Open Letter to Prime Minister Harper and Premier Campbell
February 16, 2010
The Honourable Minister Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa K1A 0A2
The Honourable Gordon Campbell
Premier of British Columbia
P.O. Box 9041
STN PROV GOVT
Victoria, B.C. V8W 9E1
400,000 visitors will come to British Columbia from around the world for the 2010 Olympics. We can show them beautiful mountains, new sports venues, and a new subway line. We can show them the extraordinary talents of Canadian athletes and artists.
Tragically, the splendour and expense of the Olympic Games stand in stark contrast to the poverty and violence experienced by the most marginalized women in this rich country.
Therefore, we cannot show our International visitors that you, as leaders of the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia, take seriously the human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable women.
In fact, the poverty of women and the devastating violence experienced by Aboriginal women and girls were identified as human rights failures in need of urgent correction, when Canada's human rights performance was scrutinized by countries around the world in 2009 at the United Nations Human Rights Council. In 2008 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) urged Canada to deal with these issues immediately.
But neither of your governments has taken effective action.
Across the country, women and men living in poverty rely on welfare incomes so low that the National Council of Welfare has called them "cruel". The United Nations has repeatedly called on the Government of Canada to establish minimum standards for social assistance, applicable at the federal, provincial and territorial levels. British Columbia has the highest poverty rate in the country, and social assistance rates - for those who can qualify - are so low that recipients cannot both pay rent and buy healthy food.
We know that for women, inadequate social assistance rates have severe consequences. Women turn to survival sex and prostitution to get by; they stay in or return to abusive relationships because they have no other option; they live on the streets where they are vulnerable to rape and sexual harassment.
Clearly, Canada's poorest women have been abandoned. It is obvious now that you will spend endless amounts of money on the glitz and glamour of the Olympic Games, but will not spend enough money to ensure that the most vulnerable women and children have adequate food and housing.
Violence Against Aboriginal Women and Girls
Aboriginal women and girls make easy prey for violent men, because of their poverty and their race, and because of the indifferent and dismissive attitude of legal authorities. 520 cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls have been documented. More than half have been murdered or gone missing since 2000 and British Columbia has the highest number. Many, if not most, of these disappearances and murders were not promptly and thoroughly investigated by Canadian police forces
We believe, along with many others, that the actual number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls is much higher, and Aboriginal women and girls continue to go missing and be murdered in British Columbia. We have asked repeatedly for a public inquiry and an action plan.
But neither Canada nor British Columbia has responded to these urgent requests.
As leaders, you have failed to act on the human rights of women in the same way that you have failed to act on the rights of Aboriginal peoples - by refusing to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, canceling the Kelowna Accord, and deliberately delaying for decades a just resolution of Indigenous land rights.
Without question, this is one of Canada's most serious human rights failures. We condemn the policies of your governments that result in the deaths of Aboriginal women and girls and the abandonment of women living in poverty.
We call on you to immediately:
* Establish a strategy for eliminating poverty that will ensure that women receive social assistance adequate to meet their needs;
* Establish a co-ordinated federal/provincial/territorial action plan to address violence against Aboriginal women and girls, that includes:
* thorough investigations of the cases of Aboriginal women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered in recent decades;
* a full public inquiry or investigation into the systemic failures of law enforcement agencies in order to remedy deficiencies and ensure that Aboriginal women and girls will be protected equally by law enforcement authorities;
* a specific and integrated plan for addressing the social and economic conditions of Aboriginal women and girls, both on and off reserves, including: poverty, poor health, inadequate housing, low school-completion rates, high rates of child apprehension, low employment rates, and low incomes.
On February 2, 2010, the BC CEDAW Group, with the endorsement of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and many other organizations, filed a report with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on these issues. That report is attached.
The B.C. CEDAW Group Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs
Aboriginal Women's Action Network
Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, B.C. and Yukon Region Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C.
Hospital Employees' Union
Justice for Girls
North Shore Women's Centre
The Poverty and Human Rights Centre
Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights
Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter
Vancouver Women's Health Collective
West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund
Women's Housing Equality Network
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For further information:
Laura Holland, AWAN/B.C. CEDAW Group 778-385-3899
Shelagh Day, Poverty and Human Rights Centre/B.C. CEDAW Group 604-872-0750
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President, Union of BC Indian Chiefs 250-490-5314
An electronic copy of Nothing to Report available at: http://www.ubcic.bc.ca/files/PDF/BCCEDAW_GroupShadowReport2010.pdf
Canada's report can be found at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/CEDAW.C.CAN.CO.7.Add.1.pdf