BC CEDAW Group Appeal to The Honourable Jean Chretien

Wednesday, April 30, 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 30, 2003


The Right Honourable Jean Chretien
Prime Minister
Government of Canada
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6 


Dear Prime Minister, 

We write to you today about the recent review of Canada's 5th report on its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by the United Nations CEDAW Committee. 

Our purpose in writing to you is twofold. First, we wish to begin by expressing our thanks to officials of Status of Women Canada for the high degree of professionalism that was shown by them at Canada's 5th review, as well as for the support for non-governmental participation that Status of Women Canada officials offered on this occasion. 

Secondly, we write to you to ask for your assistance. Although Canada received praise for some initiatives, in its Concluding Comments, the CEDAW Committee expressed a high level of concern about Canada's failures to eliminate discrimination against women. The Committee made a number of important recommendations that, we believe, must be responded to seriously by the Government of Canada. 

More specifically and in summary form, the Committee recommended that Canada: find ways to ensure that there is compliance with the treaty in all jurisdictions; re-establish national standards for social programs as a means of ensuring treaty compliance; make gender-based impact analysis mandatory; make funds available for constitutional equality test cases in all jurisdictions; ensure that sufficient legal aid is available to women for civil and family law matters; increase efforts to combat poverty among women; accelerate efforts to eliminate discrimination against Aboriginal women; eliminate legislated discrimination against Aboriginal women; sensitize Aboriginal communities about women's human rights; ensure that Aboriginal women receive sufficient funding to participate in governance and legislative processes; eliminate the provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which still discriminate against immigrant women; reconsider the live-in requirement of the Live-In Caregiver Program, and ensure that live-in caregivers have adequate social security protection and quicker access to permanent residency; assist victims of trafficking through counseling and reintegration; step up efforts to combat violence against women and girls and increase funding for women's crisis centres and shelters; take additional measures to increase the representation of women in political and public life; introduce employment-related measures which will bring more women into standard employment arrangements with adequate social benefits.; accelerate efforts to implement equal pay for work of equal value; expand affordable childcare facilities in all jurisdictions; reconsider the eligibility rules under the Employment Insurance Act and consider raising the benefit levels for parental leave; redesign supports for socially assisted housing based on a gender-based impact analysis; disseminate widely the Concluding Comments in order to make the people of Canada, and particularly government administrators and politicians, aware of the future steps required. 

Because of the wide range and the importance of these recommendations, we believe that the Government of Canada must respond seriously and in a systematic manner. The Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) is the non-governmental umbrella group responsible for the assembly and production of the national NGO report on Canada submitted to the CEDAW Committee for the purposes of Canada's 5th review. This report can be found on FAFIA's website at www.fafia.org. It is through this alliance that forty Canadian women's organizations have organized in order to speak to Canada's obligations under CEDAW. We ask you to ensure that Ministers and officials of the Government of Canada work with FAFIA to design and implement a process by which federal government practices and actions can be reviewed and amended in light of CEDAW obligations, and the Committee's recommendations. 

We also request that you ensure that Ministers and officials of your government will work with us to design and implement means of ensuring that "coherent and consistent measures in line with the Convention" are implemented in all Canadian jurisdictions. The CEDAW Committee has underlined the federal government's principal responsibility for implementing the Convention, and has urged the Government of Canada to find ways to ensure that treaty rights are fulfilled by all levels of government. As the CEDAW Committee notes, there appear to be no mechanisms that women can rely on to ensure that treaty standards will be met consistently in all jurisdictions in Canada. This leads to women in some provinces, notably, at the moment, the Province of British Columbia, - the sole province singled out by the CEDAW Committee for critical comment - being deprived of the enjoyment of their treaty rights, with no obvious recourse. 

The Government of Canada has a key role to play now, both in meeting its own obligations under the Convention and, as well, in facilitating, motivating, and monitoring observation of CEDAW obligations by the other levels of government in Canada. 

Canada's reputation as a leader on women's human rights issues is at stake here. It was clear at the review in New York City on January 23, 2003 that the members of the CEDAW Committee know Canada as a key advocate for women's human rights in international fora. Canada also receives international recognition for its aid to developing countries for training regarding CEDAW obligations. (We note that the Canadian International Development Agency recently provided two grants amounting to 21.4 million dollars to assist developing countries to understand their CEDAW undertakings).We are proud of Canada's international stance on women's human rights, and proud that it provides aid that is specifically earmarked to assist women. However, Canada's reputation as a leader depends on its actions at home - not just on its words, and dollars, abroad. The contrast between Canada's internationally demonstrated concern for CEDAW principles and its domestic neglect of CEDAW obligations was a central concern of the CEDAW Committee. 

We congratulate you for Canada's recent decision to stand by the rule of law, and to refuse to endorse a war in Iraq that contravenes established principles of justice and international law. Now, with the CEDAW Concluding Comments, Canada has another opportunity to demonstrate that it believes in the rule of law, and in the value of international agreements, standards, and bodies. By responding in a serious and organized way to the CEDAW Committee's recommendations, Canada will show its respect, in the domestic arena, both for international law and processes, and for women's human rights. 

Canadian women need your government to show leadership in Canada regarding women's rights to equality. Canadian women do not enjoy social, political and economic equality with men. The last decade has been a difficult one for women. Hard won gains have been lost, and the most disadvantaged women have been most harmed by cuts to social programs and benefits. The CEDAW Committee's Comments illustrate these concerns. Thus, the CEDAW review process can provide an opportunity for your government to look carefully at its policies and practices and to respond thoughtfully, and in good faith, to the concerns expressed by the Committee, and by Canadian women through their NGO report. 

In recognition of the key role of your government, we therefore make the following requests:

  1. Please work with us to put in place a serious, participatory, and transparent review process to respond to the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee regarding the practices and policies of the federal government;
  2. Please work with us to put in place a serious review process that will result in the design and implementation of a transparent and public process of national oversight to ensure that women's treaty rights are complied with in all Canadian jurisdictions;
  3. Please ensure that all review processes attend to the specific and serious concerns of the CEDAW Committee regarding Aboriginal women;
  4. Please encourage the provinces and territories, and the Province of British Columbia in particular, to comply with the terms of CEDAW, and to treat the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee with respect and responsiveness;
  5. Please offer training to elected and other officials in the provinces and territories to ensure that they understand their CEDAW obligations, as well as make available other supports which may assist these officials in responding to the circumstances of women in their own provinces;
  6. Please provide financial assistance to the non-governmental women's groups currently representing women and girl's human rights and equality concerns to the provincial, territorial and federal governments. These groups are working hard to deal with the harms caused by the impact on women and girls of recent government funding cuts and programme restructuring. And, in carrying out such tasks, they are clearly positioned by the terms of CEDAW as civil society groups the government is obligated to support and facilitate. 

We understand the matters we discuss in this letter to be urgent ones, and we look forward to your response. Thank you for your attention to these requests. 

For further information, or assistance in arranging the requested meeting, please contact Shelagh Day at xxx-xxx-xxxx (telephone) or xxx-xxx-xxxx (fax).


Shelagh Day
for the Steering Committee