BC CEDAW Group Appeal to The Honourable Robert Daniel Nault

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 Honourable Robert Daniel Nault
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Government of Canada
Terrasses de la Chaudiere
10 Wellington Street, North Tower
Hull, Quebec
K1A 0H4 

Dear Minister Nault, 

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. 

Although Canada received praise for some initiatives by the CEDAW Committee, in its Concluding Comments, the Committee expressed a high level of concern about Canada's failures to eliminate discrimination against women. 

The Committee was particularly disturbed by the situation of Aboriginal women. It made a number of recommendations that are specifically focussed on improvement of their conditions. The Committee recommended that Canada: 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 be able to participate in governance and legislative processes; increase its efforts to combat poverty among vulnerable groups, such as Aboriginal women; ensure that income-generating efforts for Aboriginal women provide for sustained and adequate income, including all necessary social benefits; and provide comprehensive information on the situation of Aboriginal women in its next report. 

Because of the wide range and the importance of these recommendations, we are writing to seek your assistance. 

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. The report can be found on FAFIA's website at www.fafia.org. It is through this alliance that forty women's organizations, including Aboriginal women's organizations, have organized in order to speak to Canada's obligations under CEDAW. We now ask you, along with other Ministers, to 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 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 Convention 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 CEDAW standards will be met consistently in all jurisdictions in Canada. This leads to women, including Aboriginal 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 CEDAW 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. Canada's failure to fulfill CEDAW obligations to Aboriginal women was highlighted in this context. 

We are proud of 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 you to show leadership in Canada regarding women's rights to equality, and the rights of Aboriginal women in particular. Aboriginal women do not enjoy social, political and economic equality with Aboriginal men or with non-Aboriginal people. The last decade has been a difficult one for women. Hard won gains have been lost, and Aboriginal women, who are among the most disadvantaged women in Canada have been seriously 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 the review processes attend to the specific and serious concerns of the CEDAW Committee regarding Aboriginal women;
  4. Please encourage provincial and territorial governments, and the Government 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 in their own jurisdictions;
  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 Aboriginal 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