BC CEDAW Group Appeal to Mr. Jacques Rogge

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 

Mr. Jacques Rogge
President, International Olympic Committee
Chateau de Vidy
1007 Lausanne
Switzerland 
 

Dear Mr. Rogge, 

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. 

The International Olympic Committee is poised to make a decision that will importantly affect the lives of women and girls in Canada, and in British Columbia more specifically. If the bid is awarded to Vancouver, both the federal and provincial governments will spend public funds to support the games, funds which could otherwise be spent on the social programmes and services on which women rely.  

Both levels of government have made serious cuts to social spending in recent years, and these cuts have had specific detrimental effects on women. The Government of British Columbia has announced that it will cut 1.25 billion dollars from social spending over the next three years. This cut, which is already being implemented, hurts most those who are already disadvantaged, and harms women disproportionately. At the same time, the Government of British Columbia has already provided 2.2 billion dollars in tax cuts, which have mainly assisted the more privileged citizens of the province, and it will spend another approximately 1.2 billion dollars for Olympics-related facilities and services, if the games are held here.  

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 on its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Canada ratified this international human rights treaty in 1981 and all levels of government, including the Government of British Columbia, have committed themselves 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. 

The programmes and services that have been cut drastically by the Government of British Columbia, including welfare assistance for the poorest women, legal aid for family law matters, anti-violence services, child care subsidies, and employment standards services, are not luxuries. The United Nations CEDAW Committee is correct to note the devastating impact these cuts have had on basic conditions for women in British Columbia. 

The CEDAW Committee states additional specific concern "about the persistent systematic discrimination faced by Aboriginal women in all aspects of their lives" and urges Canada "to accelerate its efforts to eliminate de jure and de facto discrimination against Aboriginal women…" (paragraphs 37 and 38). 

As you will see from the enclosed text, the CEDAW Committee has a substantial list of concerns about Canada's treaty compliance, and many of those concerns arise because of recent cuts to social spending. 

The International Olympic Committee should not award Olympic games to a wealthy developed country, one which considers itself a leader with respect to human rights, when that country is openly failing to meet its own human rights obligations, and when the funds that will be committed to the games could be spent on restoring the very programmes and services that have been identified as essential for women and girls to lead safe lives in reasonable conditions.  

We are sure that the International Olympic Committee wishes to show that it respects the rights of women and takes seriously the human rights commitments that bidding countries make under international treaties. Surely the Olympic Committee should not permit a Government's interest in holding the games to take precedence over that country's undertaking to meet its obligations under international human rights law. Enforcement of international human rights obligations relies in large part upon the willingness of other international actors to express disapproval of the breach of these rights and to refuse to overlook and thus condone transgressions. The women and girls of British Columbia rely upon international organizations such as yours to hold the British Columbia and Canadian governments accountable to the undertakings they have given to the international community. 

We ask that you consider the comments of the United Nations Committee on the conditions of women in British Columbia seriously. The games should not be awarded to a jurisdiction when it is clear that the award will have the effect of condoning and tolerating continued discrimination against women. Yet, that will be precisely the message should the games be awarded to Vancouver now. 

We would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have, and thank you for your attention to these concerns. For further information, please contact Shelagh Day at xxx-xxx-xxxx (telephone) orxxx-xxx-xxxx (fax).We look forward to your early response. 

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 Gordon Campbell, Premier, Province of British Columbia
The Honourable Ted Nebbeling, Minister of State for the 2010 Olympic Bid, Province of British Columbia
The Honourable Stephane Dion, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Government of Canada
The Honourable Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage, Government of Canada
The Honourable Jean Augustine, Secretary of State for Women's Equality, Government of Canada
Mayor Larry Campbell, City of Vancouver
Members of Vancouver City Council