Increasing the number of women in the Canadian judiciary and training magistrates in international law would make a significant difference in the advancement of women in Canada, experts on the Committee monitoring the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women told that country's delegation this afternoon.
As the monitoring body concluded its consideration of the third and fourth periodic reports on Canada's implementation of the treaty, one expert noted judicial attitudes varied sharply between male and female judges, and, therefore, women judges would greatly affect jurisprudence particularly at the Supreme Court level. She cited a recent Supreme Court judgment disallowing child care expenses as a tax deduction, where the two female members of the bench had dissented. The Canadian Government needed to do more to improve women's access to the judiciary.
Other experts raised concerns about cutbacks in social welfare benefits and asked for information on programmes to assist disadvantaged groups and the poor. Another question was posed about the lack of legal aid for women in civil society in such matters as divorce. The impact of economic restructuring, which had led to the shrinking of the welfare system and the repeal of a public assistance act, had a disproportionate impact on women and minorities. What justification existed, in a time of economic prosperity, for the large number of women living below the poverty line? she asked.
An expert called attention to the "disturbing levels" of teenage pregnancy in Canada and said adolescent pregnancy and parenting was one of the main reasons young girls dropped out of school. Others asked what was being done to help young people make healthy decisions about their reproductive health and to educate young people about the importance of contraception.
More details were requested by the Committee on the real situation of Aboriginal women, including their participation in the workforce, categories
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and levels of work and their participation in public life. In addition, information on provincial programmes to improve the lives of Aboriginal women should be included in the next report.
An expert recommended that the efforts of the provinces and territories should be integrated in the overall structure of the report rather than described in isolation. The report, which was sometimes difficult to follow, should include more of the actual results of individual government programmes. It was particularly important to determine the impact of programmes on women living in poverty and on those who were victims of violence. Did the federal Government have the power to compel the provincial and territorial governments to implement the Convention? Did court cases on the federal level affect court rulings on the provincial level? experts asked.
Also this afternoon, the Committee heard a report from the expert from Germany on the work of the Human Rights Committee.
The Committee will meet again at 5:30 p.m., tomorrow, 29 January, to hear a review of the activities of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) by its Deputy Assistant Administrator, including the implementation of the Convention.
Committee Work Programme
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was scheduled this afternoon to conclude its consideration of the third and fourth periodic reports of Canada (documents CEDAW/C/CAN/3 and 4) on its implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which the country ratified in 1981.
In Canada, a federal State comprised of 10 provinces, the responsibility for the Convention is shared by the federal Government, the provincial governments and, following a delegation of authority by the Canadian Parliament, the territorial governments. The fourth periodic report contains a review of applicable jurisprudence and a review of measures adopted by the federal Government. The other two parts of the report review measures taken by the provincial and territorial governments.
Legislative measures include the reinstatement by the federal Government of the Court Challenges Program, which provides financial assistance for test cases of national significance put forward on behalf of or by groups or individuals that will clarify Canada's language and equality rights under the Constitution. Other legislative measures include an act to amend the Criminal Code on sexual assault which would test the admissibility of evidence of a complainant's sexual activity in trials of sexual offences and sets out strict procedures to be followed. The Act also defines for the first time the concept of consent, as it relates to sexual assault.
In 1991, the Government established the Canadian Panel on Violence against Women. It delivered a final report in 1993 which contained historical information, an analytical framework and almost 500 recommendations pertaining to all sectors of society. It addressed violence-specific issues and cast the issue of women's victimization in a framework of overall gender equality.
On employment, the report notes that Parliament had considered a report which contained 31 recommendations to expand the Employment Equity Act to include the federal public service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Armed Forces, Parliament and all federal agencies, boards and commissions. A stronger enforcement role for the Canadian Human Rights Commission was recommended, which also promotes respect for the equal pay provisions of the Human Rights Act.
On women and the family, the third periodic report, which covers the period from January 1987 to December 1990, describes the Family Violence Initiative. Launched in 1988 and extended in 1991, the Initiative received an allocation from the federal Government of $136 million. The Initiative addresses violence against women, child abuse and abuse of seniors. It seeks to increase public awareness and prevention efforts; strengthen the federal legal framework; provide services to aboriginal people; strengthen
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intervention and treatment services; increase the availability of emergency shelters and second-stage housing for victims; and, establish a solid information base of the extent of family violence.
In its introduction of the report, the delegation of Canada presented a detailed response to written questions submitted by Committee members. The replies focused on equal pay and employment opportunities, violence against women, the situation of aboriginal women, and the implementation measures taken by the provincial and territorial governments to ensure women's equality, particularly in education and health care services. (For a detailed background, see Press Release WOM/946 issued today.)
Follow-up Questions and Comments
Several experts said Canada's method of presenting its report with separate annexes for the different provinces was difficult to follow.
One expert said training magistrates in international law and a country's treaty obligations was one way of ensuring equality and she wanted to know how Canada assisted the judiciary. What prevented the drafting of a national law against family violence? she asked.
Another expert called attention to the "disturbing levels" of teenage pregnancy in Canada and said adolescent pregnancy and parenting was one of the main reasons young girls dropped out of school, and it was also associated with low achievement and unemployment in all regions of the world. There were also many late-term abortions among young women. What was being done to help young people make informed decisions about their reproductive health and to educate them about the importance of contraception? she asked.
What were the numbers of women in the judiciary? an expert wanted to know. She said surveys had shown judicial attitudes varied sharply between male and female judges and therefore women judges would make a difference to jurisprudence, particularly at the Supreme Court level. The Canadian Government needed to do more to encourage women's access to the judiciary as well as educate judges about gender equality.
She cited one recent Supreme Court judgment disallowing child care expenses as a tax deduction when golf club and other club subscriptions usually enjoyed more by men were allowed to be deducted. Given that the two female members of the bench had dissented from that judgment, more women judges on the Supreme Court would have made a difference for Canadian women, she added.
An expert asked how the gap between men and women's wages was being addressed.
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Noting the higher incarceration rates for minority women, an expert asked for more information on the types of crimes they committed and on how they were reintegrated back into society. Referring to cutbacks in social welfare benefits, she wanted to know more about programmes to assist disadvantaged groups and the poor. Referring to the increasing divorce rate and the numbers of young people putting off marriage, she asked if there were any programmes to promote family stability.
Why was the Federal Employment Equity act repealed in Ontario? another expert wanted to know.
An expert said delays in issuing Canada's fourth periodic report prevented an in-depth analysis of it. Referring to the third report, she noted that although there was no national law against family violence there had been reforms to provisions of the criminal code which dealt with the problem. Why were there different provisions and criteria for implementing the Convention in various provinces and why were indigenous people treated under different provisions in the provinces? she asked.
Reports of poverty among women and children in developed countries were especially disturbing when there were cut-backs in welfare benefits, another expert said. Globalization and economic restructuring were having a negative impact on women and children around the world. The report cited many problems facing women in Canada and efforts to overcome them, but why had Canada's assistance plan been repealed? Why was legal aid not given to women in civil and family matters such as divorce, as well as in criminal matters? she asked.
What resources had been allocated for the gender sensitive training programme and did they have measurable objectives? an expert asked. Had the implementing agencies been given their own framework for implementing the strategy?
Canadian overseas development assistance programmes were helping women in China, another expert said. She suggested that a more comprehensive picture of the real situation of Aboriginal women should be included in Canada's next report, including their participation in the workforce, categories and levels of work and their participation in public life, she added. She also asked for more information on provincial programmes to improve the lives of Aboriginal women.
An expert recommended that Canada follow the Danish example of placing the reports of non-governmental organizations in an annex to its periodic reports. She also said it would be easier to integrate answers to questions about the situation in the provinces with the main report rather than issuing separate annexes. Detailed information on particular programmes should be given in percentages, so Committee members could understand the real picture.
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Given Canada's federal system, which gave separate jurisdiction to provinces, she expressed concern about differences in human rights laws in different provinces and wondered if the country's treaty obligations were being fulfilled under that system.
She also noted the negative impact of economic restructuring on women and children. Since the Government had undertaken surveys about unpaid work in the home, what policy objectives did it have in mind and how did it propose to address the issue? she asked. She said she was disturbed about the levels of poverty among Canadian women and wanted to know more about the impact of the federal equity legislation on the private sector. Most of the court cases cited in the report concerned discrimination in the public sector. She stressed that monitoring mechanisms on government action had to be strengthened.
Although she understood that systemic discrimination was hard to eliminate through the courts without corroborating evidence, it was more difficult if the discrimination was not covered in the Equal Equity Act. She also expressed concern about the limits on benefits for single parents, 60 per cent of whom lived below the poverty line.
Had there been qualitative changes in men's attitudes as a result of Canada's affirmative action programmes? an expert asked. She also expressed concern about and wanted to know the reasons for violence against prostitutes, which she described as disturbing given the Government's pro-active approach to eliminating family violence.
Had the Government's economic reconstruction efforts reinforced equality or inequality between men and women? another expert asked. What was the impact of new reproductive technologies on women's ability and decision to have children?
Referring to women's access to leadership in politics, an expert said it was important to raise awareness about gender matters among women in decision- making positions as well as men. Women in positions of responsibility could have an influence on policy and could defend women's interest, she added.
Another expert said other countries were watching how Canada, as a rich industrialized nation, attempted to close the poverty gap between disadvantaged groups, an expert said. She described the statistics which showed that 60 per cent of single mothers lived below the poverty line as "alarming". How was the Government planning to address poverty among women and why was the Canadian assistance plan repealed, given the impact of economic reconstruction? she asked. The wage differential between men and women was comparable to the situation in much less disadvantaged countries, she added.
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Concluding Comments by Canadian Delegation
LOUISE BERGERON-DE VILLIERS, head of the delegation of Canada, said the present system of organizing human rights reports stemmed from a long-standing agreement for their preparation among all levels of government. It had been agreed in the past that each province and territory would have the option to submit a separate section of the report. The Committee response to that structure would certainly be discussed and changes would be considered.
She said the federal Government had the exclusive constitutional power to ratify international treaties. However, since it did not have the power to legislate in such matters, it was necessary to consult with provinces on treaty implementation.
The old Canada assistance plan had not simply been repealed; it had been replaced by a new plan -- the Canada Health and Social Transfer Act -- which incorporated gender and women's equality, she stressed. It was not a situation where the social safety net had been taken away. Perhaps the report had not been clear in that regard. The Government felt that it had a successful approach to the problem of violence against women. A different set of indicators was being developed to indicate trends in that area over time.
Report on Human Rights Committee
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, listed the country reports taken up by the Human Rights Committee. Reports had been requested by the Committee from Nigeria and Afghanistan on specific human rights concerns, as well as from the United Kingdom on the situation in Hong Kong. There was some concern about the human rights situation in Hong Kong when China assumes control, since China was not a signatory to all the human rights instruments.
She said the Human Rights Committee had decided to prepare a list of issues for initial and subsequent reports. It was decided that country rapporteurs would be named and kept confidential well in advance. Reference was also made to the preparation of general comments on specific articles of the Convention.
She called attention to an idea in circulation about the use of a global report on implementation of all human rights instruments. She had raised objections to such a practice as women's rights had been overlooked in the past. The idea should be discussed at some point by the Committee.
Experts raised objections to such a global report. A question was also brought up about the involvement of non-governmental organizations in the work of the Human Rights Committee.
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