What are the top two human rights issues that Justin Trudeau needs to address?

For me, the two human rights issues that the new Trudeau government needs to address would be the pervasive and continuing violence against women in Canada, particularly those involving Indigenous women and girls, and secondly the need to address access to clean drinking water for many living in Canada’s First Nation’s communities.

The human right to live a life free from violence is not secure for many women in Canada. In spite of the fact that Canada is a signatory of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW), it is shocking to see the continuing high numbers of women whose lives are threatened every day. As a reminder, here are some of the facts:

  • Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.
  • 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.
  • On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. In 2011, from the 89 police reported spousal homicides, 76 of the victims (over 85%) were women.3
  • On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full.
  • As of 2010, there were 582 known cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Both Amnesty International and the United Nations have called upon the Canadian government to take action on this issue, without success. According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, “if this figure were applied proportionately to the rest of the female population there would be over 18,000 missing Canadian women and girls.”
  • Provincially, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which have consistently recorded the highest provincial rates of police-reported violent crime, had rates of violence against women in 2011 that were about double the national rate.

It was encouraging to see that action to deal with violence against women was promised during the 78 day campaign. A letter from Anna Gainey, President of the Liberal Party of Canada, to the Institute for International Women’s Rights – Manitoba, states: A Liberal government will also ensure that no one fleeing domestic violence is left without a place to turn. We will increase investments in growing and maintaining Canada’s network of shelters and transition houses, as part of our broader investment in social infrastructure. Moreover, we will amend the Criminal Code to reverse onus on bail for those with previous convictions of intimate partner violence. We will also specify that intimate partner violence be considered an aggravating factor at sentencing, and increase the maximum sentence for repeat offenders. We will also immediately launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. In addition, we will update Canada’s immigration policies to include granting immediate permanent residency to new spouses entering Canada, rather than imposing a two year conditional status that puts spouses – often women – in a position of extreme vulnerability.

The 2nd Human Right I would urge the newly elected government to tackle would be the right to access to clean drinking water for First Nation Communities. The story of Shoal Lake 40 and how that community continues to suffer because of actions by previous national, civic and provincial governments is wrong and must be addressed. There are 93 First Nations who are currently under a boil advisory for their water. As many have pointed out, this is going to be a challenge, because it is not just one level of government that must come to the table, and it is certainly not a one size fits all approach that will succeed, but may in fact take 93 different answers. However, this is an extremely important human right in my mind, and one I believe others do as well, and I would urge the newly elected government to work with all First Nations Communities so affected to come up with a plan to bring clean drinking water to the affected communities.

Mary Scott – co chair, IIWR-MB


Check out the other blogs in this series:
Two for Trudeau: MARL
Two for Trudeau: Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter
Two for Trudeau: Global College