Canada’s unions call for long-term solutions to end gender-based violence

Canada’s unions are marking the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women by calling on the federal government to commit to long-term solutions to help survivors and to put an end to gender-based violence.

December 6 marks the 31st anniversary of the shooting at Montréal’s École Polytechnique where fourteen women were killed in what was then Canada’s deadliest massacre.

In April of this year that record was surpassed when 22 people were tragically killed in Nova Scotia.

“Both events were motivated by misogyny and both these tragedies spotlight the lethalness of Canada’s gender-based violence crisis,” said CLC Secretary-Treasurer Marie Clarke Walker. “However, this crisis is not limited to mass murder: a woman is killed by an intimate or former partner every six days in this country.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the gender-based violence crisis in Canada. With many workers laid off or working from home, those experiencing domestic violence can become trapped at home with their abuser. They may find it increasingly difficult to seek help, contact family and friends, or to make plans to leave.

Even when women have the courage to leave, there isn’t always a safe place to go. Before the pandemic began, women and children were turned away from domestic violence shelters more than 19,000 times every month in Canada. Now, 61 percent of women’s shelters are reporting a spike in demand for services at a time when they have also been forced to reduce their capacity in order to comply with public health guidelines.

“We welcome the government’s recently announced $100 million investment in women’s shelters and sexual assault centres to help meet the surge in demand. But these investments fall short of what’s needed to truly tackle Canada’s gender-based violence crisis,” said Clarke Walker. “One-time funding boosts will not help repair our crumbling social infrastructure. Anti-violence organizations need long-term core operational funding in order to effectively support survivors and keep everyone safe.”

Trans people, Indigenous, Black, racialized people, women with disabilities, refugee, migrant, and undocumented women all face increased risks and barriers when trying to access support. These communities are often hit hardest by the ongoing strain on services.

“As we honour lives lost to gender-based violence, let’s also take action to prevent future tragedies. No one who is in a violent situation should be rejected or turned away when trying to get help. The time to invest is now,” said Clarke Walker.

Find a virtual vigil for December 6 in your community here.

Canada’s unions call for a National Action plan on Gender-Based Violence

Canada’s unions are marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women by calling on the federal government to establish a National Action Plan on Violence against Women and Gender-based Violence.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – observed every year on November 25 – also marks the start of 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence.

“Gender-based violence was a crisis in Canada even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic, domestic violence has increased and measures to slow the spread of the virus have made it increasingly difficult for anyone living in an abusive relationship to escape their abusers,” said CLC Secretary-Treasurer Marie Clarke Walker. “Over a third of women workers have experienced domestic violence – and those numbers are even higher for trans people,”

A woman is killed by her intimate partner every 6 days in this country. Thousands of Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people have been murdered or gone missing. And more than half of women have been exposed to sexual harassment at work.

Shelters and support organizations in many areas have reported alarming increases in demand for services. With many people, working from home and many others laid off, the stress of economic insecurity, social isolation, fear of infection and other pressures raises the risk of escalating violence ꟷ and creates new barriers to support.

Calling a shelter or sexual assault centre can feel impossible when under a partner’s watch. Police interventions and “wellness checks” have proven deadly for Black and Indigenous people in particular.

COVID-19 has also led to a rise in violence and harassment at work, especially for workers on the front lines in health care, food services and retail, and other public-facing jobs. These are sectors where the majority of workers are women, many of whom are BIPOC, immigrant and migrant women and young women.

“We applaud governments’ efforts to support shelters through the increased demand this year, but this pandemic clearly shows the importance of services and supports for women, children and others experiencing violence,” said Walker. “Now more than ever, Canada needs a National Action Plan to tackle this crisis.

The National Action Plan must establish clear targets for eliminating gender-based violence. It must be intersectional and long-term and it must tackle gender-based violence and harassment at work. This means that Canada needs to ratify ILO Convention-190 on violence and harassment, and establish concrete ways to meet ILO obligations. Canada’s unions are ready to work with governments and employers to make this happen.

“Five years ago, Canada’s unions joined feminist and women’s organizations to lay out the blueprint for a National Action Plan. The time to act is now. We are done waiting,” said Walker. ‘

Visit the Done Waiting website for more information.

Canada’s unions launch initiative to shine a light on harassment and violence at work

With the pandemic as the backdrop, researchers and unions are launching a national survey that aims to gauge the severity and measure the response to violence and harassment in Canada’s workplaces.

“The issue of violence and harassment at work has taken on new urgency during COVID-19,” said Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). “Workers facing violence and harassment at work may be feeling more isolated and more fearful of repercussions for speaking out, given the state of the job market. The rise in the numbers of people working from home also means that violence is inescapable for those living with their abusers.”

The CLC will be working in partnership with the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC) and a researcher at the University of Toronto to collect and analyze information on sexual harassment and violence in the workplace.

The new survey aims to help identify the challenges workers face and explore possible solutions.

“The federal government has acknowledged that violence and harassment are serious occupational health and safety hazards. With the results of this survey, we will be able to talk to policy-makers and employers about what works and what needs to change,” said Marie Clarke Walker, Secretary-Treasurer of the CLC.

Over half of Canadian women surveyed by the Angus Reid Institute in 2018 reported having experienced workplace sexual harassment during their lifetime and 89% of women reported having taken steps to avoid unwanted sexual advances at work.

The new national survey will look at the experience of both unionized and non-unionized workers in an attempt to uncover why employees choose to report or not report, and whether there is a difference between their experiences. All workers, of any gender, are encouraged to fill it out, whether or not they have personally experienced or witnessed violence and harassment at work. The goal for collecting this data is to help employers better protect workers.

The research will identify the types of responses workers receive when they report workplace sexual harassment and violence, and any links between sexual harassment and other forms of violence in the workplace, and how workers who are marginalized may be impacted.

“This survey will help us understand workers’ experiences of violence and harassment in Canada,” said Yussuff. “Until we have that understanding, we have little chance of preventing harassment before it starts. All workers deserve to feel safe in their workplace.”

The survey will run until April 2021. It builds on existing research about workplace violence and harassment, including bullying and physical violence. Responses will be anonymous and will provide a snapshot of a variety of sectors and workplaces rather than examine specific workplaces or bargaining units.

The survey is funded by the Government of Canada’s Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Fund.

To arrange an interview, please contact:
CLC Media Relations

To fill out the survey, click here.