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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 immediate federal action to uphold treaty rights of Mi’kmaq Fishers

Canada’s unions are condemning the illegal efforts of non-Indigenous fishers to sabotage the inherent rights of the Mi’kmaq people to hunt, fish and gather off the coast of Nova Scotia, and are calling on the federal government to take immediate action to end the racist violence and uphold their treaty rights.

“We are appalled and outraged by the relentless attempts to disrupt and undermine the Mi’kmaq fisher fleets and their right to a moderate livelihood as guaranteed by the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. 

“We are also alarmed that even in the midst of the escalating violence by non‑Indigenous fishers, there have been troubling reports of the RCMP’s failure to protect the Mi’kmaq people, further entrenching a relationship of distrust between Indigenous communities and law enforcement,” added Yussuff. “This points to systemic racism that cannot be left to stand. Law enforcement must take the appropriate actions to end the violence.”

All levels of government have a duty to uphold the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples, as per section 35 of the Constitution, the Peace and Friendship Treaties, and relevant court decisions. Canada’s unions call on the federal government to:

  1. Uphold the rule of law and respect treaty rights. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans must negotiate in good faith with the Sipekne’katik First Nation representatives, to work out a reasonable solution to the fishery dispute that respects the Marshall Decision;
  2. Address the threats, attacks and discrimination against Mi’kmaq people; and
  3. Ensure the safety and security of Mi’kmaq people as they exercise their legal treaty rights.

Justice for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) peoples is long overdue, and Canada’s unions are committed to ensuring the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are fully implemented. Reconciliation is only possible when the rights of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples are fully respected.

Canada’s unions stand united against all forms of racism and against police violence

As communities across Canada, and around the world, grapple with COVID-19, racialized communities have not only been disproportionately impacted by the health fall-out, but are also dealing with the violent legacy of colonialism, police brutality, and systemic racism.

Canada’s unions are committed to standing in solidarity with racialized and Indigenous communities in upholding principles of equity, justice, and human rights. These are principles central to the labour movement.

The efforts required to undo systemic racism will necessitate difficult and ongoing conversations and the formulation of deliberate strategies to educate, empower, and engage all workers. We all have a responsibility towards dismantling systems that perpetuate racism and inequality and towards rebuilding new ways of promoting the health and well-being of our entire collective.

Following the spate of tragic killings and abuse of racialized and Indigenous people at the hands of police in both the United States and in Canada, a key demand that has emerged from human rights advocates and targeted communities includes a call to defund the police.

The context and meaning of this demand is critical. While the brutal killing of George Floyd earlier this past summer was a galvanizing moment helping to propel anti-Black racism and its impacts into the public consciousness, the long history of police brutality is a key factor.

The traumatic legacies of slavery, oppression and colonization continue to reverberate throughout society and this includes in the ways in which law enforcement agencies have been overpolicing, surveilling, and at times, even killing, members of racialized and Indigenous communities. Racial profiling, so-called ‘random’ street checks, the disproportionate number of Black and Indigenous people in prison, the presence of police in schools and the disproportionate number of violent interventions by police must all be addressed.

The call to divert funding away from police services towards community support is justified when cuts to youth programming, investments in affordable housing and mental health supports, and other key social programs have hurt far too many vulnerable communities. In fact, over the last few decades, there have been considerable increases in police budgets, at the same time as austerity measures eroded public funding for community and social programs and services throughout various levels of government.

In far too many Canadian municipalities, provinces and territories, budget allocations for police services outweigh combined spending on other priorities like public transit, libraries and parks and recreation. This spending has accompanied the increased militarization of police services in Canada, reflected in the purchase of armored vehicles and tactical gear more suited for battlefields than urban and suburban neighbourhoods. Due to the chronic underfunding of social programs, police services are expected to address a host of societal challenges and crises – situations for which their training, culture and mandate are ill-suited.

It is incumbent on working people to demand that public services be assigned towards lifting communities up and helping people reach their fullest potential.

Canada’s unions support efforts to reduce federal, provincial, territorial and municipal budget allocations to police services, and to reinvest these funds toward alternatives to policing, such as community-based health and social services and programs, mental health supports and crisis intervention, public transportation, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, services to prevent and address gender-based violence, addiction treatment and harm reduction programs, among others.

On a broader scale, increased government investments in affordable housing, mental health care, child care and employment supports would have a direct impact on the health and well-being of our most marginalized communities, promoting public safety and addressing the root causes of violence.

Canada’s unions stand in solidarity with the call to defund police budgets, which have continued to grow exponentially as public services, have been reduced or eliminated. The labour movement further supports efforts to look at the ways in which law enforcement agencies have upheld legacies of harm, as well as to re-examine how resources could be better allocated towards strengthening our communities and helping the most vulnerable.

Furthermore, leaders within Canada’s unions reiterate their commitment towards advancing human rights within our own unions; among our staff and leadership, and in collaboration with communities. This will require ongoing efforts, which include education, advocacy, training and resources. We will continue to strive to achieve and model the highest standards of equity and hold ourselves accountable throughout.