Presentation of Canada's combined 8th and 9th Periodic Reports to the United Nations Committee responsible for the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

October 25, 2016

Introduction

Madam Chair and members of the Committee, Canada is pleased to be here today to present its combined 8th and 9th periodic reports under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

My name is Linda Savoie. I am the Senior Director General at Status of Women Canada. I am joined today by colleagues from various federal departments as well as from provincial governments. Allow me to introduce:

  • From Global Affairs Canada: Ambassador Rosemary McCarney, Ms. Catherine Godin and Ms. Lorraine Anderson
  • From Public Safety Canada, Ms. Kimberly Lavoie
  • From Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Ms. Margaret Buist and Ms. Sandra Laughren
  • From Employment and Social Development Canada, Ms. Gail Mitchell
  • From Justice Canada, Ms. Erin Brady
  • From Status of Women Canada, Ms. Suzanne Cooper and Ms. Krystal Novak
  • From Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Mr. Bruce Scoffield
  • Representing the Government of Quebec, Ms Lily Pol Neveu
  • Representing the Government of Ontario, Ms. Lisa Priest

All governments – federal, provincial and territorial – worked together to produce these documents and to prepare for this presentation. Civil society and Indigenous organizations also played an important role in identifying and advancing important aspects of Canada's implementation of the Convention.

Canada highly values the work and recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, which strengthen our ability to address human rights violations and better protect vulnerable women and girls. The approach to federalism in Canada reflects the reality of its diversity, both in terms of its geography, its history and its people. Our approach to federalism is decentralized and non-hierarchical. It is characterized by cooperation, responsibility and above all, a shared commitment to achieving results. Federal, provincial and territorial governments have common commitments, including our international obligations on human rights. Provincial/Territorial governments have distinct powers and responsibilities under our Constitution, which is why they are represented on our delegation.

As you know, since Canada submitted its combined 8th and 9th reports to CEDAW, there has been a federal election that led to a change in the leadership of the Government of Canada. Our Prime Minister has signaled a renewed commitment to gender equality, indeed declaring himself to be a feminist, and appointing the first ever full cabinet Minister who is responsible for the status of women. He also appointed a gender equal federal Cabinet, the first time in Canadian history.‎

Canada has demonstrated its full support for the United Nations sustainable development goals which reflect many Canadian core values, including gender equality. We are committed to leading by example in implementing the UN goal to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” at the national level, ensuring that no one is left behind in the process or outcome. Accordingly, we have developed a comprehensive results framework, identifying concrete outcomes that align with the UN sustainable development goals on gender equality. This framework will provide a roadmap for Canada to coordinate our efforts, leverage partnerships and engage communities and institutions toward the ultimate goal of gender equality in all aspects of Canadian life.

We understand that while Canada has articulated a renewed commitment to gender equality, we will be judged by our actions and not our words.

Gender Equality in Canada

As we approach our country's 150th anniversary next year, Canadians can feel very proud of the progress we have made in advancing the status of women and girls in Canada. At the same time, we are mindful that full gender equality remains elusive in our society. Gender-based violence remains a significant barrier to achieving gender equality, the gender wage gap persists, barriers prevent women from assuming leadership positions, and unacceptable disparities remain among women and girls of diverse backgrounds, including those who are Indigenous, have disabilities, are visible minorities, and/or are from sexual minority and gender non-conforming communities.

The challenge that we currently face in Canada is building on our successes and confronting the deeply entrenched attitudes of sexism and racism in many of our systems and institutions. Delivering credibly on gender equality objectives requires not only leadership, but meaningful investment in comprehensive action. While the Government has made important commitments to address long-term equality issues including the gender wage gap, women in leadership positions and violence against women and girls, these issues persist in large part because making progress requires large-scale, long-term investments. We know that transforming these systems and institutions and addressing the deeply entrenched discrimination will require a cohesive, collaborative and cross-jurisdictional approach. The federal Government is working with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous Peoples, and non-governmental organizations to continue this challenging work.

Key Developments

I would like to turn now to some key developments under the Convention since our last review in 2008. Canada has instituted a number of programs and measures that seek to further address the persistent inequalities experienced by women and girls in Canada, including those that seek to address the underlying factors associated with the gender wage gap.

Several new initiatives are aiming to address these issues, including the Canada Child Benefit, which helps families with the cost of childcare and the establishment of a poverty reduction strategy. The Government of Canada has also committed to negotiating with provinces, territories and Indigenous people on a new Early Learning and Child Care Framework. These are being developed in partnership with the provinces and territories to deliver affordable, high-quality, flexible, and fully inclusive child care for Canadian families.

Most jurisdictions in Canada have pay equity legislation, provisions or policies in place that address gender wage gap discrepancies within their public service. Some have legislation which requires equal pay for work of equal value in the private sector (such as Ontario and Quebec). The Government of Canada supports substantive reform of pay equity in the federal jurisdiction and is committed to making tangible progress on this issue within its current mandate. The Government intends to move forward with proactive pay equity legislation by late 2018 that includes, among other things, robust and independent oversight as well as meaningful roles for employers and employees in implementing pay equity.

Canada takes the issue of violence against women and children very seriously and is committed to ensuring the safety and security of all women and children in Canada. We recognize that violence against women and children, including intimate partner violence and child maltreatment, is a serious public health issue, with both immediate and long-term health and social consequences for individuals, families, communities, and society.

Canada's publicly-funded universal health care system is a source of pride for Canadians. The principles governing our health care system are symbols of our underlying Canadian values of equity and solidarity. We recognize the importance of ensuring that all Canadian women, irrespective of age, race, ethnicity, abilities, gender identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background, have access to health care and health services, including sexual and reproductive health care, health services and information that are relevant and sensitive to their needs as crucial to improving overall health and quality of life.

The Government of Canada is currently working on a number of commitments relevant to reducing gender-based violence. For example, the Minister of Status of Women is currently working with other Ministers to develop a federal strategy against gender-based violence which will align with provincial/territorial efforts and strengthen federal efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls, including Indigenous women and girls. Many provinces and territories also have strategies and actions that they are pursuing to end and address the underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, as well as violence against women and girls more generally. It is expected that the Federal Strategy will be released in 2017.

The Government of Canada is also in the process of developing a National Housing Strategy in order to re-establish the federal government's role in supporting affordable housing. Consultations on the National Housing Strategy have included discussions on homelessness, shelters and on new approaches to developing housing options for victims of domestic violence. The Government of Canada has invested $89.9 million over two years for the construction and renovation of shelters and transition house for victims of family violence in province and territories. The federal government has also committed to supporting Housing First initiatives that help homeless Canadians find stable housing

Other relevant commitments include a review of our criminal justice system and sentencing reforms, which will help address legal and criminal justice responses, particularly for victims of violence. We are also working to address gaps in services to Indigenous Peoples and those with mental illness throughout the criminal justice system.

This renewed commitment to gender equality has also provided an opportunity for the Government of Canada to develop and implement more robust processes to ensure gender-based analysis is applied more systematically than in the past on all cabinet proposals.

I would now like to turn it over to my colleague, Margaret Buist from Indigenous and Northern Affairs, to speak specifically about the issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada

Thank you. I am pleased to address the Committee and speak to the issue of Indigenous women and girls in Canada, particularly the high rates of violence perpetrated against them and the steps Canada is taking to end this violence.

Canada's Prime Minister has indicated that there is no relationship more important than the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, a relationship that is based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership, and to making real progress on issues like community safety, policing, housing, employment, health, child welfare, and education.

Reaffirming its commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, the Government of Canada has accepted the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is working with key partners, including leaders of First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, to design an engagement strategy for developing a national reconciliation framework. Some provinces and territories have also formally accepted the recommendations and have developed responses. The province of Ontario, for example, has committed to investing more than $250 million over three years in new initiatives by understanding the legacy of residential schools, closing gaps and removing barriers and creating a culturally relevant and responsive justice system.

In addition, in May 2016, the Government of Canada announced that Canada is now a full supporter, without reservation, of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and committed to full implementation of the Declaration. We will engage with and work in full partnership with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit, as well as provinces, territories and stakeholders, on the path forward.

In June 2016, federal, provincial and territorial Ministers responsible for Indigenous Affairs as well as Indigenous leaders agreed to establish the framework for a new Federal/Provincial/Territorial and Indigenous Forum (FPTIF). The Forum will help to strengthen the partnership among members and address issues of importance to Indigenous peoples in Canada, including violence against Indigenous women and girls. In response to numerous calls to action, including from this committee, Canada established a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada.

The Canadian government acknowledges the important work of the CEDAW Committee in studying the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, and its resulting report and recommendations.

Canada would also like to acknowledge the advice provided by human rights experts from the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on how to structure the Inquiry.

Families, loved ones, and survivors' experiences were central to the design of the National Inquiry. There were 18 face-to-face meetings that involved one or more Ministers of the federal Government during the pre-inquiry engagement. More than 2,100 survivors participated in these sessions, and we received another 4,100 responses online.

There are a few key elements of the terms of reference for the National Inquiry that I would like to outline:

  • The mandate of the Commission is to examine and report on systemic causes of all forms of violence that Indigenous women and girls experience and their greater vulnerability to that violence. The Commission will be looking for patterns and underlying factors that explain why the higher levels of violence occur. It will be up to the Commission to determine what issues to examine.
  • The Commission is also directed to examine and report on institutional policies and practices implemented, in any jurisdiction, in response to violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls, such as policing.
  • The Inquiry will be truly national. All provinces and territories agreed to legally adopt the Terms of Reference under their respective Public Inquiries Acts. The majority of provinces and territories have now passed Orders-in-council under their respective legislation, to support the National Inquiry. The remaining provinces and territories expect to do so shortly.
  • Parallel to the Inquiry, Canada will provide new funding, $11.67 million over three years for new Family Information Liaison Units in the victims' services offices of provinces and territories as well as an additional $4.5 million over four years in enhanced funding for culturally responsive trauma informed services for families.
  • These Family Information Liaison Units will work directly with families of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls to gather the outstanding information they seek from government agencies and organizations related to the loss of their loved one. The Government of Canada is working with its provincial and territorial partners to set up Family Information Units within each provincial and territorial victim services unit as quickly as possible.
  • In terms of how survivors, family members and loved ones and Indigenous groups could be involved, the Independent Commission is authorized to set up issue-specific advisory bodies composed of: Elders, youth, families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, experts and academics as well as representatives of national, Indigenous, local and feminist organizations. The Committee is also authorized to set up regional advisory committees.

The independent Commission began its work on September 1, 2016 and will be provided $53.8 million over two years to complete its mandate. The Commissioners will not be starting from scratch; the terms of reference authorize the independent inquiry to review existing studies and recommendations such as this committee's 2015 CEDAW study.

The Commission's interim report is due November 2017, and a final report is expected in November, 2018.

This Inquiry is one part of many steps that Canada is undertaking to address the ongoing inequalities experienced by Indigenous women and girls, including the high rates of violence.

Federal Budget 2016 proposed a historic $8.4 billion for specific Indigenous investments. These new investments in education, safe water, housing, training, women's shelters, and child and family services will begin to address some of the underlying causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls, and promote opportunity and inclusive growth. They will also support a process to reform the federal government's Child and Family services program.

In terms of other action to end violence against Indigenous women and girls, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, which came into force on December 16, 2014, provides on-reserve spouses and common-law partners with options, rights, and protections previously unavailable to them. It also may mitigate domestic violence by providing avenues for victims to seek protection.

The Canadian government is also working through the trilateral, Canada, U.S. and Mexico working group to combat human trafficking, and the newly established Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls to contribute to regional efforts to end trafficking.

Across the country, provincial and territorial governments, realizing that everybody has a role in ending violence, are taking action to combat violence against Indigenous women.

In February 2016, the Ontario government announced a commitment of $100 million in new funding over three years to support Walking Together: Ontario's Long-Term Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women.

In the North, the Yukon Territory has provided $200,000 in funding to five culturally relevant initiatives designed and developed by and for Indigenous women, as a key strategy in taking collective action on violence against Indigenous women.

While a lot of work to end violence against Indigenous women is underway, Canada understands that there is more work to do and looks forward to receiving the recommendations of the Independent inquiry to help us shape a better path forward for Indigenous women and girls.

I would now like to turn it back over to Linda Savoie for concluding remarks.

Conclusion

Thank you.

Madam Chair and members of the Committee, Canada is proud of its progress on advancing gender equality and implementing the Convention. While challenges remain, we are committed to addressing them with a renewed spirit of cooperation across all levels of government, and a belief that these challenges are best addressed through an inclusive, open, and transparent approach that leverages the strength of the diverse viewpoints across Canada.

In a highly dynamic and evolving context, Canadian governments, and Canadian citizens, recognize that we need to continue to improve. Our progress is strengthened by embracing opportunities for constructive dialogue on these important issues that are fundamental to a strong, pluralistic Canadian society. We look forward to responding to your questions and to hearing the Committee's views.

Thank you.

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