The last scheduled meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women’s study of VAW shelters/transition houses took place on Monday, November 19. It was split into two one-hour slots: the first saw witness presentations from Eva Kratochvil, Survivor and Frontline Worker, Hiatus House; Anita Olsen Harper, Research Consultant, National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence; and Dawn Clark, Acting Executive Director of Haven Society. The second hour was given to a presentation by Yvan Clermont (Director) and Kathy AuCoin (Assistant Director) from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.
Eva and Dawn both spoke from the frontline service perspective, with Eva also bringing a survivor’s perspective. Eva stressed the importance of having survivors on the front line, to show women in shelters that there is hope. Both women also stressed the need for core funding because, as Eva put it, “women and their children should no be at the mercy of the government of the day.”
Eva also pushed back at the idea that women just need a roof over their heads – any roof – by giving a personal example of when she spent time in a women’s shelter as a child in Ottawa in the 1980s that was housed in an old police station.
“In terms of it being a place where you put women and children, we were in a small room that was quite possibly, I’m gathering, an interrogation room with windows so high they were unreachable, and cement planks that had little foam mattresses on them and a steel toilet… We don’t need warehouses for women while they wait for housing. What we need is housing for them.”
The presenters from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics were able to give some eye-opening statistics to the Committee, but unfortunately they were the last official presentation. As a result, many Committee members had contextual questions for them that they could not answer, but that could be answered by either WSC or representatives from shelters themselves. Unfortunately, no more are currently planned to be called.
WSC was pleased to finally hear directly from an Indigenous women’s organization, especially given the statistics on violence against Indigenous women as mentioned in our last blog. Anita Olsen Harper detailed the insufficient funding on reserve shelters receive from Indigenous Services Canada compared to what provincially-funded shelters receive. She illustrated this with an example: “When First Nations women – women who have Indian status and normally live on reserve – access women’s shelters off-reserve, ISC reimburses that provincially-funded shelter at the provincial rate, at a rate that is higher than what it pays the first nation to provide these services on the reserve when these services are available. This is actually discriminatory.”
Anita also stressed that, “Reserves are known for their limited health, housing, educational and social services, and these are essential for providing support and to complement the shelter’s programs and services. This unequal and inequitable funding of on-reserve women’s shelters results in at least the following four consequences.”
WSC has been pushing the members of the Standing Committee to hold an additional meeting for this study that specifically hears from Indigenous women and Indigenous women’s organizations. During her question time, Sheila Malcolmson MP (NDP) gave notice of a motion that:
“[D]ue to the lack of indigenous voices on the present study of the system of transition houses and shelters serving women and children affected by violence against women and intimate partner violence, and the disproportionate rates of violence and the gaps and services they are facing, that the committee extend the duration of the study to include Indigenous women’s organizations, shelters, transition houses and Indigenous women themselves.”
The Committee will not be meeting again until next week, when we hope they will be able to vote in favour of this motion. We will keep you posted with any updates on social media (follow us on Twitter and Facebook @endvawnetwork).