Motion No. 444
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should develop, in collaboration with the provinces, territories, civil society and First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and their representatives, a coordinated National Action Plan to Address Violence Against Women which would include: (a) initiatives to address socio-economic factors contributing to violence against women; (b) policies to prevent violence against women and policies to respond to survivors of violence; (c) benchmarks for measuring progress based on the collection of data on levels of violence against women over time; (d) independent research on emerging issues that relate to violence against women; (e) a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls; (f) strategies that address the specific needs and vulnerabilities of different communities including specific attention to Aboriginal women, women with disabilities, women from minority groups and young women; (g) participation by community and other civil society organizations, including support for those organizations to participate in the implementation of the national action plan; and (h) human and financial resources earmarked specifically to carry out the program of action set by the plan.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured today to rise to support Motion No. 444, a motion to create a national action plan to address violence against women.
It is a privilege to move such a motion in the House.
It is my great privilege to sponsor this motion, which is the only meaningful legislation to address violence against women that Canada has seen in decades. Now the need for action is urgent. The next steps are clearly laid out by feminist anti-violence advocates across our country. They are asking for a national, coordinated, comprehensive action plan that works in partnership with provincial, territorial, and indigenous governments.
It is my sincere hope that, with this motion, we can resolve together to set Canada on the path toward sustained and substantive equality for women and girls, because we know that without freedom from violence, women cannot achieve equality and, without gender equality, women will always remain vulnerable to violence.
I would like to begin my speech by thanking the advocates, front-line workers, survivors, and community members who have taken time out from their extremely busy schedules and busy lives to meet with me as I travelled from region to region over the past three years. These remarkable people have dedicated themselves to confronting the violence women face every single day, and they deserve honour and gratitude from the House and from all Canadians.
It is due to the extraordinary efforts of this chronically underfunded and under-resourced sector that women find safety, support, and justice. While the needs of women vary quite a bit between regions and communities, the majority of people I met with had a very singular message to deliver to their federal government: violence against women is a crisis in Canada and it is getting worse, not better.
This crisis is fed by systemic gender-based discrimination and women's inequality. Likewise, the way forward for our government is to empower women to address that inequality. To do nothing is to perpetuate it. To do too little is to perpetuate it. To ignore the voices of survivors, family members, evidence-based researchers, and front-line service providers who know what Canada can be doing right now is to willfully neglect the safety of women in our country.
What would a national action plan do to change the landscape of anti-violence services for women? Ann Decter, the director of advocacy and public policies for YWCA Canada says:
Canada needs a national action plan on violence against women that will set national standards for prevention, support services, legal services and access to justice and crucial social policies, such as access to safe, affordable housing. A National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women needs to be part of the plan. M-444 provides for all of this, and as such, has our full support.
Not only has the federal government not done enough to recognize, treat, and prevent violence against women, but for the past several decades under the Liberals and the Conservatives, the governments have adopted policy that actively places vulnerable women further at risk.
For example, when the Liberals came to power in 1993, they cut off federal investment in new social housing projects. In 1996, the Liberal government announced the end of the national affordable housing program. By the late nineties, it had created a serious housing shortage that has directly resulted in the increased vulnerability of women who must leave situations of domestic violence. Indeed, a lack of affordable housing is the number one reason why women cannot functionally escape the violence they face.
Needless to say, the Conservatives have continued to abandon their responsibility to deal with housing problems, and it is Canadian women who continue to bear the brunt of this burden.
When the Liberal government downloaded legal aid onto the provinces and cut off all earmarked funding, it created conditions in which women now find it nearly impossible to seek justice and safety through the courts.
When the Conservatives elected to forbid funding to any research or advocacy, Canada fell into a state of having little to no data regarding violence against women. This is a very serious problem, and only a national action plan could begin to solve it.
Kate MacInturff, one of Canada's foremost feminist voices writes:
The difficulty of collecting data about violence against women has been a barrier to progress in ending that violence. However, the data that does exist tells us three things very clearly: this problem is big, it comes at a high cost, and we are making little or no progress in putting a stop to it.
It was the Liberals who were at the helm when poverty conditions on first nations grew worse and worse. Under a majority government, funding for first nations education on reserve was cut. The Conservatives have done nothing to fix this gap. The Auditor General reports that schools on reserve are underfunded by 30% compared with schools off reserve.
We now see indigenous women facing extreme rates of violence that correspond directly to extreme rates of poverty, housing shortages, and a lack of economic opportunities. Make no mistake, the systemic and long-standing underfunding of first nations is a form of racial discrimination against indigenous peoples.
Dr. Dawn Harvard, the interim president of the Native Women's Association of Canada wrote to me and said:
It is crucial that a National Action Plan assess the root causes in order to address Violence Against Women.
The fact that many Aboriginal women were killed by someone who shares their ethnicity is something that holds true for most victims of homicide, regardless of their ethnic origin. Therefore, we cannot write off this issue, by saying it is Aboriginal men killing Aboriginal women, and therefore, is not a federal responsibility or there is not a need for an inquiry or any of these kinds of excuses that seems to be inferred.
We also know that there continues to be non-Aboriginal men that are extremely violent toward Aboriginal women, and that Aboriginal women experience more severe forms of violence by these offenders than non-Aboriginal women so there continues to be racialized hatred and devaluation exhibited against Aboriginal women and this needs to be addressed.
Dr. Harvard went on to say:
A National Action Plan can also create a mechanism for investigations into misconduct and discrimination within the criminal justice system and police forces and needs to establish a mechanism for investigating allegations of misconduct or discrimination within the federal, provincial or territorial components of the criminal justice system, and hold accountable those entities who commit acts of misconduct or discrimination.
M-444 is very clear: a national action plan to address violence against women must include a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. Almost every governing body in Canada, along with the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women's Association of Canada, and many indigenous people, are in agreement that a national inquiry, done properly, is necessary to treat the root causes this tragedy. Only the Conservatives disagree, and they alone stand in opposition to real, substantive action.
Meanwhile women continue to disappear and women continue to be killed. Where I'm from, in northern Manitoba, every single community has been affected by the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women. The tragic cases of women from our riding, including Lorna Blacksmith, Leah Anderson, and Tina Fontaine, who were murdered in the last few years, have led many Manitobans to speak out and organize. The story and bravery of Rinelle Harper inspired action back home and across the country. For me and for our north, this fight is personal to all of us, and we will not stop until there are no more missing and murdered indigenous women in our country.
While denying the call for a national inquiry and litigating against those who seek to correct funding discrimination against first nations children, this Conservative government repeatedly ignores calls from the UN and other international human rights organizations to take action to address the systemic discrimination, racism, and violence endured by indigenous women and their families.
The relationship between Canada and first nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples is now in a state of crisis. My colleagues in the NDP, including our leader, know there is a different way forward. We are committed to a national inquiry. We are committed to a national action plan. We are committed to a housing strategy that includes indigenous communities both on and off reserve, and we are committed to forming a nation-to-nation relationship that will take all of us forward.
For me, as the member of Parliament for Churchill and the aboriginal affairs critic for the NDP, this is not a theoretical pledge but the first steps toward healing and reconciliation. When we speak about violence against women, it is crucial that we understand the intersectionality that can compound the risk of violence, and advocates across the country know this to be the case every day.
Although violence happens to all women, regardless of class, race, sexuality, or gender identity, it is important to recognize that inequality in all its forms can increase violence in the lives of women. The most effective way to end violence against women is to address the root causes of inequality. Canadian women earn 72% of what men earn and work one-third of minimum wage jobs. We need to address the economic inequality and the feminization of poverty that we are seeing across our country.
Racialized women are often the target of discrimination, stereotyping, and harassment. We need to address racism in Canada.
Many immigrant women are facing isolation and lack of access to anti-violence services. Women are made increasingly vulnerable to abuse when their immigration status is tied to their work visas or their marriage status. We must address the violence faced by immigrants, refugees, and temporary foreign workers who are women.
We must confront transphobia. Earlier today, outside on the lawn of Parliament Hill, trans folks and allies gathered to voice their outrage that the current government will allow Bill C-279 to be destroyed by an unelected Senate. Transgender women face some of the highest rates of violence in the country. Of all marginalized peoples, trans folk immediately require the explicit right to live free of discrimination.
I am proud of the work we have done in the NDP. We have repeatedly brought this bill forward and will continue to do so until this vital piece of human rights legislation is enshrined once and for all.
Disabled women face disproportionate rates of violence. Queer women, women who are lesbians, face disproportionate levels of violence. That intersectional understanding of the violence they face is critical in moving forward with a national action plan.
After speaking to hundreds of women and advocates about this motion, I can say that the one point I heard repeatedly was that anti-violence services cannot continue to function with few or no resources.
The Canadian Network of Women's Shelters & Transition Houses recently published its 2015 shelter voices survey. It found that, on a single day, shelters in Canada welcomed 122 new women residents and 81 child residents. However, on that same day shelters were forced—and are forced—to turn away 302 women and 221 children seeking shelter, due to a lack of resources. It is heartbreaking and infuriating for the service providers. I have been told first-hand from multiple sources that most front-line staff are actively subsidizing the government with free labour.
Let us be clear. This is about the money. Governments choose to prioritize funding, and the violence against women sector is simply underfunded and has been for decades. It has not been prioritized by Liberal or Conservative governments. In the meantime, we are the ones giving voice to the need for a national action plan.
This issue is as personal as it is political for me, my colleagues, and my community. We have seen women, feminists, across the country make history to draw attention to the violence they face on campuses, on social media, in the workplace, and on our streets. Parliament must sit up and pay attention to the conversation women are having on the ground, in classrooms, online, and everywhere. It is our right as women to demand action from the government, and it is our responsibility as parliamentarians to respond and take action.