ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE PRAISES CANADA FOR ADVANCING WOMEN’S RIGHTS, BUT EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER NUMBER OF WOMEN IN POVERTY
ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE PRAISES CANADA FOR ADVANCING WOMEN’S RIGHTS, BUT EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER NUMBER OF WOMEN IN POVERTY
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE PRAISES CANADA FOR ADVANCING WOMEN’S RIGHTS,
BUT EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER NUMBER OF WOMEN IN POVERTY
Considers Country’s Fifth Periodic Report on Convention Compliance
While praising Canada for significant strides it has made in advancing the rights of women, members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern today over the high number of women living in poverty in the country, with limited job training, little education and poor health.
The 23-member body, whose experts serve in their personal capacity, was reviewing in two meetings the country’s fifth periodic report on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report, Florence Ievers, Coordinator of Status of Women Canada, highlighted steps her country had taken to further women’s rights. In 2000, the Government had adopted a new Agenda for Gender Equality, which aimed to engender current and new policy and programme initiatives, accelerate the implementation of gender-based analysis, enhance voluntary sector capacity, engage Canadians in the policy process, and meet Canada’s international commitments.
The country had also adopted a new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, she said, which included stiffer penalties for human smuggling and trafficking in persons. Parental benefits under Employment Insurance had been increased from
10 weeks to 35 weeks, and the Government had introduced a Child Tax Benefit and National Child Benefit system. Also, amendments to the criminal code and related legislation now gave women who were victims of sexual or violent crime more rights and protection in the legal system.
Addressing concerns about impoverished women, she noted that such factors as age, race, ethnicity, immigrant status and aboriginal heritage had significant effects on women’s economic status. Poverty among some groups of women in Canada was far too high, she agreed, although poverty in general had declined. Poverty rates for single-parent mothers had dropped 11 percentage points, from 58.7 per cent to 47.6 per cent, between 1996 and 2000.
Several Committee experts pointed to budgetary adjustments in Canada in 1995, which had led to lower financial transfers between the federal and provincial Governments. That situation had worsened the plight of marginalized women and cut social services. Noting that neo-liberal economic policies often
put women in precarious economic conditions, the expert from Korea pointed out that one of the priority areas of Canada’s Agenda for Gender Equality was to improve women’s economic autonomy.
Ms. Ievers replied that Canada had been facing extreme deficit and debt problems in 1995, which the Government believed would hinder economic growth, poverty reduction and other vital programmes. Consequent budget cuts had altered financial transfers between federal and provincial Governments, and several social programmes had been cut. The Federal Plan for Gender Equality was only just coming into being at the time those decisions were being made.
The economy had improved since then, and strategic investments had been made to strengthen the country’s sagging social programmes, she continued. The Government was aware of the trap it had previously fallen into, and was now using a building-blocks approach to boost services, starting with the most vulnerable groups and proceeding up the chain. She added that economic growth had improved in the country and possibilities for full-time jobs for women had dramatically increased.
Experts also focused on the systematic discrimination suffered by aboriginal women in Canada. The expert from Cuba stressed that the country must review measures to ensure aboriginal women could exercise their rights, and asked why aboriginal women made up such a high proportion of the prison population. Other experts were concerned about the plight of trafficked women and the victims of domestic violence, and asked what support systems the country had in place to help those individuals negotiate the legal system.
Gillian Glackell, Legal Counsel for the Family, Children and Youth Section at the Department of Justice, acknowledging the high number of aboriginal women in prisons, stated that a recent report had attributed the high rate to alcohol, domestic abuse and other problems. The Government was currently taking measures to reduce the number of aboriginal women in prisons to a figure no higher than the national average. In 1996, the criminal code had been amended to permit the courts alternatives to incarceration. From 1999 to 2001, sentences served in the community had increased from 28.5 to 33.3 per cent.
As for trafficking in women and children, the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act allowed them to apply for humanitarian assistance and access victims’ as well as compensation services. The Canadian International Development agency (CIDA) had funded several programmes to address the root causes of trafficking.
Regarding abuse victims, she said the Government had significantly contributed to shelters for those women in the past few years. In particular, it had provided $1.9 million per year to the Family Violence Initiative, in addition to ongoing funding, and 50 new shelters had been established through the Shelter Enhancement Programme.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 24 January, to hear replies to questions posed by experts to Albania on 16 January concerning its combined initial and second periodic reports.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the fifth periodic report of Canada (document CEDAW/C/CAN/5).
The report, covering the period from March 1994 to March 1998, outlines The Federal Plan for Gender Equality, presented in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Key elements of the plan include improving women's economic autonomy, as well as their physical and psychological well-being; reducing violence against women and children; incorporating a women’s perspective in governance; and advancing gender equality for federal employees.
In striving to realize the Federal Plan, the country has, among other measures: added sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act; continued to fund the Family Violence Initiative in an effort to reduce family violence; and carried out a $4.3 million update of 3,000 shelters for abused women. It has also improved living conditions for federally sentenced women, legally banned female genital mutilation, introduced a new National Child Benefit, and reformed the child-support system.
Reviewing the status of women in the country, the report notes a continued gender division of labour. Although the number of working women has more than doubled since the 1950s to reach 46 per cent of the labour force, men are still more likely to form part of the paid labour force, and still spend more total time working for pay.
Moreover, women still tend to work in jobs resembling unpaid domestic and caring work that they have historically done in the home, the report states. In the late 1990s, almost 68 per cent of employed women worked in teaching, nursing, clerical, sales and service jobs. Women are also more likely than men to have part-time work, which is typically lower paying with fewer benefits.
Some kinds of unpaid work appear to be more equally shared than others, the report observes. For example, women perform more than 70 per cent of such tasks as cooking, cleaning, and child care, while men generally do repairs and maintenance. Tasks more equally shared between men and women include household management and shopping, transportation and travel.
With the ongoing gender division of labour, women still limit their paid work to care for dependents and other family members. They are responsible for more than 70 per cent of the time spent helping and caring for children and other family members. The gender imbalance in households where both spouses have full-time work is substantial, the report notes.
Although women do more total work than men, their incomes are lower, the report says. Canadian women received 38 per cent less gross income than men as of 1997, although that figure has dropped from 51 per cent in 1986. The report attributes lower female incomes mainly to part-time employment, family responsibilities, the number of female single parents or seniors with few or no earnings, and lower educational levels.
More women than men live in poverty, including almost 49 per cent of elderly women living alone and 56 per cent of female single parents, which directly affects the well-being of children. In 1995, some 37 per cent of visible minority women and 43 per cent of aboriginal women living outside a reserve, or in the territories, lived on a low-income. In 1997, the same was true of 56 per cent of female single parents.
The report stresses that education is key to women’s equality, since it can lead to employment and economic independence. The new knowledge-based economy and society in Canada has made women’s access to education and training even more vital, as technical and scientific fields become key elements for growth. However, women receive less employer-sponsored training than men, although their participation rates are similar to men.
In 1996, some 12 per cent of women and 14 per cent of men aged 15 and over were university graduates, up from 3 per cent of women and 7 per cent of men in 1971. From 1997 to 1998, women made up about 29 per cent of university students in mathematics and sciences and 22 per cent in engineering and applied sciences -– key growth areas in the knowledge-based economy and society.
Women are still under-represented in doctoral programmes and on college and university faculties, according to the report. Moreover, although they have advanced in number and influence in political, economic and social decision-making over the past decade, they are still outweighed by men in key positions. After the federal elections in 1997, women made up 20 per cent of the members of the House of Commons, and 18.4 per cent of provincial legislatures.
Turning to violence against women, the report cites the Statistics Canada 1993 Violence against Women Survey, which reveals that 51 per cent of Canadian women suffered from physical or sexual violence after the age of 16. Some 29 per cent of women who had been married or lived in common-law situations had been physically or sexually assaulted by their partner during the relationship.
In terms of reporting, the report notes that sexual and non-sexual assaults against women reported to police have increased by 152 per cent, and physical assaults by 62 per cent since 1983, when criminal law reforms were passed.
Whether violence against women has decreased or increased in Canada remains unclear, the report states. Reports from 61 police agencies across the country indicate that the number of reported cases of spousal assault dropped by 7 per cent between 1993 and 1996, but many cases still go unreported. Only 26 per cent of those women who reported being victims of spousal violence in the Violence against Women Survey had reported an incident of violence to the police.
Introduction of Report
FLORENCE IEVERS, head of Canadian delegation and coordinator for Status of Women Canada, introduced the report. She noted that women over the past century had become increasingly involved in social and economic aspects of life, most notably becoming a major and integral part of the paid labour force. They had made tremendous strides in education, and were making inroads into male-dominated fields. The majority of employed women continued to be in predominately female occupations, but that was slowly declining. Women were a fast-growing force among self-employed workers and entrepreneurs in Canada. Their overall economic situation continued to steadily improve, and their earnings as a percentage of men’s had increased. Women’s after-tax incomes, for example, had increased from 52 per cent of men’s in 1986 to 63 per cent in 1997.
Factors such as age, race, ethnicity, immigrant status and aboriginal heritage also had significant effects on women’s economic status, she continued. aboriginal women were concentrated disproportionately in lower-skill and lower-paying occupation, and also had lower rates of employment in the wage economy than aboriginal men or non-aboriginal women. Poverty among some groups of women in Canada was far too high, but poverty, in general, had continuously declined. Poverty rates for lone-parent mothers had dropped 11 percentage points from
58.7 per cent to 47.6 per cent between 1996 and 2000.
Since 1995, Canada had endorsed a dual approach to gender equality that combined both the integration of a gender perspective in government processes and the development of policies and programmes that were gender specific, she said. Through gender-based analysis, gender mainstreaming views women in relation to men in society through all life stages and experiences. In 2000, the Government adopted a new Agenda for Gender Equality. The Agenda was a multi-year strategy, with new funding spread over a five-year period. It was designed to engender current and new policy and programme initiatives, accelerate the implementation of gender-based analysis, enhance voluntary sector capacity, engage Canadians in the policy process, and meet Canada’s international commitments.
She went on to highlight progress that had been made to advance women over the past few years. The Government’s new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act required that gender impacts be reported on annually in the federal immigration department’s report to Parliament. The Act included new offences for human smuggling and trafficking in persons, carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and a fine of up to $1 million, or both. The legislation allowed a court to consider aggravating factors, such as humiliating or degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation, when determining an appropriate penalty for the crime.
As regards the aboriginal population, the Government had adopted an action plan in 1998 called Gathering Strength, a strategy to improve the quality of life of aboriginal people and promote self-sufficiency, with funding of $965 million over five years. In a Statement of Reconciliation in 1998, the Government acknowledged the role it had played in suppressing aboriginal languages and cultures, and its role in developing and running native residential schools, which separated many children from their families and communities.
Turning to unpaid work, she noted that parental benefits under Employment Insurance had been increased from 10 weeks to 35 weeks in December 2000, which had doubled the combined maternity/parental benefit period to one full year. The number of Canadians accessing parental benefits had increased by 24.3 per cent in 2001. The Government had also introduced a Child Tax Benefit and National Child Benefit system, which included a supplement for low-income families. Since 1997, a package of child-support reforms had also been in effect to ensure fairer support for children in custodial households, most often headed by women following separation and divorce.
Regarding women’s health, she said the 1997 guidelines on the inclusion of women in clinical trials were an important step forward, considering women’s greater reporting of chronic health conditions and use of medication than men. The guidelines aimed to ensure that drug manufacturers seeking market approval for their products based their application on research representing the full range of patients likely to receive the drug, and that women were enrolled in clinical trials at all stages of drug development. Such procedures helped define the risks and benefits associated with drug therapy to women, including women with child- bearing potential and post-menopausal women.
As for violence against women, the 2002 document “Assessing Violence against Women: A Statistical Profile” provided reasons to believe that Canada’s efforts to address that problem may have had some effect. In 1993, some 12 per cent of women indicated they had been assaulted by a marital or common-law partner in the preceding five years, whereas in 1999 the figure had dropped to 8 per cent. In addition, criminal law reforms had been introduced to provide increased protection for victims of sexual assault and other violent offences. The Criminal Code and related legislation had been amended to ease the testimony of young victims of sexual or violent crime and to expand the role of victim impact statements. Domestic violence courts had been created in many jurisdictions, aimed at improving the justice system’s response to that problem.
Comments and Questions by Experts
Committee Chairperson AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert from Turkey, thanked the delegation for its presentation. The large delegation was an indication of the Government’s commitment to the Convention. She congratulated Canada for having ratified the Optional Protocol. Canada had been a leading force worldwide for promoting gender equality. The significant attention accorded to the presentation was a further demonstration of Canada’s commitment to maintaining its leading role in promoting the rights of women. Canada was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multilingual society, and its experience provided a microcosm of the problems and opportunities in the globalization era.
ROSARIO MANALO, expert from the Philippines, addressed the issue of the structural adjustment that took place in Canada in 1995. The budget implementation act had exacerbated the situation of marginalized women in Canada and had affected the distribution of social services. While some measures might have been planned to mitigate the negative impact of the budget implementation act on women, to what extent had the Government responded positively to improving mechanisms to advance women? On immigration issues, most of Canada’s immigrants were women, in particular domestic helpers. What had been done to address the fact that domestic helpers did not receive permanent status for three years and that they were not provided with adequate social security? she asked.
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said that despite Canada’s progress, there were still some unresolved issues. What were the obstacles to the Committee’s previous recommendation to integrate the reports of federal, provincial and territorial levels? While the report covered the period 1994 to 1998, it had only been submitted in 2002. Why the delay? There seemed to be a tendency to report only on positive achievements. It was difficult to have a consistent picture of implementation in all the provinces and territories. In some parts of the federal report, except for Quebec, initiatives were listed without an analysis of their results.
On gender-based impact analysis, while she applauded the fact that it was now being done, she wondered if it had become mandatory. Regarding the First Nations Government Act, which was currently under discussion, what had been the obstacles to discrimination against aboriginal women in the Act?
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said Canada’s delegation was the largest to have ever attended a Committee meeting. She had admired Canada’s initiatives since the 1990s, especially regarding human rights. She thanked Canada for its development assistance to many countries around the world. She also appreciated its gender-analysis efforts, both in terms of statistics and budgeting. Canada was known as one of the originators of gender equality.
Domestically, however, there were some serious concerns, she continued. The report indicated that, because of a government deficit, support for social services had been cut. Neo-liberal economic policies often put women in precarious economic conditions. The Agenda for Gender Equality included three priority areas, including improving women’s economic autonomy. What had been the result of gender analysis in that regard? On violence against women, she heard reports from the grass-roots level that there had been a serious cutback in funding for shelters, drastically affecting the assistance given to abused women. Why had there been negative results from the new Agenda.
HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, said that it seemed that the implementation of the Convention was left to the discretion of the provincial authorities. Which areas fell within the purview of the Federal Government, and which did not? There was no uniform implementation pattern. An exchange of information between the Federal Government and the provinces was not enough to ensure implementation of the Convention. The machinery and legislative approaches were poorly adapted to Canada’s needs. Outcomes and results should be on an equal par with political will. Was cultural and ethnic diversity being considered in Canada’s policies? How did the Government feel it could achieve harmonious implementation of the Convention, given the fact that each province was left to its own devices in interpreting the Convention?
AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ, expert from Mexico, said the fifth report provided a wealth of data and information. She appreciated Canada’s assistance to other countries to improve the situation of women. She welcomed the decision to criminalize the use of the Internet for the exploitation of children. Since 1997, the Committee had expressed its concern at the increase in poverty and its effect on women. The exacerbation of poverty appeared to be triggered by the weakening of social assistance programmes. The level of poverty continued to be high, with a disproportionate impact on women. Canada was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, ranking second in terms of development. How, then, could there be such levels of poverty and lack of shelter for women? That was both distressing and strange.
CHRISTINE KAPALATA, expert from the United Republic of Tanzania, commented on the marginal position that aboriginal women occupied in Canada, and said she had difficulty accepting that 54 per cent of those women had not completed secondary education. She commended the Canadian Government for allowing asylum seekers into the country on the basis of gender-based persecution, and asked how many had been admitted for that reason. What facilities and programmes were available to women admitted on the basis of gender-based persecution, and what was the Government doing to encourage that approach in other countries?
REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, expressed concern that many women in Canada, a highly developed country, shared many of the disadvantages of poorer societies. She also noted that women made up almost half of work force, but still had lower-paying jobs and earned only 63 per cent of the salaries of men. She commended the country for increasing parental benefits, and its analysis of unpaid and paid work. As regarded violence against women, she asked whether recent governmental cuts had affected shelters and other forms of support for abused women. Also, why were there such a high percentage of Canadian women in prison?
YOLANDA FERRER GOMEZ, expert from Cuba, asked about systematic discrimination suffered by aboriginal Canadian women in all phases of life. The country needed to analyse the kind of discrimination suffered by those women and measures that had been taken to ensure that they could exercise their rights in all arenas. Also, what had been done to combat hate and prejudiced-based crimes? Why did aboriginal women reflect such a high percentage of the prison population?
SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, expressed disappointment that all people in Canada, including the immigrant population, did not enjoy the country’s high quality of life. She questioned whether the provisions of the Indian Act reflected the Canadian Charter of Rights, and whether welfare packages for immigrant and aboriginal women contained adequate housing and food needs. She commented that the country’s new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was biased, in that mainly highly skilled people were allowed to immigrate to Canada. She also queried whether findings related to violence against immigrant women had revealed any similarities with those of indigenous women. Finally, she asked what percentage of elderly women were living below the poverty level, and what disability and health-care services were available for them.
SJAMSIAH ACHMAD, expert from Indonesia, appreciated the inclusion of social conditions in the Agenda for Gender Equality. She admired the monitoring system for developing cooperation among the various government institutions. That monitoring system, with gender-awareness indicators, would provide an accurate picture of the actual condition of women. She stressed the importance of integrated social support services for women, including for poverty and the ageing population.
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, congratulated Canada for its leadership role at the international level, which was moving the women’s agenda forward. Leadership also brought with it great responsibility, nationally and internationally. Had the report been prepared in cooperation with non-governmental organizations and had the Government formally adopted it? What had been the main obstacle to making the historic Indian Act compatible with the Convention? She hoped the ratification of the Optional Protocol would provide incentive to the Government to deal with issues regarding aboriginal women.
AKUA KUENYEHIA, expert from Ghana, was interested in the Immigration Act as it related to trafficking in women. What happened to victims of trafficking, who were mostly women? Did they have a support system? Were they allowed to stay in Canada? Did the various anti-trafficking strategies address the root causes of trafficking in women and girls?
GORAN MELANDER, expert from Sweden, also asked questions about trafficking in women and Canada’s participation in a “safe third country” agreement. “Safe” was the important word. Was it safe to return to a country where a person might be detained? When did one become a Canadian? One in five women were immigrants and some had been in Canada for generations. It was odd to live in the country for generations and still be considered an immigrant. Also, who was an aboriginal? While universal agreement in defining aboriginal people had not been achieved, at the domestic level there was a subjective element in defining who was an aboriginal. Was it possible for a woman to deny being an aboriginal and be considered an ordinary Canadian?
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, commended the Government for its significant progress in the advancement in the status of women. There were disturbing and frightening gaps, however. Poor women were getting poorer. They had limited job training, little education and poor health. The measures used to address their situation seemed to be piecemeal.
Regarding British Columbia, she asked for an explanation of the rationale behind eliminating the Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Women’s Equality. Who would fill the vacuum left by the removal of the Commission? While the creation of domestic violence courts was commendable, a number had been closed in British Columbia. On budget allocations for legal aid, she wondered if it was true that British Columbia had cut its funding by some 38.8 per cent.
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, found it peculiar that the Committee was discussing a report that covered the period 1994 to 1998 without considering developments since 1998. Ratification of the Optional Protocol had made even more important a statewide system to monitor compliance the Convention. Was the Government setting up such a system? A dualistic system did not allow the judiciary to directly apply the provisions of the Convention. He asked if the Federal Government had taken measures to familiarize the members of the judiciary with the fact that all government acts should be applied in light of Canada’s obligations under its international treaty obligations.
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, commented that every second woman living alone lived in poverty in Canada, according to the report, yet the country was a highly successful one. She asked whether strong political will existed to address the problem, and whether it was a central part of the political agenda. She also noted a trend in the country’s health-care system that had increased women’s burden as caregivers in the home. That trend suggested something akin to a natural disaster, rather than a series of decisions by the Government, which could be reconsidered. Did the Government envisage a domestic poverty-reduction programme for women, and was there political will to start serious dialogue with the non-governmental organization community in implementing such a plan? How did the Government plan to fund women’s non-governmental organizations and cooperate with them in the future?
Ms. ACAR, expert form Turkey and Committee Chairperson, noted that poverty for single parents had dropped in Canada, and asked about poverty for women, in general. Was the Government emphasizing a policy that was too focused on motherhood and children in poverty reduction? What about other single women and elderly women?
Ms. IEVERS first responded to questions on economic restructuring between the Federal Government and those of the provinces and territories. In 1995, Canada was facing extreme deficit and debt problems, and the governments at both levels believed that the country would face much more hardship unless stringent measures were taken. Eventually, all governments realized that such high deficits were hindering economic growth, poverty reduction and other vital programmes. Consequent budget cuts had altered financial transfers between federal and provincial governments, and several programmes had been drastically cut. Now the Governments had turned those cuts around in an attempt to improve the poverty situation and had seen tangible results. If the country had had proper gender-based analysis of the original decisions to cut programmes, some of them would have been different. The federal plan for gender equality was only just coming into being at the time those decisions were being made.
The economy had improved since then, she continued, and more strategic investments had been made to strengthen the country’s social programmes in areas that needed them the most. The governments were mindful of the trap they had previously fallen into, which was detrimental to vulnerable groups in society. They were now using a building-blocks approach that started with the most vulnerable and proceeded to others up the chain. The burden women faced in taking on most of the care-giving responsibilities hindered them from becoming full economic members of society. However, the building-blocks approach should improve the situation of the most vulnerable. Also, economic growth had increased in the country and possibilities for full-time jobs for women had dramatically increased.
The Agenda for Gender Equality had committed itself to gender-based analysis, she said, although it could be difficult to see the results. Governments had committed to the plan in 1995, but their interest was waning and their performance had been disappointing. Gender-based analysis was not mandatory, because that approach would likely have resulted in failure. In the end, the Federal Government had decided to develop the ability and capacity of federal machinery to do gender-based analysis through training and developing the appropriate tools.
CALIE MCPHEE, Manager, Human Rights, Canadian Heritage, addressed questions on the preparation of the report. Regarding delays in its submission, because Canada took its reporting obligations seriously, a great deal of effort went into the preparation of the report. The number of reports due under various treaties had restricted their ability to produce reports in expedient fashion. Over the past two years, through efforts of the federal, provincial and territorial governments, the backlog in reports would be eliminated.
Regarding the federal approval of the report, each department contributing to the report had to approve the federal section, she said. The provinces had approval procedures, as well. Canada did not submit reports to the United Nations until it had received approval from all the jurisdictions. Canada had not consulted with non-governmental organizations specifically in the preparation of the report, but consultation with those organizations occurred regularly through other forums.
On the report’s structure, she understood the Committee’s concerns. A committee made up of the members of the various jurisdictions had prepared the report, using guidelines for their respective sections. Any change to Canada’s reporting structure required the agreement of all the jurisdictions, and improvement in reporting procedures was under discussion.
ELIZABETH EID, Assistant Director, Department of Justice, said Canada’s federal structure was complex. Canada followed a commonwealth tradition of a dualist system. Canada was a vast country. It was multiracial, multicultural and officially bilingual. Given the country’s diversity, it had been decided that federalism was the appropriate structure. That decision dated back to 1867. On the constitutional division of powers, certain matters fell under exclusive federal jurisdiction; others under exclusive provincial jurisdiction, while others were shared. Exclusive federal jurisdiction included defence, citizenship and aboriginal peoples. Provinces had exclusive jurisdiction in terms of local work, property, civil rights and education.
Human rights were a matter of shared jurisdiction, she said. Federal and provincial governments could enact human rights legislation. All governments had done so and there was a coherent framework across the country. The Canadian Charter, which was part of the Constitution, applied to the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments. All were subject to the Charter, which contained its equality guarantee. The Charter did play an important unifying role regarding equality and jurisprudence. The Supreme Court was the last court of appeal and had binding jurisdiction.
International human rights treaties applied to all jurisdictions -- federal, provincial and territorial. When Canada ratified a treaty, lengthy consultations occurred at the different levels to ensure that domestic legislation was consistent. Provinces agreed to be bound prior to ratification. Regarding human rights legislation, there were differences in protection depending on jurisdiction. Basically, courts had said that human rights legislation was to be applied in a purposeful manner. Courts must ascribe a common meaning to similar provisions.
Canada’s dualist system meant the Convention did not have direct force in the courts, she added. The courts had stated, however, that international human rights treaties must be taken into account when interpreting the Charter, as well as human rights legislation. There had been considerable interest in the judiciary in the citing of international human rights instruments.
Regarding the review of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the inclusion of “social condition”, she said the review of the Act was comprehensive and had been the first major review in the last 20 years. The review panel had come forward with 165 recommendations on a wide range of issues, and the Government was moving on the recommendations. Regarding social conditions, it was under serious consideration by the Government. Social condition appeared in the human rights legislation of several jurisdictions.
Regarding the terms equality and equity, she said that the concept of equality, which was enshrined in the Constitution, had been the main concept. While equity did denote fairness, it had been a term coined concerning pay equity. It did not denote farness in treatment, but measures to ensure substantive equality for women. Regarding hate crimes, there were a number of criminal code provisions, including enhanced sentencing. Hate speech on the Internet was prohibited. Gender-based analysis was not mandatory with respect to the Charter, but there was a statutory obligation to ensure that all legislation was reviewed for consistency with the Charter.
GILLIAN GLACKELL, Legal Counsel for the Family, Children and Youth Section at the Department of Justice, agreed that the high percentage of aboriginal women in Canadian prisons was a problem, although numbers had recently declined. A report from the aboriginal communities had identified alcohol, domestic abuse and other problems as major factors. The Government was currently taking measures to reduce the number of aboriginal women in prisons to a figure no higher than the national average. In 1996, the Criminal Code was amended to permit the courts alternative measures to incarceration. Several programmes were available for aboriginal offenders, including nine healing lodges and ethno-cultural liaison officers to assist with cultural issues and the integration of former into the community. From 1999 to 2001, sentences served in the community had increased from 28.5 to 33.3 per cent.
As for trafficking in women and children, the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act allowed women to apply for humanitarian assistance on compassionate grounds and gave them access to victims’ services across the country, as well as victim’s compensation services. In addition, the Canadian International Development agency (CIDA) funded several programmes to address the root causes of trafficking. The Government had also significantly contributed to shelters in the past few years. In particular, it had provided $1.9 million per year to the Family Violence Initiative, in addition to ongoing funding, and 50 new shelters had been established through the Shelter Enhancement Programme. Regarding figures on violence against women, recent statistics had indicated that 6 per cent of immigrants had experienced violence, compared to 8 per cent of the general population. The survey used, however, was limited, because it was only conducted in English and French, and some refugee women could not respond.
SHEILA REGEHR, Economic Policy Coordinator, Policy and External Relations Directorate, addressing a question on minority groups, said many recent immigrants were members of a visible minority, but others had been in the country for many years. She added that the term “visible minority” needed to be rethought, since, in at least one city, Toronto, the largest visible minority had now become the majority. She added that there had been efforts recently to develop specific frameworks to look at the effects of race or ethnic status on women. Databases were constantly being improved and new information released, although the five-year census was still the most comprehensive source of information.
Turning to questions about women’s lower after-tax income, she said that a wide range of measures was used as analytical tools, and figures varied. What mattered most were the trends, and statistics related to poverty had been improving. She added that figures relating to after-tax income included all women, employed or not, as well as paid and unpaid work, which skewed the figure to a lower level. The after-tax figure was actually higher than the before-tax rate, which showed that progressive effects in the tax system were having a positive gender effect. More common measures, such as wage gap measures, revealed more about the labour force. On an hourly basis, for example, the gap narrowed, with women earning 80 per cent of men’s wages. Concerning unpaid work, she said that the combination of figures allowed a look at the balance between paid and unpaid work, which was improving. Women were doing more paid work and the overall workload was declining.
Regarding poverty statistics, there was no single measure of poverty in the country, she said. Most statistics focused on low-income cut-offs, or before and after tax measures, although analysts were becoming more sophisticated in understanding poverty. Concerning the focus on mothers, the combination of information available largely related to single mothers. Analysts had acknowledged and were paying attention to the fact that most families needed two incomes to survive. With regard to the senior population, unattached poverty-stricken women in that age group were often feeling the effects of having had no previous incomes or pension plans, due to child-rearing.
MARY QUINN, Women’s Health Bureau, Health Canada, said the national child benefit was a major initiative with a First Nation component. It was a joint federal, provincial and territorial initiative with the federal side providing funding and the others services. As a result of the benefit, 1999 statistics indicated an average increase in income for some 1.2 million families with
2.1 children. The number of low-income families with children had decreased by about 16,500 families. Given the fact that the benefit had increased, she expected to see greater results. In addition to early results, the benefit was being evaluated both in terms of the objectives of reducing poverty and increasing labour force attachment.
There was also the Early Childhood Development Agreement, which had been signed by the federal, provincial and territorial ministers in 2002. Through the Agreement, provincial and territorial authorities could invest funds in four areas of early childhood services. The Government was committed to understanding what worked best and how to address gaps. In terms of senior women, the Government had made progress in terms of reducing poverty among seniors in the past decades. That was not to say that the situation had been solved. The commitment to results and further progress given the gaps that persisted was a primary focus of the Government.
On aboriginal issues, SANDRA GINNISH, Director-General, Treaties, Research, International and Gender Equality, Indian and Northern Affairs, said the Constitution defined aboriginals as Indian, Inuit and Metis. The Indian group included two subdivisions: Indians, who met the legal definition; and non-status Indians, who had descended from individuals who met the legal definition. The identity of Inuit people was based on self-identification and a relationship to a specific community. They were in the northern part of the country and the North-west Territories. The Metis were of mixed aboriginal and non-aboriginal descent. While there were a limited number of Metis communities, a large number of Metis were urban dwellers.
The First Nations Governance Act had been launched in 2001, after an extensive consultation process, she said. In that process, women had raised specific concerns, including the need for greater participation in First Nation affairs and greater transparency within government. The legislation had been drafted to address governance issues, including elections, redress mechanisms and accountability. The legislation had been introduced to Parliament. Matrimonial real property had not been included in the legislation, as a large part of the Indian Act related to land. The goal was to work in partnership with First Nation in terms of policy and legislation.
SANDRA HARDER, Manager, Gender-Based Analysis, Strategic Policy Branch, Citizenship and Immigration, said the live-in caregiver programme was designed to meet specific labour market needs. Without the programme, there would be no avenue for women to come to Canada, apply for landed status and, ultimately, citizenship. The programme was the only one within the temporary foreign worker category that allowed people to apply for landed status and citizenship in Canada. Recent regulatory changes within the programme responded to several concerns, including the need for specific contracts. Live-in caregivers were predominantly women.
The safe third country agreement was expected to be in effect by late spring 2003. The agreement would allow Canada to return to the United States people who had made asylum claims in their first safe country of arrival. It was a step towards sharing responsibility between Canada and the United States. The agreement applied to asylum seekers only at land border points of entry. In terms of raw numbers, more men would be affected by the agreement, as they tended to enter at border points, whereas women were more likely to make claims at airports. Those who returned to the United States would have access to the asylum claim process there. The Canadian Government was aware of debates surrounding the different ways in which claims were handled.
She said the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was the result of seven-year consultation process. The Act was part of gender-based analysis. On the question of refugee women and asylum seekers, in 2000 the immigration and refugee board had finalized some 28,917 claims, with 138 claims on the basis of gender-based persecution. Canada was proud of its guidelines on gender-based persecution. Most immigrant women came to Canada as spouses and dependents.
SUSAN CHRISTIE HATT, Director of Human Rights Policy, Ministry of the Attorney General of British Colombia, said her province had a population of
4 million people, most of whom lived along the southern border with the United States. The government of the province had changed in 2001, and the current administration had only been in office for 18 months. As a consequence, many changes with respect to the status of women had not yet been made.
She said the province had been running a deficit for three out of the past four years and had been receiving equalization payments from the federal Government. According to the provincial Government, servicing a large debt and continuing to run a deficit made promoting human rights difficult over the long term. Decisions had to be made about where to put scarce resources, and the Government had tried to prioritize key areas.
Regarding the Ministry of Women’s Equality, that ministry had not been eliminated, but amalgamated into the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services. The aim of the expanded body was to eliminate gender discrimination and draw up child-care programmes. The Ministry was preparing a report on progress in advancing the status of women, and a new gender analysis guide would be released in 2003. She added that the 1997 Human Rights Act mechanism had been expensive and led to frequent backlogs. A new model would have a diverse membership, be independent from the Government and be provided with adequate resources.
Expert Comments and Questions
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked whether there was any political commitment to reconsider the transferring of federal funds to the provinces. Had the overall income of the country risen? Also, did self-employed women earn enough to provide themselves with a sufficient pension? Was pay equity a mandatory exercise for all levels and jurisdictions?
VICTORIA POPESCU SANDRU, expert from Romania, said the report emphasized the importance of the full participation of women at all levels of decision-making and public life. However, she had seen no information on that and asked for clarification in that regard. Canada also wished to encourage political parties to set targets with respect to the inclusion of women, and she would like further information on that matter. She would also like further information about obstacles to parity in the political area.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said Canada had vast means to ensure that developments leading to gender parity in the country occurred. Noting that only about 20 per cent of women were in the country’s House of Commons, she asked whether any political parties in Canada were run by women.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked about the impact of measures taken to facilitate women’s access to the diplomatic service.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted that previously earmarked funds from the federal Government to the provinces had been cut, with negative consequences. She asked whether any consideration had been given to
re-establishing national standards to better respond to critical situations, where women had been affected by those cuts.
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked what new national standards the Government was attaching to its transfer of funds to the provinces.
HUGUETTE BOJKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, asked about situations in provincial jurisdictions when there was a conflict with federal law. Was there any provincial resistance to the application of the Charter of Human Rights?
Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked if the Government felt a responsibility towards women in aboriginal communities in terms of making sure that their interests were represented. How many aboriginal women’s non-governmental organizations were included in the preparation of legislation? She asked for clarification on the qualifications for legal aid.
Ms. SHINN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked why the term “visible minority” had been used in the report.
Ms. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, asked if gender impact analysis had been carried out on the legislative changes affecting work conditions with particular impact on women.
Ms. ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked if Canada intended to compensate indigenous population for the damage done to them throughout history.
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked if gender-based analysis been applied to the Insurance Employment Act. There seemed to be a decrease in the number of women receiving benefits. What was the real percentage of fathers taking parental leave?
Ms. IEVERS said that, with regard to social condition, the Government could not go further than what had been said. On changing fiscal arrangements between the provinces and the Federal Government, there would be no new changes in the short term. That was not to say that new programmes, for example children and housing, would not be considered. The Canadian health and social transfer programme ensured that the provinces and territories met basic criteria. The provinces and territories were required to provide social assistance without a minimum residency requirement.
On self-employed women, she said Canada was proud of the fact that women were entering the business community, creating jobs and small businesses. In 1996, some 700,000 women-led firms had provided jobs to about 1.7 million people. Many of the new jobs created were in the non-standard area of work with no benefits. Because that category of workers was fast growing, a project was underway to identify that population.
On the participation of women in political life, she agreed that it was important that more women get involved in politics. Quotas were not a part of Canadian culture. The Senate was not an elected body. The Prime Minister appointed members to that body. Over the last eight years, there had been an increase in the number of women holding Senate seats. There was one aboriginal woman with a seat in the Senate. There were nine judges on the Supreme Court, of which three were women. The Chief Justice was a woman. The head of State -- the Governor General -- was an immigrant woman.
LOUISE HOLT, Deputy Director, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said that 20 per cent of the senior management in her Department was held by women. There was clearly room for progress and new measures had been taken to increase the representation of women, including opportunities for spousal employment.
Ms. QUINN, Director-General of Human Resources Development Canada, said the people who received social assistance lost the child benefit when they returned to work. If the prospects for going to work were not more encouraging, it was difficult to make the transition. Income had increased for low-income workers making the transition to the labour market.
PAULINE GINGRAS, Associate Deputy Minister of the Status of Women Secretariat, Quebec, said the question of women in political life was high on the current agenda in Quebec. While some advances had been made, more progress was needed.
Ms. EID, Assistant Director, Department of Justice, said the issue of adding social condition to the Canadian Human Rights Act was under review. The Employment Equity Act applied to federally regulated employers. Pay equity was a complex issue. She agreed that the next report should describe the federal, provincial and territorial framework for pay equity. There were provisions in all jurisdictions regarding equal pay for equal work. The standard varied slightly, however. A task force was carrying out a comparative review on the topic.
Regarding the relationship between the Charter and human rights legislation, she said that if a woman faced discrimination by a government employer, she would have the option of taking a complaint to human rights commissioners. Not all accused received legal aid and Canada followed international and constitutional standards in that regard.
She said the term “visible minority” had been coined in the early 1980s, with the study resulting in the Employment Equity Act. It was solely used in the context of employment equity.
Ms. MCPHEE, Canadian Heritage, said an aboriginal women’s programme at Canadian Heritage received funding to support groups on and off aboriginal reserves. Measures had been taken to ensure their full participation in the consultations and decision-making.
Ms. IEVERS welcomed the Committee’s comments. The dialogue had been useful and she looked forward to bringing the content of the dialogue to government officials, as it would contribute to the advancement of women. Aboriginal issues were important to Canadian society. The many measures taken by the Government demonstrated the Federal Government’s commitment to correcting discrimination.
Ms. FERIDE, Committee Chairperson, said a number of concerns and commendations had been raised to which the delegation had replied. Those issues for which additional information was required should be included in the next report, which had been due in 2002. The Committee had benefited from the flow of information and looked forward to information from all provinces, systematically integrated. It had been an exhausting, but rewarding dialogue.
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