after they have been temporarily in shelters. Is that your experience, that women have the funds or they're capable of buying homes?

4:40 p.m.

Transitional Support Worker, Minwaashin Lodge

Sharmila Chowdhury

No, I haven't heard about buying homes. I don't know of any clients who have left our shelter and bought homes. There are new initiatives in the province for what's called portable housing programs. If the woman is receiving income through social assistance, the province will top up a minimal amount. They will give her $250 more, say, to use her shelter allowance with social assistance and that $250 to possibly find market-rent housing.

There's a lot of critique from our shelter and from the violence against women community. They get this subsidy by being on the priority list for fleeing violence, but we're finding that, one, there isn't market rent out there for the amount they're getting. They need way more money to actually get market rent. Then, when they do, our women are being met with racism. Landlords will pick three or four people to interview, and our women will never get picked. So they're dealing with racism. Then there are even things like bidding wars. A landlord will offer a market rent unit at a certain price publicly, and our women will go.... It happened to one of our women. Someone else was there and offered to pay $100 more a month, and the landlord just gave it to them. Our women can't compete or don't have the financial resources to be able to do that.

So, yes, there are a lot of barriers to access housing.

December 3rd, 2018 / 4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you.

The next question is for both of you.

When we talk about jurisdiction, we've heard from previous witnesses that the financial support from a province is even higher than the federal. It will be a bit different in Ottawa, but I'll ask you a question about municipalities, provinces and the jurisdiction there. In your case, I wanted to dig down a bit deeper to understand some of the recommendations.

Looking at the issues that you have with finances.... You mentioned that second-stage housing is not even in existence, so we have to find a better way to fund the model. What would be your recommendations on that aspect, looking at the jurisdictions? Can you recommend more on the federal government side?

4:45 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada

Samantha Michaels

Maybe I'll begin, and then I'll turn to Rebecca.

The number one thing for us is that of course we want every single woman and child to have safe alternatives, but the reality is that building a shelter in a community where there are no other housing options, regardless of whether it's transition or second-stage, is such a band-aid solution. Women might be there for three days, in some communities, if they're lucky enough to live in a community with a shelter. Perhaps they're there for six weeks. However, where do you go if most people are living in overcrowded housing? Wait-lists can be years long.

It has to be a simultaneous investment, and yes, ensuring that there are safe alternatives that are responsive to the needs of Inuit women, not just what we see here in the south necessarily, and implementing that in the north. There also have to be massive investments in terms of healing and housing. I don't think we can look at it as a one-pronged approach.

Of course we're in favour of supportive living arrangements to get women back on their feet, whether it be through employment, life skills or counselling, but the reality is, where do they go next? That's where the danger is and where the harm is. That's why people make educated choices. They're not going to leave if there's nowhere for them to go with their children.

4:45 p.m.

President, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada

Rebecca Kudloo

Perhaps I can add further to the healing part.

In my community, when 30 children were sexually abused by a priest, we started a community-based counselling service. We started out with counselling on child sexual abuse, but we soon found out there was a lot of need in the community, so we have gone into all areas of family violence. That's a step where I fully believe that in order to heal we have to take ownership of our own healing. We hire a community worker. Of course, we always have a fully qualified social worker. We have been running it for 30 years. That's something that works in a small community, and they should be supported. Inuit, our people, should have a place where they can go for counselling in their language, if they wish to. It's something that I fully believe works.

It's so hard to get people who have all these degrees to come up and stay in a small community. They always leave. It's so important to build a relationship with a counsellor. People are tired of repeating their stories. They're not going anywhere with their healing if they have to repeat their story every time a new social worker or mental health worker comes into the community.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

I know you have barely enough funding to survive in terms of what you do now. Are there any specific recommendations to support the abuser, looking at men? We've had agencies from Halton and London here that actually go into the high schools and talk to high school students. Do you have any specific recommendations in terms of indigenous men?

4:50 p.m.

President, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada

Rebecca Kudloo

Pauktuutit has a project called “Engaging Inuit Men and Boys”. We look at things as holistically as we can. To help the women, we have to start helping our men, too. It has been very popular with the men. When we come into the community to do a workshop, they're starting their men's groups. That has been popular.

I just want to say one little thing. In terms of the program I was talking about, we get referrals from the courts for counselling.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you very much.

We're now going to move over to Rachael Harder, for seven minutes.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Awesome. Thank you.

Ms. Kudloo, my first question is for you.

You said in a statement a few minutes ago, “[W]e have to take ownership of our own healing.” Can you talk a little more about what you meant by that statement?

4:50 p.m.

President, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada

Rebecca Kudloo

Yes. In order to run a program such as the one I was talking about, the counselling part, we need support, of course, from the government. We were lucky; we got support from our community to start. However, we also did a lot of education on child sexual abuse and how it affects the victims, because in a small community sometimes the offender gets more support than the victim.

It takes a lot of courage and energy to do something such as that, to try to educate your people to start recognizing that if we don't do anything, this will keep going on.