BC CEDAW Group Appeal to The Honourable George Abbott

Date: 
Wednesday, April 9, 2003

#225, 3495 Cambie Street, Vancouver, B.C., V5Z 4R3
Aboriginal Women's Action Network, Working Group on Poverty, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, Justice for Girls, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (B.C. and Yukon Region), End Legislated Poverty, Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights, British Columbia Coalition of Women's Centres, Vancouver Women's Health Collective, National Action Committee on the Status of Women - (B.C. Society), Women's Working Group of the British Columbia Health Coalition.

 

April 9, 2003

The Honourable George Abbott
Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services
Province of British Columbia
Parliament Buildings, Room 103
P.O. Box 9042
STN PROV GOVT
Victoria, B.C.
V8W 9E2

 

Dear Mr. Abbott,

We write to you about an urgent matter - the rights of women and girls in Canada and, in particular, the rights of women and girls in the Province of British Columbia.  

The B.C. CEDAW Group is a coalition of twelve non-governmental organizations, based in British Columbia, whose specific concern is the compliance of all levels of government in Canada with the terms of the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 

On February 26, 2003 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women released its Concluding Comments following its review of Canada's 5th Report under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). As you are aware, Canada ratified this international human rights treaty in 1981 and all levels of government, including the Government of British Columbia, are obligated to comply with its terms. 

In its Concluding Comments, a copy of which is attached here, the Committee expresses a high level of concern about Canada's failure to eliminate discrimination against women, and the Committee singles out the Government of British Columbia for specific criticism. At paragraph 35, the Committee states: 

The Committee is concerned about a number of recent changes in British Columbia which have a disproportionately negative impact on women, in particular Aboriginal women. Among these changes are: the cut in funds for legal aid and welfare assistance, including changes in eligibility rules; …the incorporation of the Ministry of Women's Equality under the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services; the abolition of the independent Human Rights Commission; the closing of a number of courthouses; and the proposed changes regarding the prosecution of domestic violence as well as the cut in support programmes for victims of domestic violence. 

At paragraph 36, the Committee recommends that "British Columbia…analyse its recent legal and other measures as to their negative impact on women and…amend the measures, where necessary" (para. 36). 

We also note that the CEDAW Committee states additional specific concern "about the persistent systematic discrimination faced by Aboriginal women in all aspects of their lives" including in employment, education and in the criminal justice system, and urges the acceleration of "efforts to eliminate de jure and de facto discrimination against Aboriginal women…" (paragraphs 37 and 38). 

One immediate step that your government can take, that would preclude some negative effects from occurring, would be to reverse the decision to de-fund women's centres as of April 1, 2004. Women's centres, especially in rural and Northern communities, provide vital lifelines for women. They offer a safe drop-in space, and essential services, such as legal clinics and support groups for single mothers and women who are victims of violence, food programmes, and housing advocacy. Women need the support and information that these centres provide. 

However, we also ask that you, as the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services, support an immediate and full response to the United Nations CEDAW Committee's observations and recommendation. We understand an appropriate response to the recommendation of this international body to involve at least the following two things: 

1) that you take steps, with your Cabinet colleagues, to implement the thorough review that is necessary to ensure that your government is fulfilling its obligations under international human rights law to the women and girls of British Columbia, including, in particular, Aboriginal women and girls. A credible review of the impact of recent provincial policy, funding, and legislative changes on women will require an independent and open process, conducted in such a way that representatives of women's non-governmental organizations can participate fully. The review process must conclude with a public report of the process and its findings;

2) that you halt the implementation of any further cuts to programmes, services, or funding until this review of policies and legislation is completed. 

We also have written to the Premier, Gordon Campbell, to the Attorney-General, Geoff Plant, and to the Minister of Health, Colin Hansen, to make these requests. 

Additionally, we request that a meeting between you and representatives of the B.C. CEDAW Group be scheduled as soon as possible to discuss the CEDAW Committee's findings, the concerns that led the Committee to issue its criticism of recent provincial programme, policy, and funding changes, and details of the review process the government will initiate in response to the Committee's recommendation. 

Shelagh Day would be pleased to provide further information, or to assist in arranging the requested meeting. She can be contacted at xxx-xxx-xxxx (telephone) or xxx-xxx-xxxx (fax). 

Sincerely,

 

Faye Blaney, Aboriginal Women's Action Network
Christina Davidson, Working Group on Poverty
Audrey Johnson, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund
Annabel Webb and Joanna Czapska, Justice for Girls
Suzanne Jay, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter
Lee Lakeman, Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (B.C. and Yukon Region)
Lesley Moore, End Legislated Poverty
Cenen Bagon, Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights
Michelle Dodds, B.C. Coalition of Women's Centres
Caryn Duncan, Vancouver Women's Health Collective
Bev Meslo, National Action Committee on the Status of Women (B.C. Society)
Terrie Hendrickson, Women's Working Group of the B.C. Health Coalition

 

On behalf of the B.C. CEDAW Group

 

cc: The Honourable Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage, Government of Canada
The Honourable Jean Augustine, Secretary of State for the Status of Women, Government of Canada
The Honourable Lynn Stephens, Minister of State for Women's Equality, Province of British Columbia