Thunder Bay Regional Roundtable
(September 23, 2016)

On Friday, September 23, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women, hosted a regional roundtable in Thunder Bay, Ontario. This roundtable is 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/input-suggestion-en.html for more information about the engagement process.

This roundtable brought close to twenty stakeholders from Thunder Bay and outlying areas together to discuss issues related to gender-based violence that are relevant to the region. Participants included representatives from policing organizations, non-governmental organizations, professional associations, provincial advisory councils and universities which work in the areas of: supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit (LGBTQ2) individuals, Indigenous women, members of minority language communities, and newcomer, migrant and immigrant women; homeless women, addictions and mental health, and sexual assault.

Highlights

The roundtable discussion is summarized 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 participants outlined include the:

  • Lagging behind other areas of the province regarding services for Indigenous women, Metis women and sex workers
  • Gang violence is an emerging and serious issue
  • Shelters are often at capacity and under-resourced
  • Transportation to access services is a key issue for rural women, sometimes requiring them to leave their home communities and support networks
  • Limited services for francophone and immigrant women can lead to competition for resources

Participants shared insights about the needs and experiences of specific populations at risk of gender-based violence:

  • Low income women may be forced to engage in activity that could put them at risk of violence or victimization.
  • Indigenous women face violence throughout the life course. Victimization as children can lead to vulnerability to gender-based violence into adulthood.
  • Participants noted that gang violence and human trafficking of Indigenous women are issues in the region.
  • Rural and remote women, including those on reserve, may be revictimized if offenders return to communities without sufficient supports for rehabilitation.
  • Women from rural or Indigenous communities often come to larger centres to flee victimization and access services and support, but may experience socioeconomic barriers that can lead to further vulnerability.
  • Northern youth need more opportunities to share their perspectives on gender-based violence in order to develop language and skills to address these issues in their own lives.

Gaps identified by participants included:

  • There is a need to fund on-reserve shelters to the same level as provincial shelters.
  • Culturally appropriate responses to gender-based violence are critical to supporting the needs of different communities.
  • There needs to be more opportunity for leadership training to help Indigenous women enhance their skills and to shift the male dominated Indigenous leadership structures.
  • A need for a national educational initiative to educate on healthy masculinities and decreasing gender stereotypes and norms.
  • Need to provide increased funding for sexual assault centres and provide more training for workers to be able to meet the needs of LGBTQ2 communities.
  • Reconciliation is a key issue for Indigenous women, yet many feminist approaches to address gender-based violence do not integrate reconciliation as a lens.

Building on what works, participants suggested:

  • The domestic violence unit with the local police department has been a strong resource and has developed strong ties with front line workers.
  • Programs that are culturally specific for Indigenous women are essential for safety, recognizing the harmful histories that Indigenous people have had with children’s aid, police and with other institutions.
  • Indigenous service organizations are working to prevent apprehension of children in situations of domestic violence and to keep them with their mothers if appropriate, recognizing the severe impacts of apprehension on families.
  • The Court Watch program is a best practice and has provided valuable data that can be used to understand victimization.
  • Northern francophone communities have begun to offer awareness programs on equity and diversity, available to teachers, parents and students.
  • The Swedish model of child protection could be adopted in Canada - files are opened in the name of the child, as opposed to the parent, to decrease the potential for a child of falling through the cracks.

Overall, participants highlighted that the federal strategy should recognize that:

  • Services for minority communities, including Indigenous, immigrant and LGBTQ2 individuals in the North need more resources;
  • Rural and remote communities face specific challenges;
  • Indigenous women have the experience and knowledge to lead, but need more training to lead the way; and
  • Rural and remote communities are under-resourced which may force people to move to access services.
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