December 6, 2021 marks the 32nd year Canada will pause to commemorate the tragic incident of femicide at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. 14 young women were shot in an act of gender-based violence (GBV) that horrified Canadians.
On Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, we pause to reflect on the state of GBV now. How has public policy changed? How has Covid-19 impacted GBV? And how do we move forward to make Canada safer from GBV for all?
While awareness among Canadians has certainly risen over the past thirty years, violence against women is hardly something we have left behind. In 2020, a bloody spree of murders that began with an act of domestic violence took the lives of 22 Nova Scotians. Bloomberg found last year that 60% of mass shootings in the United States over the last 6 years were either domestic violence or committed by men with histories of domestic violence.
When Statistics Canada surveyed 43,000 Canadians in 2019, they found that one in three women and one in eight men felt unsafe in public due to unwanted sexual behaviour in the past 12 months. And one in five women experienced online harassment, with Indigenous women experiencing an even higher rate.
During Covid-19 the realities of GBV have worsened for countless women as a “shadow pandemic” of violence has spread. Throughout the pandemic, all types of violence against women and girls, and in particular, domestic violence, has intensified.
This shadow pandemic, as a public health emergency of its own, requires solutions from government to alleviate the considerable economic and social impact GBV has on survivors. Public policy has a role to play in supporting the response, but requires the mobilization of all orders of government and society more generally to bring about lasting change.
On November 25th Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the start of Canada’s annual 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. An additional $600 million over 5 years was allocated in Budget 2021 to develop a National Action Plan to End GBV that builds on a 2017 federal strategy.
Some groups, including an alliance of student representative organizations, have published recommendations for how this action plan by the federal government should best address ongoing GBV across the country. They call for early intervention programs, less harmful child protection systems, mandatory comprehensive education on issues pertaining to GBV and sexual health, as well as the support of survivors through a more accessible legal system.
Provinces are beginning to respond to GBV crises too. Earlier this year, B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner announced the launch of its first province-wide public human rights inquiry in Canada. The province has received praise for the year-long inquiry, with some saying the process can serve as a blueprint for other provincial governments to investigate human rights issues, including GBV intervention and prevention programming.
Despite such promising steps, policy-makers will need to work overtime to address GBV with an intersectional lens, especially considering its disproportionate impact on Indigenous women and girls. According to an RCMP report released this year, Indigenous women experience a homicide rate roughly 4.5 times higher than that of all other women in Canada. Between 1980 and 2012, more than 1,000 women and girls identified as Indigenous were murdered. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in 2019 reported on the egregious rate of violence against Indigenous women and called for transformative legal and social changes by government. The group’s calls for justice include proposals similar to the National Action Plan that the federal government recently announced, targeted towards supporting Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
While strides have certainly been made since 1989 to address GBV, public policy has only recently taken stronger, more direct approaches towards intervening in what has previously been considered a largely social impact/ non-profit sector issue. With a severe underreporting of how trans women are affected by GBV, for example, there is much work to be done. As governments recognize and act on their responsibilities to GBV-vulnerable populations, everyday Canadians, as well as businesses, have a role to play in combating this crisis.
Incorporating GBV awareness and action into corporate purpose, educating employees and providing them resources and support, as well as advocating for greater action from our elected officials are all ways in which together, we can use the next 30 years to create a safer, more prosperous Canada for all.
The following is a list of 10 local organizations accepting donations who work towards ending GBV through various programming:
Battered Women’s Support Services
Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective
National Center for Transgender Equality