B.C. gets poor grades on women's equality from Vancouver group
A Vancouver non-profit legal organization has released a critical assessment of B.C.’s record on women’s rights.
In its fifth annual “report card” on how well B.C. is measuring up to international standards on women’s equality, the West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund has given the province its fifth consecutive "F" grade in the area of women and access to justice.
It has also handed out "D" grades in the areas of social assistance and poverty, missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, and women and girls in prison.
Laura Track, the legal director for West Coast LEAF, said women in B.C. are disproportionately affected by what she referred to as the “legal aid crisis” in the province.
“The cuts that legal aid was subject to in 2002 disproportionately removed resources from family law legal aid services, meaning that the type of legal aid that women are more likely to need faced much more significant cutbacks,” she told the Straight by phone. “So investment in family law legal aid is a matter of urgent priority for legal equality.”
The West Coast LEAF report notes that calls for a national inquiry into the problem of missing and murdered aboriginal women have not been heeded, and many of the recommendations from the B.C. missing women inquiry have yet to be enacted.
“There are many recommendations that should be implemented immediately,” said Track. “In particular, the recommendation to develop a public transit system to enhance safety of transportation along the Highway of Tears.”
The legal director highlighted the fact that there has been what she referred to as “unprecedented attention” from international human rights observers in Canada during the last year. The UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples concluded a seven-day visit to the country earlier this week.
“B.C. has one of the highest rates for disappearances and murders of aboriginal women and girls in the country, and has substantial work to do to tackle this issue, and to address some of the underlying causes for aboriginal women and girls’ particular vulnerability, including poverty, and including shocking rates of violence,” said Track.
Some of the other concerns outlined in the group’s assessment include the lack of remand facilities for women on Vancouver Island.
“Conditions are so profoundly unfair that judges have taken the unusual step of apologizing to remanded women for the conditions they endured,” the report reads.
The group also gave a poor mark in the area of social assistance and poverty, an issue that Track said undermines women’s equality across the other categories of the report card.
“We know that violence against women affects women of every race, of every class, ability, and so forth, but what we also know is that if you are living on social assistance and you lack access to safe and appropriate housing, or if you have a disability, it’s that much more difficult for you to take steps to protect yourself,” said Track.
“If you’re working full-time earning minimum wage, you make too much to qualify for legal aid, but you’re unlikely to be able to afford childcare. It means your health will suffer, it means your children’s health will suffer.”
Track noted that the most recent Vancouver homeless count found more women sleeping on Vancouver’s streets. According to the annual study, 45 unsheltered women were surveyed this year, out of a total of 361 homeless women. The City of Vancouver has indicated it is looking at opening a new shelter for homeless women this year.
West Coast LEAF timed the release of their report to coincide with Person’s Day, which marks the anniversary of when the Famous Five won the right for women to be appointed to the Senate of Canada.
“We’ve been doing this for five years, and every year we hope that the next one will allow us to raise the grades and offer the government praise for meeting its human rights obligations and for doing right by the women and girls of B.C.,” said Track.
“But until we see a true commitment from the provincial government to women’s right to be free from violence, free from poverty and discrimination, and we see sufficient resources invested to tackle those problems, I fear that our assessments will remain quite low.”