Montreal Regional Meeting
(August 15, 2016)

On August 15, 2016, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women, hosted a regional roundtable in Montreal, Quebec. The roundtable was part of a broader engagement process to engage stakeholders across the country to inform the development of a federal strategy on gender-based violence. See http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/violence/strategy-strategie/index-en.html for more information about the engagement process.

The roundtable brought some 15 stakeholders together to discuss gender-based violence issues that are specific to the region. Participants included representatives of universities and non-governmental organizations who work to support women with disabilities, homeless women, female sex workers, members of the LGBTQQI2S community, sexual assault survivors, and newcomer, migrant and immigrant women, as well as organizations with expertise in women’s health and cyber violence.

Anju Dhillon (Parliamentary Secretary for Status of Women and Liberal MP for Dorval-Lachine), Francis Scarpaleggia (Liberal MP for Lac-Saint-Louis), Eva Nassif (Member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and Liberal MP for Vimy) and Alexandra Mendès (Liberal MP for Brossard–Saint-Lambert) were also in attendance.

Highlights

A few highlights of the roundtable discussion are provided here. This summary should not be interpreted as a comprehensive account of the discussion, nor is it meant to suggest that there was consensus among the participants on the points outlined below.

Some of the regional considerations raised by participants:

  • A step backward for women and young girls, who are not as knowledgeable about healthy relationships and their rights.
  • Normalization of hypersexualization, pornographization, prostitution and cyber violence, encouraged by a lack of knowledge about digital technology among service providers and the general public.
  • Lack of a holistic strategy at the federal level for fighting violence against women that is aligned with the provinces’ and territories’ efforts and takes account the pervasiveness of patriarchy and other factors that make women vulnerable.
  • Need to change mentalities and provide fair access to services for women, in all their diversity, across the country.
  • Lack of access to social housing, emergency shelters, and first- and second-stage services for victims of violence.
  • Lack of resources dedicated to research and joint action on violence against women in light of the complexity of spousal abuse and the significant number of intersecting factors.

Participants shared insights about the needs and experiences of specific populations at risk of gender-based violence. In their opinion, the following steps must be taken:

  • Recognize prostitution as a form of violence against women, who are at greater risk of several forms of violence and social exclusion. Continue to target demand and fully decriminalize the work of sex workers.
  • Support new immigrant populations and inform them about the laws and resources available to them in Canada, because many incidents of violence against immigrants go unreported. Provide fair access to services geared to these victims.
  • Take account of LGBTQQI2S individuals (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex and two-spirited individuals), who are often invisible or whose points of view are not always considered in this area. Include them in data collection, interventions and wording.
  • Protect intersex children and put a stop to genital surgery and hormone therapy imposed by the medical system. Let children decide on their own identity upon reaching adulthood.
  • Acknowledge violence against women and believe victims, regardless of the type of population or violence, particularly cyber violence, trafficking, violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, violence between same-sex partners, violence against women refugees, violence against women with disabilities, etc.
  • Recognize that the marginalization of Aboriginal peoples makes them more vulnerable to violence.
  • Review immigration laws and revise all aspects that make women immigrants and refugees vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
  • Acknowledge spousal abuse in the workplace and provide resources for victims.

Shortcomings were identified, leading to the following recommendations:

  • Lack of training of service providers, especially in the areas of justice and immigration in relation to violence against women, which has an impact on how victims are treated and how decisions concerning them are made. Train service providers to take gender-based violence into account in order to prevent revictimization.
  • Significant delay in the judicial processing of domestic violence cases and difficulty securing convictions for perpetrators of various forms of violence against women.
  • Need to educate the public and service providers on cyber violence and the use of new technologies so that they can act effectively. Conduct more research into cyber violence to guide legislation- and policy-making efforts, educate service providers and the general public, and provide means of prevention. Get academics and service providers on the ground to work together to develop a better understanding of cyber violence and create suitable solutions.
  • Complex criteria for government funding that encourage ad hoc, project-based funding and require organizations working in the field to constantly reinvent their practices rather than pursuing those that are already working.
  • Lack of data on violence against women and LGBTQQI2S individuals. Need to collect more data and use the available data more effectively, especially data gathered during the census.
  • Exclusion of victims due to a rigid definition of who is a woman and of violence against women.
  • Stop demonizing attackers through our language and talk more about rehabilitation.

Building on what works, participants suggested:

  • Focus more on prevention, which costs much less than responding to incidents, particularly by educating girls and boys about gender equality, healthy relationships and violence against women, including prostitution.
  • Work in interdisciplinary cooperation and collaboration with various organizations that have expertise on issues affecting women who experience violence, in all their full diversity, as well as the risk factors for violence (poverty, drug addiction, homelessness, disabilities, etc.).

Overall, participants stressed that the federal strategy should recognize the following:

  • Vulnerable populations have specific needs.
  • Community strengths and expertise should be leveraged to determine which solutions are the most effective, and the community should play a role in their implementation.
  • Partnerships play a key role in bringing about change.
  • Men and boys should play a bigger part in the solutions to be developed.
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