Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech today on the concurrence motion on a report on women's issues, I want to pay tribute to a pioneer of women's equality. It is most appropriate at this time.
An article in the Whitehorse Star stated:
The Yukon lost its greatest champion for women's rights Saturday with the passing of Joyce Hayden. She was 77.
While Hayden served in the legislative assembly for one term as a New Democrat under the 1989-92 government of Tony Penikett, her achievements for the women’s movement in the territory went well beyond the halls of territorial politics.
“She leaves an enormous, enormous legacy for women,” said Charlotte Hrenchuk of the Yukon Status of Women’s Council, an organization Hayden brought to fruition in the early ‘70s.
“All the work for women’s equality in the Yukon came from a small group of women (which Hayden led). She was tremendous, and provided continuity to the women’s movement in the Yukon ... we’re losing a great pioneer for women’s equality.”
To witness her contribution, one need look no further than Whitehorse Transit, which evolved from the Yukon Women’s Mini-Bus Society that Hayden spearheaded in 1975.
Without a transit system in the Yukon capital, women were often stranded at home as their husbands used the family car to commute.
“The idea when we proposed it was, in those days, which was many years ago, for women with children who didn’t have access to vehicles,” recalled Dale Stokes, a friend of Hayden’s and colleague in the women’s movement.
“Getting it going was quite a feat actually, but Whitehorse residents have Joyce to thank (for their bus system).”
Marian Horne, the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate, fondly remembers how the mini-bus service often provided door-to-door service and was instrumental in providing women more personal freedom.
“Many former society members in Whitehorse can attest to Joyce’s pluck, dedication to the cause and perseverance as the reasons why the mini-bus service became a reality,” Horne said at a ceremony honouring the achievement in October 2008.
“A freelance writer and researcher by profession and a historian, feminist and community activist by choice,” is how Carcross Community School’s website, dedicated to documenting the lives of prominent Yukoners, describes Hayden.
Born in Birch Lake, Sask. in 1931, Hayden moved to the Yukon in 1953 with her husband, Earle. Here, they raised three children.
Through her activism, volunteerism and numerous contributions to the territory, Hayden earned the Canadian Volunteer Award, the Yukon Commissioner’s Award, the Rotary International Paul Harris Fellowship Award and was inducted into the Yukon’s Transportation Hall of Fame.
On Oct. 18, 2003, Hayden was honoured with the Governor General’s award in commemoration of the Persons Case--a landmark 1929 legal victory for women in which the judicial committee of England’s Privy Council (then the highest court in Canada) ruled “persons” in the British North America Act includes members of both sexes, not just men.
Previous interpretations of the term “persons” had been used to deny women from sitting in the Senate, and, in the case of Emily Murphy, who launched the original challenge, from becoming the first female police magistrate in Alberta in 1916.
In Hayden’s own right, she was involved in politics as a member, party executive and campaign manager for the NDP, both in B.C. and the Yukon.
She successfully ran in the 1989 territorial election, and, in mid-term, was named to the cabinet by Penikett.
She remained there until retiring from politics in 1992. While in office, Hayden presided over the Health and Social Services and Yukon Housing Corp. portfolios, and did not let the fact she was legally blind get in the way of her political determination or her ministerial duties.
Doug Phillips, a Yukon Party member who sat opposite Hayden in the legislature, fondly remembers his dealings with her.
“Sometimes the tone in the legislature can be mean and nasty, but Joyce was never like that,” he told the Star.
“Despite our political differences, you could sit and talk with her. She just wanted to get things done and was more interested in the issues you had, your suggestions to deal with them and that was always refreshing.”
Phillips called Hayden’s passing “a sad day,” and described his political rival as “a caring, compassionate person” who was “ahead of her time.”
“I’m just pleased to have worked with her,” added Phillips. “She had a great sense of humour, and we had some laughs in the legislature.”
Margaret Commodore, a cabinet colleague of Hayden’s during the later Penikett years, was a longtime friend of the late feminist dynamo.
“I’ve just got nothing but praise for her for whatever she’s done, and I’ve always admired her,” Commodore told the Star Tuesday from her home in Chilliwack, B.C.
“It’s hard to look back at all of those years and decide it was there one moment that springs out all of a sudden... I do remember her strength, she had that and was very consistent with what she believed in. You tend to learn from people like that and she definitely had that quality about her.”
Hayden is survived by Earle, three children and their spouses, Sandra and Darrell Merriman, Pat Burke and Dan Gresley-Jones, and Terry and Pat Hayden; as well as eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
That is the end of the Whitehorse Daily Star story, but I would add my own condolences to the family. In all the years I knew Joyce, she was, just as described in the article, always polite, soft, kind and yet very effective in the projects she took on. All Yukoners, especially the women for whom she achieved so much, will miss her.
I will now move to my speech on concurrence in the report. I first want to talk about the aboriginal women's summits that were mentioned earlier by the government, which I was glad it did. A number of summits were held in recent years to look at the totally unacceptable levels of violence against aboriginal women and an incredible number of murders and disappearances.
These summits, in which aboriginal women participated, came up with very long lists of excellent recommendations. Obviously, when these come from the people affected, they will have the best ideas as to how violence can be prevented. A summit was held in Newfoundland and in Whitehorse, which is where I spoke. I sincerely encourage the government to go over all the recommendations to see which ones have not been implemented and can be because they would go a long way to reducing violence against aboriginal women.
I want to note that there was a special ceremony outside the House at the Peace Tower. The Peace Tower was lit up in blue as a dedication to National Water Week. Acquiring water in the poorer parts of the world is a huge task and it often falls on women, which is more difficult for them because they also need to obtain quantities for their children and, therefore, may spend the better part of a day in very poor parts of the world doing just that one activity that we take for granted.
I am glad the motion also talks about women in international situations and not just women in Canada because the crisis happening in Canada now is exceptionally hard on people in desperate situations. We might forget that in other parts of the world people are being raped, murdered and put in prison for no good reason. There are people in even worse situations than we are. Women and girls are still bought, sold and trafficked and genital mutilation is still rampant in the world.
The countries I want to deal with internationally are the ones I have spent the most time on. Of course, in Darfur the systematic rape and killing of women is occurring. Due to the great work of the world famous human rights activist, the member for Mount Royal, the leader is being charged in the world court for war crimes. That situation continues to deserve the attention of the whole world. The Liberal member from London has done tremendous work in that country to alleviate the problems there.
In the Congo, of course, thousands of women are raped and murdered to get them out of the area so they are not an issue for the gangs that want to take over particular areas.
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the uprising in Tibet. In 1949, as we know, Chinese troops marched into Tibet and 10 years later there was a violent uprising where thousands were killed, including many innocent women. Human rights in various forms have been denied ever since.
My congratulations to all those who have kept up that struggle for half a century and will keep it up until it is over and victory is won, so that people will have their human rights, their culture and their religion back, as would be expected in today's modern and humane world.
I deal with another area as chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Burma. There is a horrendous dictatorship in Burma, where women are systematically raped and put in prison. There are extrajudicial murders and forced labour. They are just yanked out and told to build military roads, which of course they are not paid for. If they fall by the wayside, they may just be left to die. It is amazing to the whole world that Burma has put Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, on house arrest for many years. There is a tremendous lack of human rights. It is a huge sore in the humanitarianism of the world.
Right on the border it is bad too. In the place I visited, a girl had been murdered, her body burned and her head cut off just before I got there. The migrant workers told me this happens on an average of once a week.
It identified a problem that does not only occur there, but anywhere in the world where there are illegal migrants or illegal workers. They are often women. They can be taken advantage of by their employers, who threaten to expose their being in the country illegally if they do not work and exist under horrible conditions.
The last country I want to talk about is Iran, which systematically violates the human rights of its Baha'i citizens. For nearly 30 years it has persecuted the Baha'is, its religious minority, in a deliberate attempt to destroy the Baha'i community.
Three years ago, Iran issued a high-level confidential memorandum calling for the surveillance of all Baha'is. Since then, these attacks have intensified.
All seven leaders of this persecuted community were arrested ten months ago and remain in the notorious Evin Prison without formal charges or access to their lawyer, Shirin Ebadi. According to an Iranian news source, these prisoners will be indicted before the revolutionary court very soon on charges of espionage on behalf of Israel, insult to the sacredness of Islam and propaganda against the regime. These charges are baseless, but they are very serious and could lead to tragic consequences.
I hope that Canada will once again, as a great champion of human rights, stand behind these people, many of whom are women and who are totally unjustly charged.
I want to spend the remainder of my speech talking about some excellent but little-known report that came out recently. The member who is chair for our women's caucus and has done a lot of work on women was at the press release in November 2007. It is a study of women's homelessness north of 60°. There was an overall volume and then one volume for each of the three territories. This was an excellent report, and very detailed. Members can see it is very thick. It had all sorts of ideas and proposals.
Once again, I am putting these forward in a positive light. I hope that tomorrow the government will review these, go through the ones that have not been adopted and addressed, and use these good ideas for improving the lives of women in Canada, especially in the north, where women are so distinct but do not have conditions as good as those for men in similar situations.
I will read the 16 recommendations and then describe each of them.
One is to have a national housing policy that is inclusive of women. Two is to increase the supply of decent, safe, low income housing. Three is to have supportive housing options. Four is to increase emergency shelters. Five is to increase second stage housing options. Six is to have housing authority policies that remove barriers for women living in violence and those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Seven is to address landlord and tenant issues. Eight is to have poverty reduction strategies. Nine is to provide services to address the full range of determinants of women's homelessness. Ten is to remove the barriers to access services for homeless women. Eleven is to have appropriate funding for a range of front line services. Twelve is to have access to education and training programs. Thirteen is to have access to child care. Fourteen is to have mechanisms for collaborative and creative solution building. Fifteen is to have information collection, management and sharing. Sixteen is with respect to public awareness, attitude and change.
Those are all recommendations that came out of excellent reports from the three territories. Some information is generic to the territories, but a lot of the recommendations would apply across the country. I encourage governments at all levels, and the non-profit and volunteer organizations across the country to look at these recommendations and to do whatever they can.
I will not have time to explain all 16 recommendations, but I want to discuss some of the unique problems in the north.
On a winter's night, one does not see, as one does in southern Canada where most people live, people sleeping on subway grates trying to keep warm. When it is -30°C, -40°C or -50°C one would freeze to death. There is a type of homelessness one does not see, but it could be much worse because people have to find a warm place to stay. Women, sometimes with children in tow, find a warm place that is not particularly where they should be. They may have to provide services they otherwise would not want to provide, simply to avoid freezing to death. It is a horrible situation.
Homelessness is an even more critical problem in the north. There is a smaller population and therefore there is a smaller number of services. There are trans-generational problems that may not exist in such great numbers elsewhere. For someone to keep warm when it is -30°C or -40°C, there are huge heating and clothing costs which come out of a low fixed income. People may not have access to the literacy and educational services they need. There may not be enough shelters for women trying to get away from a violent situation. There may not be enough second stage housing once a woman gets out of a shelter and needs to be in a place for 9 to 18 months to get her life in order after fleeing that violent situation. And what about transportation and access to services? We are all pushing for and are happy that Internet and phone services can be installed. It is great for people in rural areas, but poor women and homeless women do not have phones and Internet. This puts women into a cycle of poverty.
We need public education against discrimination, racism and stereotypes of these women. Those things just make the situation worse.
There is a plethora of recommendations from various government departments. If we heed these excellent reports on women's homelessness in Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and the aboriginal summits, we can really move forward the situation of women in Canada.