Wednesday, February 15

Hell hath no fury . . .

(Halifax Herald Feb 15 2007) Halifax women protest funding cuts to equality programs with angry Valentines to PM

Hundreds of valentines sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday lacked the typical lovey-dovey note most cards include.

Instead, the message on the fluorescent pink postcards was that women are angry and want action.

The national postcard campaign, organized by the Nova Scotia group The Women are Angry, comes on the tail of recent federal budget cuts to women’s rights programs.

On Wednesday, members of women’s advocacy groups across the province crammed into a room at the Gottingen Street YMCA in Halifax to voice their demands.

"Hey! Harper! Leave our funds alone!" a group toting black pompoms and calling themselves the Radical Cheerleaders sang to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall.

The roughly two dozen women in attendance shouted their support, clapping along with the Tory-bashing cheers.

The women say they are specifically upset with a $5-million budget cut to Status of Women Canada, as well as the cancellation of federal-provincial child-care agreements and a national court challenges program.

Stephanie Hunter, co-ordinator of Feminists for Just and Equitable Public Policy, said these changes, which went into effect last year, "will have a direct and negative impact on women."
The Conservatives are further dismantling Canada’s social safety net, widening the gap between the rich and poor, increasing job insecurity and failing to address violence against women," Ms. Hunter said in a release Wednesday.
ue Wolstenholme, executive director of operations for the YWCA of Halifax, pointed out that by trashing the individual provinces’ child-care agreements, the Conservatives are ultimately attacking women.

"The only choice this will provide women is to stay at home themselves or continue cobbling together inadequate, usually unaffordable, often poor quality and sometimes dangerous care situations for their children," she said to the group.

Rhianydd Bellis, who spoke on behalf of Dalhousie Legal Aid, said the recent cuts have cost many Canadians their access to justice.

The third-year law student was referring to a court challenges program that helps fund court cases challenging laws that could violate basic human rights and equality.

Or at least it used to do that, Ms. Bellis said.

Mr. Harper announced Sept. 26 that the program’s budget would be eliminated.
"Shame, shame," members of the audience called out when they heard this. Ms. Bellis nodded in agreement.

"Those who need to point out the imperfections in our laws, and are brave enough to do so, deserve to be heard," she said. "To many, if not most, Canadians, complex charter litigation is beyond their means. Cancelling the program has created a situation whereby only those with deep pockets will be able to afford to contest laws."

All the speakers Wednesday seemed to tap into the unhappiness many women have with the Tory government. They urged people to sign a postcard and send it along to the prime minister.
Postcards can be downloaded from the website,

Tuesday, February 14

NDP delivers valentine to PM but no love for PM's record on women

Post archived on blog - date of article February 2007

NDP sent a valentine to Prime Minister Stephen Harper but it wasn't sealed with a kiss.

More like a kiss-off. Instead of the usual syrupy ode to love, the New Democrats' valentine card offered a few lines of snarky verse:

"Women's equality is now under threat.
Cuts to Status of Women, is that all we get?
Canadian women fought too hard to go back.
We demand action to get back on track."

It concluded with the decidedly unsentimental tag line: "Harper, women deserve equality now."
London MP Irene Mathyssen tried to deliver the poem in person at the prime minister's official residence. But security guards wouldn't let her on the premises or accept the huge heart-shaped box containing the message.

Colleague Peggy Nash eventually just handed the valentine to Harper in the House of Commons. The same verse was delivered to most of Harper's ministers.

Later in question period, Mathyssen aimed some arrows - definitely not of the Cupid variety - at the government for slashing $5 million from status of women programs.

"This government does not support women and it does not have any intention of promoting equality," she railed.

"In 1989, 14 women were murdered in Montreal. Since then, 65 women have gone missing in Vancouver and hundreds of Canadian women in between. We will not stay quiet. We will not tolerate violence. We will not rest until we have equality."

Heritage Minister Bev Oda calmly shrugged off the darts. She insisted that Canadian women realize the Conservative government is promoting women's equality.

"That's why this party is the government now and will be for a long time to come."

Saturday, February 11

Maude Barlow's 10 steps to generating change

There are few social issues that Canada's most famous activist has not tackled. Maude Barlow, feminist, environmentalist, champion of the poor and anti-globalization campaigner, has pretty well seen them all and devised effective campaigns to raise awareness of them. The national chairperson of the Council of Canadians offers a succinct 10 steps on how to change society:

1) Get the right issue. You have to have an issue that people care about. You can't manufacture it. And sometimes you just can't figure out what issue will suddenly take off. Like when the Multilateral Agreement on Investment story broke in the late 1990s, I knew it was important but it was an obscure proposed investment agreement from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. And for whatever set of reasons, it just hit a nerve and we ended up with no fewer than 600 local groups against the MAI in Canada. (The MAI would have given corporations in World Trade Organization countries the right to sue foreign governments that pass laws against the companies' corporate interests.) It was really truly a corporate bill of rights. We defeated it. It was the first international resistance Internet campaign.

2) Use the Internet to inform people and to organize them. It is the great equalizer. Even a small poverty-stricken village in Nairobi can raise world awareness of its plight through a single computer.

3) You must provide really good material that is readable. Even with a simple thing like a street name. If you are taking a thing like a proposed bit of environmental legislation or a trade agreement, you've got to make sure that you've got the background and the legal analysis and the political and social analysis. You have to have that because you have to convince the policy makers that you are serious. And then you have to turn that into language that ordinary people can understand and use. You need to put out basic factsheets and you put out little mini videos on an issue over the Internet. The kind of media that young people can relate to. Do whatever is going to reach people.

4) Make activism easy. Give people simple ways to express their opposition directly to the people in power - politicians, corporate leaders, etc. Use a phone or email tree where you can get literally hundreds of thousands of calls and emails in to your member of Parliament in a matter of days. Once you have got this technology down pat, you can really move it.

5) Get to the media. Frankly, that's harder than it used to be. Print media are more conservative and owned by some pretty big business interests that wouldn't necessarily agree with your point of view. It's harder to get through the mainstream media, but you can't bypass that.

6) Network. You always have to network. You have to identify other organizations you should be working with. So, for instance, on the campaign for the right to water, we brought in environmental groups, human rights groups, labour groups, faith-based groups, social justice groups, and brought them together from different perspectives but where we have one common goal, and that is that we want Canada to reverse its opposition to the right to water. In other words, rally the stakeholders.

7) You are in for the long haul. The notion of winning climate-change issues or winning decent legislation for water is not going to happen in any of our lifetimes. Winning is building a movement and winning is building consciousness. And then the consciousness is going to flip enough so that it is the dominant consciousness. Like climate change has suddenly happened. For years and years and years you are in the wilderness and then all of a sudden your viewpoint is the dominant one.

8) You have to give people benchmarks for success. You can't win every single campaign. It's a mug's game to think that you are going to win every time. You have to think in terms of building a movement.

9) Always treat the opposition with respect.

10) Have some fun. If you don't have fun and you don't make it joyful and you don't stop and have a glass of wine and take some time to renew, it's just all work. What people don't realize is that social activism is just a wonderful choice of lifestyle. You meet the nicest people and I have the most interesting life of anybody I know. You have to get pleasure and joy from it; otherwise you will burn out.

Friday, February 10

International Women's Day - IWD - 2007

Let’s Put Equality Back On Track!
• If you have any information on IWD events in your province and/or your city, please visit:
• Si vous savez quoi que ce soit au sujet d’activités qui se dérouleront dans le cadre de la Journée internationale des femmes dans votre ville ou dans votre province, veuillez visitez :

For the last few months, women across the country have been speaking out for women’s equality. From Yellowknife to Corner Brook, from Vancouver to Moncton, from Halifax to Quebec City, women have organized rallies, letter writing and post card campaigns, meetings and demonstrations, and even bra burnings and mock funerals for equality. Women have written newspapers and participated in talk shows, called and written and lobbied their federal and provincial members of parliament, set up websites and equality hotlines to get the message out.

At the pan-Canadian level, an Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights has been working constantly to raise women’s equality concerns with Cabinet Ministers and the federal opposition parties, organized a rally on Parliament Hill on December 10th and worked with national media and local groups across the country.

The Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights has created a short popular pamphlet and stickers on the theme “Put Equality Back on Track”.

Please consider ordering quantities of these materials for distribution in your communities. (Contact the Canadian Labour Congress at: to place your orders.)

Together we can make sure that women’s voices are heard. Together we can Put Equality Back on Track!

For Up To Date IWD 2007 Events Listing


Thursday, February 9

Political bias in ending federal subsidy program?

Keeping some advocacy groups out of court

February 03, 2007

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper axed the Court Challenges Program last fall, Ottawa's rationale was that taxpayers shouldn't have to support interest groups trying to take elected governments to court.

"I just don't think it made sense for the government to subsidize lawyers to challenge the government's own laws," then-treasury board president John Baird explained.

Certainly, the program, with an annual budget of about $2.8 million, did fund controversial Supreme Court challenges.

Thanks in part to federal money, seniors won the right to collect employment insurance benefits, English-language rights were guaranteed in Quebec and gays were accorded constitutional equality protection.

But what Baird didn't mention is that taxpayers are still subsidizing interest groups that want to take governments to court. The big difference is that, now, proportionally more public money goes to fund conservative causes – including attempts to dismantle medicare.

The poster boy for what is, in effect, a hidden court challenges program is the Calgary-based Canadian Constitution Foundation. Founded in 2002, it opposes what it sees as the watering down of constitutional principles by governments and left-wing interest groups.

To that end, it is directly subsidizing a long-running court challenge against the 2000 self-government treaty between Ottawa, British Columbia and the Nisga'a people of that province. Executive director John Carpay says it is also helping to fund a constitutional challenge against Alberta's medicare system, launched last September by Calgary accountant Bill Murray.

"The Canadian Constitution is now under almost continuous barrage," the foundation says on its website. "And the forces assembled against it, with their own narrow interests and goals at their back, are varied, strong, relentless – and growing."
Until its demise last fall, the Court Challenges Program was front and centre among those dark forces. Its sin, in Carpay's words, was to give money "to special interest groups to advance their politically correct causes through the courts. ...
"Requiring people to pay for advocacy with which they disagree does violence to a person's conscience," he wrote in the Calgary Herald. "How would (pro-choice) supporters feel if their tax dollars were used for court challenges to recognize the right of unborn children?"

Which would be a reasonable argument if the legal playing field were level and if no advocacy group of any political persuasion received government money.
But in the real world, neither of those conditions holds. First, the playing field is not level. Constitutional court cases are prohibitively expensive for anyone without access to a lot of money. Second, the end of the Court Challenges Program may have reduced federal subsidies, but it has not ended them. It has merely redirected them.

The mechanism for this redirection is the registered charity. Thanks to the Canadian Constitution Foundation's charitable status, anyone who supports its particular political causes gets a tax writeoff that, in effect, all other taxpayers – including those who disagree with its aims – have to cover.

The more successful the foundation is in encouraging wealthy Canadians to support its particular brand of political advocacy, the greater will be the tax loss that other Canadians will have to make up.

True, it isn't the only political advocacy group to take advantage of Canada's loose charitable donation rules. The long-established and more left-leaning Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) has been doing so for years.

Indeed, last year, it took in more tax-subsidized donations than the Canadian Constitution Foundation – $324,652 as opposed to $208,500.

The key difference is that LEAF does not directly fund individuals who want to argue constitutional cases. It might intervene in a case involving women's rights, says executive director Audrey Johnson. But the person initiating the action would first have to find the money to get the ball rolling.

Which is where the now-defunct Court Challenges Program used to come in.
I have some sympathy with those alarmed by the explicit politicization of the courts, a development encouraged by Canada's decision to entrench a charter of rights in its constitution.

Yet, unless we decide to eliminate the charter, we are fated to live in this world. And with the courts now explicitly political, it makes sense to ensure that all Canadians have equal access to them.

If that requires government subsidies, then so be it. But surely it is better to subsidize openly and fairly rather than have the taxpayers fund political actions disguised as acts of charity. That's dishonest.

Given that the direction of "charitable" political activity is ultimately determined by those with the most money, it is also unfair.

Wednesday, February 8

Harper's no ladies man

Look at his cabinet, his track record and his failure to act – Stephen Harper is crushing Canadian women

By Heather Mallick

Stephen Harper's government has been the least welcoming to women since the bad old days. And the bad old days weren't so long ago. Before 1982, rape victims still had to provide their sexual histories in court and the Supreme Court did not have a single woman Justice. Status of Women Canada only became a federal ministry in 1976, and until 1981, it was run by men. I grew up absolutely confident of my rights as a woman. I am no longer so sure. Younger women should brace themselves.

Thirty years later, Stephen Harper has crushed Status of Women. The federal agency no longer fights for "equality," that dirty word having been removed from its mandate. No, this now-puny agency exists "to facilitate women's participation in Canadian society by addressing their economic, social and cultural situation through Canadian organizations."

I don't know what that means – that we can now purchase tampons tax-free at the local Legion Hall? Or get our driveways shovelled gratis? – but it does signal that the Conservatives don't like women, especially the ones who speak up.

Here's proof. Proportionately, the Conservatives have the fewest women MPs of any party. They have 11 per cent while the Liberals have 20 per cent , the Bloc 33 per cent and the NDP 41. Harper's cabinet has fewer women (six of 26) than Mulroney's did in 1992.

And once there, women are powerless. When Harper needs someone to look foolish or unpopular, he goes for a woman. Rookie Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, whom Harper turfed in January, was willing to be stupid about global warming, making blunder after blunder. Heritage Minister Bev Oda obediently dropped Status of Women into the food processor.

Then there's child care. The NDP forced the smug Liberals to set up national child care after 12 years of red-book Liberal promising and three consecutive surplus budgets. Harper killed the plan and then sourly offered parents 100 bucks a month.

I wince when I see the ads. I remember my husband in utter despair over sending his small children trudging off with their little backpacks to daycare in the hottest month of the summer. But that's the best he could afford, and Harper's pathetic allowance wouldn't have helped even then.

Harper's women have learned to avoid success lest they be punished. Conservative Alberta MP Diane Ablonczy was once Harper's rival. But she's been erased from any meaningful political landscape. Belinda Stronach left the party after Harper shouted at her, in front of others. He thought a woman would naturally submit to bullying.

Deborah Grey, a Reform MP I liked, was attacked by her former allies for deciding to join the MPs' pension plan she had once condemned. Grab it, Deborah, I thought. Wait till you're old, or ill, or widowed. Do you really want to be destitute like your average Canadian senior, for the sake of a party that doesn't like your gender?

Grey is among those women MPs who are always assessed for beauty and found wanting. She was called a "slab of bacon" (by a Liberal male) for being fat. Belinda Stronach was referred to as a dog (by Tory boy-minister Peter MacKay). Liberal cabinet minister Diane Marleau a "two by four" (by a Reform male).

No one points out that Rona Ambrose's replacement, the new Environment Minister John Baird, has become obese, the fat forcing its way up his big neck and squeezing his eyes almost shut. It's okay for a man to be fat, public death for a woman.

It gave Canadians pleasure to punish the arrogant Liberals in the last election, and rightly so. But electing a minority Conservative government has been a disaster for women. With no day care, an end to the quest for equality, no power, no voice, it is as if Harper's icy dislike has laid a thick grey layer of felt over women in this country. He doesn't trust or admire us. He does not consider our interests or our welfare. We do not exist for him, except when we need dismissing.

The best thing for women in the next election would be a Liberal government with a strong, vocal NDP presence to keep them alert to women's concerns. The path we are on now is degrading. Our daughters futures look bleak indeed.

Wednesday, February 1

Montrealer to start federal women’s party

McGill Daily - Montreal,Quebec,Canada“I’m not sure how successful a new party would be given the separation of votes between federalist and separatist in Quebec,”..............

Montrealer to start federal women’s party

But efficacy of using a party system to address inequality critiized

By Carl MeyerThe Excalibur (CUP)

Carol Taylor hopes that to bring representatives of underrepresented and disadvantaged groups into the House of Commons, and to legalize marijuana.

Courtesy of Carol TaylorDisillusioned with Canadian politics? Carol Taylor is starting up her own federal party: the Woman Party.

Taylor was quick to clarify the title: the “Woman” in the party name refers to women’s historic role as an oppressed group, and not as an indicator of a strictly feminist outlook.

“We all suffer alone. ‘Woman’ is symbolic of that struggle, the underdog,” she said, explaining that the Woman Party is about getting members of marginalized and oppressed groups into Canadian politics to represent themselves and the groups they come from.

The Montrealer launched the membership drive on December 6, but still has less than ten per cent of the 500 official members required by the government in order to officially register the party.

Because membership must be transparent to the public, Taylor said that many people who identify with the party’s vision and want to get involved are hesitant to sign their names onto a position in politics because of their own experience with discrimination.

“Past history of abuse makes it hard to recruit some who would like to be involved,” she said.

One central goal of the party is pushing for equal representation by disadvantaged groups in the House of Commons by bringing forward candidates marginalized and underrepresented demographics.

But Bridgette Simpson, a collective member of McGill’s Union for Gender Empowerment, said that members of marginalized groups do not necessarily have uniform interests, and come from many different experiences, which may not be able to be represented in a party structure.

“Women are 50 per cent of Canadians. Those elected do not necessarily hold an inherent responsibility to each other,” she said. “I think it might also have trouble with other marginalized groups.”

Other main goals of the party include legalizing marijuana and moving toward a cannabis-based economy – which she hoped would improve the environment, health and legal system, and education and employment opportunities.

Taylor’s main concern, next to membership, is that her party might steal votes from the Green Party and Marijuana Party, although Liberal McGill leader, Simon Bessette, said he was skeptical about the party’s ability to garner votes within Quebec.

“I’m not sure how successful a new party would be given the separation of votes between federalist and separatist in Quebec,” he said.

But getting into power may not be the point. When asked how her current work as a dominatrix relates to her vision of the party, she explained that the party seeks to represent those with no control of Canadian politics, and compared the two in terms of powerlessness.

“As a dominatrix, I have no control over the situation…. I could characterize the party as a dominatrix,” she said.

Taylor’s analysis of Canadian politics, and much of her vision for the Woman Party, borrows from Vedic literature based on Hare Krishna.

“Western society is like a triangle,” she said. “At the bottom there are the views of all the individuals. As you go up the triangle people are forced to adopt ideologies not their own.”

She describes some of these steps as “joining a mainstream federal party, getting elected within the party,” and the general “House of Commons dynamics,” and said that her party would address these problems by allowing anyone who demonstrates “respectful solidarity” with the movement to enter the party as a candidate, side-stepping the ladder of donations and patronage inherent in most parties.

She said the triangle political system blocks out the views of individuals, and envisioned a system shaped more like a square that would allow the ideas of individuals to filter upwards rather than be siphoned off.

But Simpson was critical of a political party being the solution to marginalization and oppression. Simpson argued that creating a political party is just playing the political game and not addressing the root problems with politics in Canada.

“The way you’re going to [address these issues] is changing Canadian politics and not just creating [another] party,” she said.

Taylor hopes to be able to run in the riding of Plateau Mont-Royal in the next federal election against the incumbent Bloc Québecois leader Gilles Duceppe, because she felt a larger percentage of the population in Montreal’s Queer Village might relate to her history of, and vision to combat, discrimination.

“My rights have been abused as a visible minority and as a disabled person,” said Taylor, who is of Filipino descent, and whose left side is paralyzed. – with files from Sarah Colgrove

That was then, this is now

The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Page: B6
Byline: Janice Kennedy


That was then...this is now:
'A long way, baby,' has long been the standard measure of women's progress toward equality. But how far have we really come? It's a question women are asking given the Conservative government's decision to all but dismantle the only federal agency for Canadian women.

If they weren't fuelled by such anger and dismay, the protests might almost resemble a warm walk down nostalgia lane, scenes from the '60s and '70s when uppity women were called "libbers" for their subversive belief in equality with men.

There they were by the thousands throughout the fall and into December, signs in hand, protesting in cities across the country.

"Are we equal? NO," read one of the placards at an Ottawa demonstration held Dec. 10 (International Human Rights Day), a rally with the slogan "Women will not go quietly back to the kitchen." The rallying cry, heard on the 25th anniversary of Canada's ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, echoed those heady days 40 years ago when the granddaughters of suffragettes were starting to rediscover women's uppitiness.

Except that the protesters were marching in 2006. And the Ottawa march was just one event in an accumulating mass of outrage across the country that has greeted the Conservative government's decision to effectively disenfranchise Status of Women Canada.

In recent months, the 36-year-old federal agency has had its operating budget cut by $5 million, or 40 per cent, in what the government called "administrative efficiencies." These efficiencies include a reduction of staff, cuts in the production of information and promotional material and a reduction of public consultation. In addition, its Policy Research Fund will be discontinued, terminating all SWC-funded independent research on gender policy.

Beyond these changes, SWC's very raison d'etre -- the promotion of "gender equality," its official aim since the day it was created -- has been demolished. Although the agency website has yet to be updated to reflect the exclusion, "equality" has been removed from the wording of the SWC mandate, said Status of Women Minister Bev Oda in December. The Conservative government, she explained, believes all government departments and agencies should promote equality, not just SWC.

But the greatest blow to SWC has been in the impact it has had on Canadian women through its Women's Program Fund, its backbone as a funding agency. While the money in the fund remains untouched, it will no longer assist any groups engaged in advocacy or lobbying -- that is, most of the organizations who have to date benefited from the fund. For the first time, though, SWC's Program Fund will be able to give grants to for-profit organizations -- business start-ups, for example, though not job training programs offered by co-ops.

To reflect the agency's reduced status, the Conservative government is also closing 12 of SWC's 16 offices across Canada. The remaining four (in Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa and Edmonton) will function as regional offices.

In the House of Commons, Stephane Dion devoted his first question as Leader of the Opposition to the issue of women's rights and the closing of SWC offices. And women, along with sympathetic men, have been turning out in numbers across the country to protest.

They rallied in Saskatoon outside the office of Conservative MP Carol Skelton. Members of the Canadian Federation of University Women demonstrated in Hamilton. In Winnipeg, they held a funeral for SWC.

Just more than a month ago, a Halifax woman launched a website,, that has received well over 20,000 hits. Another website called, started up by Audra Williams of Halifax and Pam Kapoor of Ottawa to act as a kind of protest clearinghouse, attracted more than 42,000 hits in less than three months.

In October, the executive director of Oxfam-Canada wrote to Oda about the decision to no longer fund advocacy and lobby groups. "All voices, including those marginalized because of race, economic standing and gender inequality, must be heard and valued," wrote Robert Fox. "I would urge you to return to Cabinet and to caucus and make the case that public funding for advocacy has contributed significantly to the just, open and tolerant society of which we are so proud ... and that women's groups in Canada should continue to receive public support for their vital public policy, advocacy and lobby work in defence of women's rights and women's equality."

And in St. John's, where a newspaper report quoted one woman who said she was so angry steam was coming out of her ears, the director of a women's centre said the needs for women -- which SWC has addressed -- were still enormous. Overflowing shelters and the continuing salary gap attest to them.

"We can go on and list ad infinitum what makes us unequal," Lorraine Sheehan told the St. John's Telegram. "To say we have written in the constitution an equality clause doesn't make us equal any more than having a peace bond protects us from being harmed or murdered -- they're words."

The reaction has not been confined to Canadian borders, either. Says Kapoor, "I think it's important to point out that the whole world is watching." Available on the website she co-founded is a letter written on Dec. 6 to Prime Minister Stephen Harper by an extraordinary group of six women, all of them Nobel Peace Prize winners during the past 30 years.
"We women Peace Laureates of the Nobel Women's Initiative," they say, "are writing to express our concerns about recent decisions which may jeopardize the historic efforts by Canada to achieve women's full equality, at home and abroad."

The six -- Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Ireland), Rigoberta Menchu Tum (Guatemala), Jody Williams (United States), Shirin Ebadi (Iran) and Wangari Maathai (Kenya) -- continue: "As international advocates for peace and women's rights, for many years we have relied on the Canadian government's leadership on these issues in the international arena. Canada has put in place a number of key domestic safeguards, and has an internationally acclaimed human rights legacy to its name. It is the apparent rollback of this leadership through recent decisions by your government that we find very disturbing and why we feel it is important to share our preoccupations directly with you."
In short, there has been a groundswell.

St. John's columnist Lana Payne, referring to the Harper government's "anti-equality agenda and draconian ideology," wrote that the decisions "have served to politicize the unpoliticized and given the women's movement back its spark."

But that may not be enough to save SWC. Shari Graydon, author and Ottawa-based volunteer president of the Women's Future Fund, a coalition of nine national women's groups that do everything from research and analysis to hands-on assistance of women in need (many of these groups now threatened by the cuts and changed mandate), worries SWC's days may well be numbered.

"I think it's quite possible that, if the Conservatives get a majority, they will move to disband Status of Women Canada. REAL Women really does appear to have the ear of somebody within the government. And they have been advocating that forever."

Indeed they have. On the REAL Women Canada website, the conservative women's organization applauded the budget cuts when they were first announced as "an excellent beginning on what we hope will be the eventual elimination of the Status of Women."

The view was echoed by the conservative Institute for Canadian Values. "We are pleased that the government has decided to reduce funding to liberal advocacy groups by cutting funding to Status of Women," observed executive director Joseph Ben-Ami on the organization's website. "But it's just a start."

Dianne Watts, a REAL Women representative at the organization's national office in Ottawa, says she favours the dissolution of the agency. "Absolutely. They haven't proven themselves to be representative of the women of Canada. They've really failed women."

Watts and REAL Women contend that SWC represents and funds only feminists -- or those REAL Women calls feminists -- an abuse, they say, of taxpayers' dollars.

But whether the prospect of SWC's death sparks hope or fear, it comes with historical baggage. There is a context that warrants closer inspection if the anger and dismay are to make any sense.
- - -
Rewind several decades.

The CBC archival footage is black and white, slightly grainy and 40 years old this week. Against the snowy backdrop of an Ottawa winter, a reporter shoves a microphone under the nose of Florence Bird, just named by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to chair a new royal commission that will investigate the status of women in Canada. The male reporter challenges her: "Why a royal commission on the status of women? Don't women have a pretty good status in Canada now, Mrs. Bird?"

Bird, a respected broadcaster with natural elegance, replies that the current status of Canadian women may be pretty good, but is ill-defined. For example, she says with a smile, some women can't quite figure out why they're paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same job.
In 1967, feminist notions about equality were not a serious part of the cultural mainstream, and were, in fact, often treated with vague and amused condescension. A month after Pearson announced the royal commission, CBC's Newsmagazine took it on. The clip is viewable in the online archives.

"It all started in the Garden of Eden," says host Gordon Donaldson dryly, standing against a bucolic backdrop as Grieg's morning music from Peer Gynt pipes sweetly into the idyllic air. "It took thousands of generations to turn Eve into a lady," he pronounces in his Glasgow accent, "and the question is raised, are we trying to reverse this process in one?"

The Donaldson history of womankind continues. "Years of long skirts have hobbled her speed in chasing deer and generations of domesticity may have hobbled her mind, but now she's back in the hunt, this time demanding equal rights in the labour market while retaining the special privileges of a lady."

The revolutionary editor of Chatelaine at the time, Doris Anderson, paints a picture of the era in her 1996 autobiography, Rebel Daughter. She points out that, when she became editor at the end of the 1950s, only five per cent of doctors and lawyers were women, and only two per cent of engineers. "Society's attitude was that men were the breadwinners, while women worked for 'pin money.' I was well aware that the Chatelaine staff, including me, were paid considerably less than Maclean's editors."

The more things change, the more some of them remain the same. There is a far greater gender balance today in professions like medicine and law, and few companies could get away with unequal pay for equal work. But overall, women still make less than men, and the wage gap is still broad.

The latest Statistics Canada figures (in the exhaustive Women in Canada report, released last March) puts the average earnings of all employed women at 64 per cent of earnings for all employed men. For full-time, full-year workers, women's average earnings are up from 40 years ago, when they made less than half of what men made -- but not by much. Full-time, on average, women in this country still make only 71 per cent of what men make, a gap that puts Canada in 38th place worldwide. (And that's for high-school graduates. Interestingly, women with postsecondary degrees earned only 68.9 per cent of their male counterparts' salaries.)

Other statistics are no more encouraging. They show that women are significantly poorer than men in average annual income (that is, income from all sources, not just salary). They show that women comprise 84 per cent of spousal homicides. They show that female representation in the House of Commons is a dismal 20.8 per cent, which helps put Canada into 33rd spot worldwide for women's political empowerment, according to a new and sobering international report.
In that document, the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2006, Canada doesn't even make it into the top 10. In fact, in 14th spot, it places behind all the Scandinavian countries, several other European ones, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. The report measures the gap according to economic, educational, political and health criteria.

It is for such reasons -- the clear lack of substantive equality, as opposed to equality in law -- that Canadian feminist activists see the need for an agency such as SWC, although the need may not be obvious to people outside that environment.

"Ideologically," says Shari Graydon, president of the Women's Future Fund, "I think that there's a real resistance to the notion that, in 2006, 2007, this kind of support should exist. The perception is that women are equal, and I understand that. Many people in relatively affluent, privileged places have never really witnessed, and don't really understand, the realities of a single mother living below the poverty line."

Graydon says the political extrapolation of that is natural, especially for male politicians, professors and other professionals working in an environment where they see women enjoying full equality. "I think there's a real disconnect from the reality of the disenfranchised and a sense that people should be pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. If that's your world-view, then you might see Status of Women Canada and funding to women's organizations as an industry in which people complain that things are bad so they can keep their jobs."

For nearly four years, four decades ago, Bird's royal commission conducted public hearings across the country and received 468 briefs. "At first," recalls Anderson, "the media treated the hearings as a colossal joke. However, as they continued, it became less and less possible to write jocular copy about women's firsthand accounts of living on welfare, family incest, rape, and the ludicrous situation of needing a husband's written permission to assent to a child's emergency operation or to get a library card!"

The commission tabled its findings in 1970. Equality First: The Royal Commission on the Status of Women made 167 recommendations in such areas as maternity leave, day care and employment equity, and went so far as to recommend a guaranteed annual income to the heads of single-parent families.

Interviewed on CBC Radio a few days after the report came out (and introduced by the female program host as "Florence Bird -- Mrs. John Bird -- of Ottawa"), Bird described her report's recommendations as "sensible."
The report led to the formation of a new government agency, Status of Women Canada, that would help implement the recommendations. Assigned as a portfolio to various cabinet ministers since its inception in the spring of 1971, SWC has been under the direction of seven men, mostly in its first decade, and 10 women.

Its work has, perhaps, not been as well understood in Canadian society at large as its defenders might hope. For those who haven't benefited directly from its operations -- or who haven't been aware that they've benefited -- SWC is just another organism in the vast bureaucratic body, conducting vague, costly and unnecessary exercises in political correctness. Some columnists and editorialists have referred to SWC as a "do-nothing agency" that has outlived its usefulness.

For Dianne Watts of REAL Women, SWC is worse than that. "We believe that feminists should be free to make their views known. This is a democracy. What we object to is our taxes going to fund views that are not representative."

Defenders of SWC say the agency does far more than fund divergent views.

It has been a watchdog within government, promoting the equality of women within the bureaucracy and in policy-making. And, through its Women's Program, it has overseen the distribution of $10.8 million in annual grants to organizations working in "priority issues for the advancement of women's equality" -- at least until now.

Now, "equality" is no longer a mandated issue for SWC, and organizations involved in research, advocacy and lobbying are out of the financial loop.

Bev Oda, the minister responsible for SWC, has said the promotion of equality is now everybody's business, but critics like Graydon are skeptical. "In theory, that's a laudable goal, but when everybody's responsible for something, nobody's responsible for it. And it won't happen."

More worrying to her and others, though, is the threat to organizations that have laboured long to address the problems facing women through research and advocacy, sometimes accompanied by on-the-street work.
"Research and advocacy are important," says Marika Morris, research co-ordinator at the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), which produces scrupulously researched "fact sheets" that are used widely across the country. "Research tells you what's wrong and how to fix it. Advocacy is what gets the changes in place."

CRIAW's fact sheets have included such subjects as women and violence, the interaction of racism and gender, female self-employment, poverty among seniors and immigrant trafficking.

Much of CRIAW's research is also posted on the Internet and is made available at professional conferences. In addition, the organization hosts workshops across the country and receives visitors from around the world who, Morris says, see it as "a model for research and action to advance gender equality."

For her and her colleagues, the work CRIAW does is crucial. "We are the only organization in Canada collecting and publishing this information in an accessible format. Our fact sheets usually include policy analysis and a section on 'what you can do.'"

But with SWC's new guidelines, CRIAW and other organizations that analyse the problems and suggest solutions will no longer receive funding from SWC, threatening their very existence. Oda has said that the agency's funding will be put to better use in such initiatives as job counselling and providing entrepreneurial advice for women starting small companies.

That worries people like Graydon, who thinks such initiatives are important, but not nearly enough. "If you want to address systemic discrimination, research is a fundamental part of that. In order to understand the problem, its implications and the likely solutions, research is critical. As are advocacy and lobbying."

"Information is power," adds Morris. "Information is important to democratic decision-making. Until there is no wage gap between women and men, until no woman is sexually or physically assaulted, there will always be a need to point out what policies and systems need to change, and how that change can be accomplished."

Many critics believe the Harper government's attack on SWC reflects a short-term Band-Aid approach to undeniable, unavoidable women's issues. Lise Martin, CRIAW's executive director, offers an example."The government will actually be increasing its funding for direct services, thus most likely making available greater funds for shelters. However, they do not want to hear why violence against women is an issue. They just want to provide more spaces."

The fact that SWC can now give grants to for-profit organizations while excluding unions, co-ops and non-profit research groups has Morris fuming. That means, she says, "the Bank of Montreal could apply for funds to put on an awards ceremony for women employees, while a women's housing co-op could not, if they wanted to start up an employment program."

CRIAW is only one of many groups that expect to be affected by the cuts to SWC or its altered mandate. A number voiced their worries last fall in representations or briefs to the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

The Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) expressed concerns about its ability to continue working for substantive equality for women through legal education and law reform. The organization has been hit doubly hard with the Harper government's elimination of the Court Challenges Program.

But LEAF's work on equality rights will likely be compromised, not only by the death of the Court Challenges Program, but also in its day-to-day operations with the drying-up of SWC funding, says Fiona Sampson, LEAF's director of litigation.

Hands-on efforts in other areas will also be affected. Like similar groups in cities across Canada, a Toronto group, Women's Call to Action, identified its initiatives with women in such areas as housing, policing and child care.
MediaWatch, currently in a state of transition, is another group that will likely be affected negatively. After monitoring gender portrayal in advertising and the popular media for nearly 25 years -- and being instrumental in the fact that Canada has some of the most progressive regulations in the world concerning gender portrayal, according to Graydon, a former MediaWatch president -- the organization's future is in jeopardy.

And yet, says Graydon, who has written books for young people on the power of advertising and on the media-manufactured obsession with body image, MediaWatch still has a vital role to play. "The message that gets sent through popular culture, through media, is absolutely insidious," she says, "and affects our perceptions in untold ways."

And it's not as if the groups have been wallowing in money, despite concerted efforts by many of them to fundraise on their own and reduce dependence on SWC. The agency's annual grants have never covered all the expenses involved in running an organization, and the groups rely on much good will to function.

CRIAW, for example, does its considerable work with an annual budget of $300,000 (the bulk of it from SWC) and a staff of five part-timers.

Most women's groups, says Graydon, have long known how to stretch a buck. She wrote letters saying as much to Harper, Oda and her MP when the SWC cuts were first announced. "One of my points was, of all the money that government invests, women's organizations make a dollar go further than anyone. We underpay our staff, we rely heavily on volunteer labour, we pinch every penny. Nobody is flying first-class."

Other groups that expect to take a thumping, thanks to SWC's new directions, include the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, which helps women who have been in prison through training, support and advocacy.

In its brief, the Women's Future Fund stated that "the loss of SWC funds means the loss of our research (which measures and documents trends and progress); our policy analysis and lobbying (which support decision-makers in implementing needed programs and just legislation); and our education and advocacy (which enhance public understanding, shifting destructive attitudes and behaviours.)"

Earlier this month, the Women's Future Fund was informed it would no longer be eligible for SWC funding under the new guidelines, an ironic turn of events for a coalition whose very purpose has been to help its member groups become financially independent of the government.

But critics of SWC have long complained that the agency concerns itself only with special interests, most of them irrelevant to the majority of Canadians. An August alert on the REAL Women website observed that "although some women may be victims, the vast majority of Canadian women are perfectly able and are capable of making their own decisions about their lives. They do not need nor want the Status of Women to speak on their behalf."

This is the kind of position that has feminists like Graydon shaking their heads. For a variety of pragmatic, as well as moral, reasons, she says, we are all our brothers' and sisters' keepers. "When violence against aboriginal women continues, or single mothers continue to raise children in poverty, we all pay for the long-term social impact."

In the same August alert, REAL Women then calls on its members to write the prime minister and other politicians "to offset this national feminist effort to protect feminist control in Canada."

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What's in a name? A good chunk of the problem may lie, as so many problems do, in words -- one in particular. Feminism seems to have as many definitions as definers, people who have turned it into everything from badge of honour to evil incarnate.

One anti-feminist website defines feminism as "the stupid notion that women are men."

Dianne Watts of REAL Women describes and defines what she calls "first-wave" feminists as primarily against the idea of choice for women between staying home or going out to work, saying REAL Women supports that choice.

"They have an idea of what progress is that may not be what everyone's idea of what progress is. They have an idea of what dignity is that may not be everyone's idea of dignity. They have an idea of equality that may not be everyone's idea of equality." Mostly, she says, feminists "want quotas, full employment for women."

Some extreme critics blame feminism for encouraging the break-up of families by supporting shelters for women.

Shari Graydon says she always has difficulty understanding such antipathy. "This myth," she smiles, "this disconnect about feminists and women's organizations being anti-family is so profoundly at odds with my experience of the women's movement. I think the right-wing religious conservative groups see providing women's shelters as giving women an incentive to break up their families, rather than recognizing that no woman wants to break up her family unless she's in such dire straits that the prospect of lifelong poverty and running in fear from an abusive man is preferable to staying where she is. But it's not women's organizations who are driving women from their homes."

The staggering diversity in the linguistic understanding of feminists and feminism seems to sum up the staggering range of social attitudes to women's place in the world and the perceived influence of feminists.
As Florence Bird was embarking on her trans-Canadian journey of discovery in 1967, and CBC Newsmagazine host Gordon Donaldson was lamenting the departure of Eve from the Garden of Eden, women themselves were conflicted.

In the same Newsmagazine show, Donaldson proclaims women's emancipation has already come and the only question left is whether married women should go out to work or stay at home. Then, in a scene both revealing and unintentionally comical, he listens in on a group of suburban housewives -- all of them drawing deeply on their cigarettes, this being 1967 -- as they discuss why they feel a woman's place is indeed in the home.

There's nothing more important than being a mother and wife, says one, making the home both a pleasant and relaxing place. Fail to do that, she says, and the worst possible thing happens. Husbands "soon get so they don't want to come home." Says another, "We can't have that."

Later, Donaldson poses the ultimate question, though his postscript makes it rhetorical: "Are we ever going to have equality of the sexes? And do we want it?"

Shortly after the Status of Women report came out, Chatelaine sent registered letters to all members of Parliament, polling them about a variety of women's issues and informing them that their replies would be published. In her autobiography, Doris Anderson recalls the experience.
Many MPs didn't bother to respond, she reports, but what was worse was the nature of some of the ones who did. "The real shocker was the number of flippant and derogatory replies we received -- all of them unsigned. One member suggested that poor women take up prostitution and homeless mothers solve their problem by moving into whorehouses."

Quaintly old-fashioned and/or appalling as those situations and attitudes sound, it is worth noting that, 40 years later, distinct echoes of them are still heard.

Some observers have argued that, in fact, there has been a real rebirth of the old sexism many people think is long gone.

That would explain the countless anti-feminist websites on the Internet. With names like "Angry Harry" and "Shatterd [sic] Men," they are dedicated to the proposition that feminists have authored most of the misery in their lives. One of them refers to "women's liberation witchcraft." Another talks about women's shelters as a weapon in the "war on men."

It would also explain popular conservative media voices who regularly take potshots at feminism -- from Rush Limbaugh's routine use of the term "feminazi," to Maclean's columnist Mark Steyn's disapproving reference to the "feminized culture" of "our own unmanned Dominion," to David Warren's recent observation, published unapologetically and without disclaimers in a reputable mainstream newspaper. In The Citizen on Dec. 31, Warren shared with readers his view of marriage and the ideal wife: "In a healthy marriage, the husband looks upon his wife not only as a friend, a lover, a companion, his fellow-traveller, his last ally in the ditches of this world -- as the daughter of a noble family, and the mother of his children. But also as a servant. (Yes, I thought that would go over well, after a century of suffragette-feminism.)"

Warren did not expand on his woman-as-servant theme then, but did provide context two weeks later in a column on "The Art of Marriage." In that one, he preached wifely obedience, "a key nugget of wisdom contained in the old Christian marriage rites. Unambiguously, the man is told to love his wife, and his wife to obey her husband.

What an astounding thing to tell a 'liberated' woman." True, he conceded, women are not "naturally obedient" -- but obedience to men is both their duty and proper lot.

Shocking as such blatant sexism is, it is far from unique in today's popular culture. It tips its hand in gender-specific insults hurled at female MPs. It normalizes the degradation of women in rap music and such jokingly labelled items as "wife-beater" shirts. It seeps into the cultural groundwater with all the stereotypes so beloved of advertisers and other mass media marketers.

Sexism in 2007 does not look or sound precisely like the version Florence Bird and her commissioners investigated 40 years ago. But in countless ways large and small, most women can attest that it is, indeed, alive and well and living in the hearts of too many men.

In 1998, in a Citizen interview six months before her death at age 90, Bird spoke of her famous report. Many of its recommendations were implemented, and, she said, "I think it made a difference for women."

But she expressed the fear that too many women might have grown complacent, thinking equality won and the battle over. It is not, she said emphatically.

"These fights are never cleanly won. You have to return to them again and again."

Across the country, angry protesters have been doing just that. And the Harper government's decision to eviscerate the only federal agency for Canadian women has apparently provided them with their battle cry.

(Janice Kennedy is a senior writer at The Citizen.)

On the Web
To view the Status of Women interviews with Florence Bird, go to the CBC archives: Equality First: The Royal Commission on the Status of Women

Hopping on the women's lib bandwagon in 1968, American tobacco giant Philip Morris introduced a slogan that became an instant hit. "You've come a long way, baby," went the ad for Virginia Slims, cigarettes designed for a female market. The images in the ads contrasted a modern, Virginia Slim-smoking woman with unliberated women from the early 1900s engaged in household drudgery. Frequently, they were being berated by their husbands.

"You've come a long way, baby" became the refrain for years afterward whenever anyone wanted to measure the march toward women's equality.

But the question nags at the social conscience: have women really come a long way? In Canada, statistics paint an interesting picture, especially when they provide a comparative glimpse at life 30 to 40 years ago -- that is, the years around the establishment of Status of Women Canada.

According to Canada's 2001 census, the average annual earnings from all sources for all Canadian women were 62 per cent of all Canadian men's average earnings. Total earnings for visible minority women were an average 69 per cent of those of visible minority men. For disabled women, the corresponding figure was 64 per cent, and for aboriginal women, 75 per cent. Thirty years ago, the numbers weren't interpreted in as much detail, but they do paint a picture. According to figures from the 1971 census, women's average annual earnings from all sources were 44 per cent of men's.

Work and pay
In 1976, women made up 42 per cent of the paid workforce in Canada; the current figure is 58 per cent. The employment rate for women with very young children rose to 70 per cent from 37 per cent during the same period, some of that attributable to the sharp increase in the cost of raising children. With women still expected to be the primary caregivers, they take more days off to deal with family illness -- an average of 10 days a year in contrast to men's 1.5 days, roughly what they took in the late 1970s.

Statistics Canada reports that while women make up over half of those employed in medicine and related health professions, as well as in business and financial professional positions, they remain a minority in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. In management, they occupy more lower-level positions than senior.
Women's earnings have still not caught up to men's, either. On average, women working full-time today earn 71 per cent of what men working full-time make, and the gap is greater (68.9 per cent) among women and men with postsecondary education. Forty years ago, Canadian women's salaried earnings on average were less than half of men's.

Violence and crime
According to the most recent numbers, says Statistics Canada, women have been charged with committing 17 per cent of all crime in Canada, but they represent 51 per cent of all victims of violent crime. In cases of spousal homicide, the victim is female 84 per cent of the time. The most recent figures for violent sexual crime show that there are more than six times as many female victims as male.
In federal prisons, nearly three-quarters of female inmates have a history of physical abuse prior to their imprisonment, and more than half have been sexually abused. In the face of declining crime rates, notes the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, the fastest growing prison population is women, "particularly racialized, young, poor women and women with cognitive and mental disabilities."

Everyone is better educated today, men and women. And the good news for women is that they have closed much of the gap between themselves and men. In 1971, just three per cent of Canadian women (and seven per cent of Canadian men) had university degrees. Three decades later, 15 per cent of women have a degree, just shy of men's 16 per cent. And when it comes to all postsecondary education, more than half of all Canadian women have had some form of training. The news is not quite as rosy for women at postgraduate levels, according to Statistics Canada. Women make up 44 per cent of all those with Master's degrees, and just 27 per cent of doctoral graduates -- although this, too, is up from 1971, when women had just 25 per cent of all Master's degrees and nine per cent of doctorates.

Political Involvement
Agnes Macphail (below, who founded the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada and worked for pay equity) was the first woman elected to the House of Commons. That was in 1921, two years after women won the right to vote in federal elections, and her presence put female representation in the lower house at less than half of one per cent. For 53 years, the figure stayed under one per cent or just above it (and in 1949 was precisely 0 per cent). Then, in 1974, it climbed to 2.9 per cent, rose to five per cent by 1980, and hit 9.6 per cent in 1984. A decade ago, it had climbed to just over 20 per cent.

But it hasn't budged since, elections from a year ago returning a House of Commons that is 20.8 per cent female. Municipally and provincially, levels are similar across the country, except in Quebec, where women hold 32 per cent of the seats. The United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union have set the benchmark for critical mass -- significant enough representation to have an impact -- at 30 per cent, a figure that 18 countries around the world have succeeded in meeting.

Speaking Notes for the Honourable Beverley J. Oda

Speaking Notes for the Honourable Beverley J. Oda, P.C., M.P., Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women, for an appearance before the Standing Committee on Status of Women
House of Commons
February 1, 2007


Good afternoon, Madame Chair and committee members. Thank you for the opportunity to be here this afternoon.

I have been following the Committee proceedings and I want to commend you for your hard work. I know you will be studying the economic security of women during this upcoming session and I appreciate your work on this matter, as it is one that we have identified as a challenge facing Canadian women, particularly senior women.

I would also like to thank Ms. Mourani and Ms. Smith for their work on the human trafficking motion before the House of Commons. I know the committee spent a great deal of time investigating human trafficking. While this is an ongoing problem in Canada, we know that statistics from past international events, such as the Olympics, have shown an influx of human trafficking in host countries. With Vancouver Twenty-Ten around the corner, we need to have a system in place to deal effectively with this problem. Your work in this area will have a direct impact in the lives of women as we move forward.

I would first like to thank the officials at Status of Women Canada (SWC) for their hard work. They have done a tremendous job throughout the changes and modernization of Status of Women Canada and the renewal of the Women's Program, which brings me to why I am here.

Since my last appearance before you, there has been a great deal of discussion around the renewed Terms and Conditions of the Women's Program. Advocacy does have a role to play, but Canada's new government believes that now is the time to act. We have the studies; we know there are problems. Instead of wasting more time discussing the issues, our government is looking at tangible ways we can make a difference now.

For example, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs is dealing with matrimonial property rights for Aboriginal women. Our government increased funding to on-reserve family violence shelters by $6 million.

As well, the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs announced $450 million for improving water supply and housing on reserve, education outcomes, and socio-economic conditions for Aboriginal women, children and families. Real money, in the hands of organizations that are on the ground working to make a real difference.

In terms of human trafficking, the former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration developed a program to offer victims temporary visas. Human trafficking is on the rise and the majority of those trafficked are women. They are brought to this country and forced into a life of prostitution.

Instead of treating these women as criminals, our government will issue temporary resident permits for up to 120 days and will provide the necessary health care required, free of charge.

As I have mentioned before, women's issues are issues that all Conservative Ministers are concerned with.

The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development announced $4.48 million to help train re-train women who are on social assistance in New Brunswick. This three-year pilot project, Partners Building Futures, will help women on social assistance get the training necessary to find jobs.

As well, the Minister has introduced Bill C-36, legislation that will make it easier for Canadians to access the Guaranteed Income Supplement. The Guaranteed Income Supplement pays out $6.2 billion a year and goes to 1.5 million low-income seniors, most of whom are women. Madame Chair, this is real change that will affect real people where they live.

In one short year, we have:

introduced the Universal Child Care Benefit to help women and their families in their homes;

implemented hospital wait-time guarantees for pre-natal Aboriginal women;

expanded eligibility for compassionate caregivers, most of whom are women;

introduced pension splitting for senior citizens; and

targeted tax cuts, like the GST, textbook credit and credit for families with children involved in physical activity.
Real change, ideas and policies that are making a difference in the lives of Canadian women.

As I come before you today, we are in the midst of one of the most horrendous murder cases in Canadian history. The trial in Vancouver stands as a solemn reminder of the problems the most vulnerable in society face.

This government is committed to action on justice issues. While this high-profile case garners the lions' share of national and international media attention, there are other stories just as heart wrenching.

There stories are in the newspaper every day about repeat offenders. Men who have abused their wives, children or girlfriends. Men who are back on the street, putting lives in danger because law enforcement does not have the necessary tools.

Domestic violence is an issue that this government takes seriously. The Minister of Justice has brought forward tougher legislation. We need effective sentencing when dealing with sexual predators and repeat offenders. We need to end conditional sentencing and raise the age of protection.

If opposition members on this committee want to help women in their communities, I would urge them to go back to their caucus and get their members to vote in favour of these important initiatives.

Canada's new government believes in supporting programs that have a direct impact on women. We believe in putting money into the hands of groups that will help women in their communities.

In October 2005, Canada was cited by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women for failing to adequately address the high rate of violence against Aboriginal women. These women and their children deserve safe communities.

That is why I committed multi-year funding of $1 million a year, through to fiscal year 2010-2011, to the Native Women's Association of Canada. The Sisters in Spirit initiative addresses the high rates of racialized, sexualized violence against Aboriginal women. This project will directly benefit the lives of Aboriginal women in their communities.

There is no simple answer. The economic security of women can be traced back as a root cause of the problems women face on a daily basis. We need to ask how we can work together to alleviate these problems. How we can work with the provinces to provide better services for women? I look forward to the Committee's work on this issue.

When a woman faces domestic violence, what can we do to help them recognize the cycle of abuse? How can we help them to get out of these situations, to find a job, a home, to be self-sustaining? We need to let women know there are other options, enabling them to seize the opportunity to change their lives.

This committee is a wonderful vehicle to provide input to bring forward solutions. As the Minister of Status of Women, I will continue to work toward achieving results for women across this country. I would like to put our partisan political differences aside and work with you, to ensure we are making a difference in the lives of women.

I thank you for your invitation and I look forward to your questions.
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Last Updated: 2007-02-01
Last Reviewed: 2007-02-01 Important Notices


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