Evidence of meeting #67 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 data.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jenny Greensmith  Executive Director, Pathways Health Centre for Children
Jennifer Howell  Parent Advisor, Pathways Health Centre for Children
Alex Wilson  Professor, University of Saskatchewan, As an Individual
Grace-Edward Galabuzi  Professor, Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University, As an Individual
Sheila Block  Senior Economist, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Good morning, colleagues. We're continuing our study on the economic security of women in Canada.

Today we have some excellent witnesses. From Pathways Health Centre for Children, we have Jenny Greensmith, the executive director, and Jennifer Howell, a parent adviser. By teleconference we have Alex Wilson, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

Welcome to our witnesses.

We'll start with Pathways Health Centre for Children for seven minutes, and then we'll go to Alex.

You may begin.

8:45 a.m.

Jenny Greensmith Executive Director, Pathways Health Centre for Children

Good morning, and thank you for the invitation to speak today.

Marilyn, it's especially good to see you.

My role this morning is simply to set the stage and give you the context for the family experiences that Jennifer will share with you.

Situated in the city of Sarnia in southwest Ontario, Pathways is a provider of children's rehab and other educational services and supports to about 2,400 children and their families. We've been helping families in our community for over 40 years. Our families are a mix of urban and rural, and from all socio-economic groupings. We have an indigenous urban population in Sarnia, and three first nations within Lambton County. Sarnia is gradually becoming more ethnically diverse, although it still lags behind major urban areas. The major wave of immigrants who stayed and prospered in the area came from Europe. Lambton College brings in students of all nationalities, but we find that for the most part they do not stay in the area once their studies are done. They tend to move to the larger urban areas, where jobs are more plentiful and there are larger populations with similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds for them to blend into.

We are aware of Pathways families from all of these various groupings who live in poverty and must miss scheduled assessments and therapy sessions because they need to get from one side of town to the other using our limited public transportation to access the social welfare they and their families must rely on. We are aware that indigenous families living in first nation communities lack the transportation to come to locations where we offer service. We're trying to address this within our limited resources, because we understand that we will be able to reach out to those families more easily in locations where they feel culturally safe. More than anything, we are aware that having a child with a disability takes its toll on the family unit and that the burden of care may fall on a single parent, very often the mother.

Sarnia-Lambton has been hard hit economically over a number of years, most especially recently with the slump in oil prices. Despite ongoing initiatives to diversify our economy, the big companies in what is known as “chemical valley” are still among our mainstay employers. Fast facts from the Sarnia-Lambton workforce development board tell us that in March 2017, Sarnia-Lambton had the highest unemployment rate, at 8%, in the Erie-St. Clair region, higher even than Windsor, at 6.5%. Board reports over the years have documented the low education of the Sarnia-Lambton population. Most jobs with good chances of employment require trades, college, or university training or education. Sarnia-Lambton needs more people with post-secondary education in diverse fields. The lack of up-to-date qualification and recent work experience presents a significant barrier for women who have taken time out of the workforce, often many years, to care for their children, youth, or adult children with disabilities. We would like to ask whether such women have ever been the focus of research as to their experience when they must try to re-enter the workforce.

Well, as I said at the beginning, my role is to set the stage for you to understand more about the experiences of a few local women and the impact of their situation on their economic status.

Over to you, Jen.

8:50 a.m.

Jennifer Howell Parent Advisor, Pathways Health Centre for Children

When asked to help with this topic, I looked back at my own life and the economic security of my own career.

When my husband and I were faced with the life-altering news that our son had autism, the demands were overwhelming from our appointments with developmental pediatricians, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physiotherapists, social workers, Autism Ontario, audiologists, and day care and school meetings. Phone calls from the day care and school requesting that I pick my child up were using up my sick days and vacation time. The demands and barriers of having a child with a disability fell heavily on my lap, as my husband's job had a higher salary.

I walked away from my career, benefits, and a pension. The financial burden quickly surfaced, as additional private support comes at a cost. Private speech and occupational therapy can cost anywhere from $100 to $150 per hour. Slowly we were going into debt.

When the position as parent adviser became available, I was able to make it work with its flexibility and decreased hours so I could still support my son. To have a job, a loving husband, and the support of my family makes me a minority in this situation.

I've also reached out to a parent who is a crisis caseworker at the Ontario Works department. She informed me of some barriers that she commonly sees for women who have a child with a disability. There are constant phone calls from the day care and school, demanding that the mother come to pick up her child. This creates overwhelming stress on the woman's job, and the end result is either that the mother is fired or needs to leave because the demands are too great.

If a mother seeks other employment, the job is lower paying with no benefits. The family is now living in poverty and the cycle begins. For example, transportation is a major barrier for a lot of these women as they may not have a vehicle, so taking public transportation is their only means. A child's appointment that would take one hour will now take three to four, which again adds the stress if the mother is working. Living conditions also dramatically change, as a mother and her family will need to reside in low-income housing. This presents new challenges and stresses on an already depleted mother.

For a woman to qualify for Ontario Works, her assets need to be below $2,500. A single parent with one child will receive under $1,000 a month to live on. Once a woman lives in poverty she is faced with additional barriers, which create new struggles that keep her in poverty. A lot of these women are not receiving the funding resources that could help them, or they do not have the strength or the energy to pursue them. Their focus is just to survive.

I've had the honour of hearing two client stories that I will share with you. The people's names have been changed to protect their privacy. Sara, the first mom, is a single mom with five children. One child was diagnosed with autism, and sensory processing and selective mutism disorder. Sara is divorced and receives no financial support from the father and no financial or emotional support from her family. Appointments and calls from the school demanding that her child be picked up put her in a stressful position with her employer. She lived in fear of being fired. Sara then took a pay cut and resorted to working straight midnights so she would be available for her child and the school. This took a toll on Sara and she ended up getting hurt on the job and receiving WSIB. Sara also had to drain her investments, like her RRSPs, as the financial needs were too great. She was receiving some financial support for her disabled son through special services at home, but the rest of her children were doing without. She is lost to what the future holds for her and her family.

Lori, the second mother, is a single mom with two children. Her one child was born legally blind and has cerebral palsy. Lori does not receive any financial support from the child's father and no financial or emotional support from her family. She truly feels alone. Lori was bombarded with doctors' appointments and had to take extended maternal leave to care for her son. When she returned to work, she was faced with the following barriers: her work hours, the demands of her child's needs, and the lack of flexibility at her job. Not wanting to resort to Ontario Works, Lori looked for employment elsewhere. Lori is presently employed as a PSW and works long hours to make ends meet. Her present job does give some flexibility, but her hours are unpredictable; and health care benefits, which are assessed every six months, rely on the amount of hours worked.

Lori shared with me that there have been times when she has worked 127 hours in two weeks, and other weeks less than 30. If her hours are less than 30, Lori and her family will not receive health care benefits for six months until they are reassessed again. No matter what the socio-economic status is of women with a child who has a disability, they all share a common theme, and that is that the security of their career is jeopardized. We live in a two-income based society. Without the proper financial and emotional support, these women fall through the cracks.

Thank you for your time.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Thank you very much.

We're going now to Alex by teleconference from the University of Saskatchewan. You have seven minutes.

8:55 a.m.

Dr. Alex Wilson Professor, University of Saskatchewan, As an Individual

Tanisi. Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

The information that I'm providing and my statement are based on my own research, on research that others have conducted, on my observations of the experiences of friends, family, and community members, and on my own experiences as a two-spirit-identified Cree woman.

I'm from the Opaskwayak Cree nation, and that's where I'm talking to you from today. We're a community of about 5,700 people 500 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Of our membership, approximately one-third do not live on reserve but mostly in cities across Canada, but also elsewhere in the world.

I began by telling you where I'm from because it is important to note that Cree people have lived in this area for a long time. In fact, like all other indigenous communities in North America, we have lived continuously on our land longer than any other people on the planet, with the exception maybe of indigenous Australians. With that long connection to the land, we have an intimate and important understanding of and connection to the land that extends back tens of thousands of years.

For all those thousands of years, our community has not only survived, but thrived. Every person had importance within the community and familial life. Within a very, very short period of time, the last 200 years or so, all that changed. Of course, what I'm referring to is the process of colonization, or what others call the “founding” of Canada.

There are two stories, the story that I and other indigenous women know and the story that is presented to Canadians, or the story of Canada. We were asked to make a statement about poverty and the impacts on indigenous women. However, we cannot talk about poverty without acknowledging that poverty is a symptom or a result of an intersection of a host of factors such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other forms of systemic oppression.

The lives of indigenous women have been regulated by policy since the founding of Canada. Every aspect of our lives has been regulated, such as what we eat, whom we are allowed to marry, where we live, what we are allowed to own, what we wear, and even who gets to use the term “Indian”, who gets to call themselves Indian. We know the effect of this regulation and of the intersections of multiple forms of oppression. The effect is evident in the many statistics that most of you already know or probably have some familiarity with, just like I know, when I take a taxi in Winnipeg, I will most likely have to pay up front, just like I continually have to worry about the safety of my nieces.

The effect of colonization is asymmetrical. Certain bodies are impacted in ways that others aren't, and those are the bodies of indigenous women, two-spirit, and trans indigenous people. The effect is institutionalized, and the effect has meant a disconnection from meaningful relationships, including to the land and water, which leads to destruction of land and water, to violence, the effect of the normalization of violence, and the internalization of violence.

It's meant that language has been lost or changed. It's meant that binary gender roles have been entrenched. It's meant that spirituality has now become a religion and institutionalized by schools, prisons, CFS, and the health care system. It's meant that certain world views have been privileged while others have been dismissed, in particular, the world views of indigenous women. This is the reality that we live with.

As all of you know, there are over 1,200 missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada. Seven out of 10 aboriginal girls will experience sexual abuse or violence in their lives. Aboriginal women are 3.5 times more likely to experience intimate partner violence. For indigenous queer youth, the suicide rates are unimaginable—10 times higher than any other group. For indigenous trans-identified youth, suicide rates are around 56%, which means that if you know any indigenous trans-identified youths, the chances are that they will have either thought about suicide or attempted suicide. We see trans-identified indigenous youth leaving school as early as the third grade. Think about that. Why would a third grader not feel safe in school?

We have states of emergency around suicide. Homelessness rates are increasing. These are all the effects of colonization. These are the facts of life for indigenous women in Canada. Whether we are Cree, Inuit, Anishinabe, Métis, Coast Salish, or from whatever nation, the effect is the same across the country. But there is nothing inherently wrong with indigenous women. If we just looked at the statistics, if we just looked at the way Canada presents indigenous women, people would think there is something inherently wrong with us, and it's quite amazing that we are still here today despite the intersection of all of these multiple forms of oppression.

I would say that there is nothing inherently wrong with indigenous women. There is something inherently wrong with Canada.

In conclusion, I urge you, as representatives of Canada, to seriously consider how poverty fits into the bigger picture of the story of Canada.

Thank you.

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

Very good. Thank you for your testimony.

We're going now to our first round of questioning. We'll begin with my colleague Monsieur Serré.

Mr. Serré, you have the floor for seven minutes.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

My first question will be for Ms. Greensmith and the next one will be for Ms. Wilson.

First, I want to thank you for your testimony this morning and for the preparation you put into explaining the services you provide.

Ms. Greensmith, through programs you are currently providing and are attempting to expand, you are trying to support first nations, but there are some difficulties in terms of transportation.

Have you looked to hire people from the aboriginal community who could provide services in first nations communities, near Sarnia?

You can respond in English.

9:05 a.m.

Executive Director, Pathways Health Centre for Children

Jenny Greensmith

Thank you for that.

That's a very good question. While I know that, on the Six Nations first nation closer to Brantford, they do have qualified individuals to provide pediatric rehab services, we are not in that situation yet. However, with the support of industry partners, we are beginning an initiative that will bring our therapists onto first nations to provide services in the way they would like them to be provided and, at the same time, support an indigenous worker as part of that team for them to be able to support families with therapy activities when we're not there.

We are beginning to grow that skill set on first nations.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you.

I'll go back to Ms. Wilson. But Ms. Howell, you mentioned families with disabilities, and we've heard previous testimony on the challenges. I want to ask if you have more specific recommendations to the federal government related to caregivers and looking at some of the recent announcements on the parental maternity leave on the EI system the government has announced. That's specific to the governments announcements, but are there other recommendations you would have for us federally?

9:05 a.m.

Parent Advisor, Pathways Health Centre for Children

Jennifer Howell

One of the first recommendations I have is based on information I received from a crisis caseworker at Ontario Works. When, let's say, a mother has a child with a disability and needs to resort to OW for support, the staff there has not been trained to help support this family as to what other financial resources are available for disabled children. It's about looking at these different agencies that a mother might be looking to for support, so that they are also trained to give the whole picture of what's available for these families.

Also, the tax credits do not work if a mother is not working, so perhaps a supplemental benefit would really help a lot of these families.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you.

Ms. Wilson, you very eloquently explained several issues related to many of the first nations and Inuit across Canada. We've heard testimony in other committees and here on that. I can't imagine the struggles and challenges you face daily. At the end of your testimony, you mentioned poverty. If we look at indigenous poverty, especially of women, what would you recommend that the federal government specifically look at to support indigenous women and get them out of poverty?

9:05 a.m.

Professor, University of Saskatchewan, As an Individual

Dr. Alex Wilson

That's a huge question, with many different ways to respond. Fundamentally, we have to examine the relationship between Canada and indigenous women. For example, to go back to the treaties and the Indian Act, the Indian Act dictates every aspect of our life. It even dictates what kind of glasses I can pick when I go to an optometrist. We have to look at the regulations or policies that continually regulate our bodies, meaning the Indian Act and the treaties.

For me, health care is supposed to be a treaty right, yet I use my insurance from work because I know that if I need to have dental work done and I use my treaty rights to health care for dental care, the treatment is going to be substandard treatment because they allow only certain things to be done, etc. For people who are living well below the poverty level, it's impossible to get proper health care. That was brought up in the other presentation.

My main recommendation would be to go to the fundamental policies that are impacting indigenous women, such as the Indian Act and treaty rights. The truth and reconciliation framework provides some guidance around principles. There are calls to action, but in the introduction to the report there is a good section about rethinking the relationship between Canada and indigenous people.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Thank you.

I don't have time, but I would love to get your thoughts on whether we should make changes to the Indian Act or just get rid of it. You have 10 seconds to respond to that one.

9:10 a.m.

Professor, University of Saskatchewan, As an Individual

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Okay, there you go.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

We'll go to my colleague Rachael Harder for seven minutes.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you very much, everyone, for being here. We appreciate your taking the time out of your day to share your thoughts with us.

I am going to start with Ms. Greensmith.

Both of you talked a bit about the impact that having a child with a disability has on a mother. Particularly, of course, it has a significant impact on a single mom, who doesn't have the support of a spouse or a partner in that relationship and in raising the child. I'm wondering if you can paint a bit more of a picture in terms of the direct impact this has on a mom. She is working; maybe she has spouse support, maybe not. She is also the primary caregiver to a child living with a disability, and she is trying to make life work.

What does that look like for a mom? What are some of the common challenges that are faced?

9:10 a.m.

Parent Advisor, Pathways Health Centre for Children

Jennifer Howell

Thank you for that question.

What I can provide from my level in the organization is that navigating the health care and social system is hard for anyone. I can tell you that in all seriousness.

We are currently rolling out a couple of initiatives within the province of Ontario, one to coordinate service planning for families with children with complex special needs and another to integrate rehab services. Throughout the engagement with families prior to and during the implementation of those initiatives, we have heard from families how confusing it is, how they don't know where to go, and my colleague Jenny referred to the Ontario Works caseworker, who was also using her own research to try to find out where to go.

If professionals don't know where to go, just think how much harder it is for the family. They land somewhere but they are always second-guessing if they got to the right place, was there someone else they could have accessed, was there something they could have done better for their child?

I think that's probably what I can share with you about what I know of the impacts. Maybe Jenny can contribute.

9:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Pathways Health Centre for Children

Jenny Greensmith

When it comes to the funding for families, number one is trying to have everybody on the same page so that information can be delivered. But even in some situations, it's too much for a parent. I've had some families that just can't manage.

When they do receive funding, there are a lot of barriers and stipulations around it, and then there's the paperwork. I'll give you a scenario for the latter. A portion of the form for a disability tax credit, for instance, needs to be filled out by a doctor. You have a family that's already strapped for income; they go to get this filled out and it can cost them anywhere from $50 to $100. I've had families walk away because they cannot afford it. Furthermore, with a lot of these funding papers, a family also needs to provide documentation from their doctor, from their developmental pediatrician, or a psychologist, and there's also a price tag attached to that, which is a barrier. I've had some families that can't afford the doctor's note, or for the doctor to fill it out. Then they come back and we have to look at third-party funding. That's a whole new step and a lot of families don't have the energy and give up, meaning they have no access to that funding.

There's the time consumed with appointments. A lot of the treatment will happen as a block, and the demands will be such that maybe a couple of times a week, or weekly, a mother or caregiver will need to devote that time to the child. If they are trying to balance their work and caring for their disabled child, something has to give.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

Ms. Wilson, we've talked a little about the Indian Act and the fact that some changes to it are needed, or maybe we should scrap it altogether. I'm wondering if you can elaborate a little on how we work together toward a more prosperous future for aboriginal women. What would that look like in a holistic Canadian approach?

9:15 a.m.

Professor, University of Saskatchewan, As an Individual

Dr. Alex Wilson

To begin with, there has to be some kind of acknowledgement of the history that's happened. I know that sounds basic, but as an educator who teaches incoming first-year students and graduate students, you'd be surprised at how many 18- and 19-year-olds have no clue about the history of Canada in relation to indigenous peoples. They don't know about the residential school era. They don't know about the sixties scoop. They're continually getting fed stereotypes that they find on social media or even that they're taught in school.

Education, I think, is a foundational piece for awareness. Whether that's formal education through the K to 12 and the post-secondary system, or informal education through social movements or community organizations, I think there really needs to be a focus on that. That's the beginning, I would say.

The other thing is an acknowledgement that there is an imbalance in power. This is the committee on the status of women, where most of us are aware of the dynamics of domestic violence, for example, and that domestic violence is a gendered phenomenon whereby women are impacted in a different way from men. It's predominantly women who are the victims of domestic violence.

If you think of a violent relationship, there are two parties in it. Imagine saying to a couple, after a woman has experienced domestic violence, that they should get back together, get along, and move forward. A similar thing has happened with the relationship between indigenous peoples and Canada, the result of an unequal balance of power and the violence enacted on indigenous people, with indigenous women mostly feeling the effect of that.

So there has to be another acknowledgement that this unequal power relationship means that great care has to taken when making reparations around this relationship. I say so because telling two people just to get back together and start moving forward really undermines the self-worth of that person—or in this case of an entire group of people. They can be viewed as less than human, and that's certainly how we have been treated.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Marilyn Gladu

We're going now to Ms. Malcolmson for seven minutes.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Professor Wilson, I was ashamed to learn on Friday at a KAIROS blanket exercise for reconciliation on the Hill that indigenous people who earned a degree—to be a teacher, engineer, doctor, or whatever—were forced to give up their Indian status.

Everybody around the room is looking surprised by that, too. I had no idea. What a total calamity for the economy and discrimination. I'm embarrassed on behalf of the country, but I am embarrassed that as a legislator I didn't know that before. I'd like to hear your thoughts on that terrible story.

I have also been hearing from my colleague Romeo Saganash that this is still built into the Indian Act. Addressing that is part of the changes proposed in Bill S-3 to end gender-based discrimination, but we hear that the Liberal government is proposing to oppose the amendment regarding paragraph 6(1)(a), which would end that discrimination around employment and getting degrees, on the basis that more consultation is needed. Can you fill the committee in on that history, in your view?

9:20 a.m.

Professor, University of Saskatchewan, As an Individual

Dr. Alex Wilson

The Indian Act dictates who can be Indian and who is not Indian. One of the criteria was that if you were enfranchised as a Canadian, you were no longer Indian. There were different ways of enfranchisement. One was that if you enlisted in the armed forces, and another was if you were a woman and you married a non-status person, then you would not become Indian.

So that's where a lot of the focus is in court right now—on women and their descendants who lost their status because of marrying out. I believe that as we speak, there's a committee meeting right now on this topic.

Moreover, if you received an education you were enfranchised or assimilated as a Canadian. I haven't seen anybody who actually lost their status because they got a bachelor's degree or a mainstream education, so I don't know of any cases in which that actually happened, even though that was written into the Indian Act.

One thing that did impact people, though, is funding. If you were a first nations person and went to university, by the treaties you were supposed to be provided with financial support for education. That was challenged in the 1960s. In fact, my dad was one of the first people to challenge it when he went to the University of Saskatchewan, because the rationale was given that, for people of the time, the average education would be a grade 8, so he had already exceeded the expectations for an Indian. They were able to successfully challenge that.

Post-secondary funding is still unequal and still not up to par with what it should be. In fact, there hadn't been a change in the funding structure since 1992. That creates an unequal dynamic around access to education.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

That then has attendant economic consequences.

Thank you, thank you for your work.

I'm going to turn to the witnesses from Pathways Health Centre for Children.

In committee last week, we heard from women who bravely came to testify about some of the very same effects you have described. They are parents just caught in a never-ending cycle of having to care for children who are very ill or are living with disabilities, and having to leave their work and falling into poverty.

This particular group, Parents jusqu'au bout, described providing 24-7 care. We also heard that in addition to the challenge of navigating the complex benefits system that you've described, that their children may become ineligible as they pass the age of 18. They also said that the women themselves don't make enough money to pay income tax, and so the federal tax rebates that were set up to support their families are actually irrelevant to them. The rebate is a non-offer.

Can you describe any recommendations you have the federal government to make changes so that we could better support parents caring for children with disabilities by their having access to stable benefits?