Canada falls short of international obligations on women’s rights as UN review gets underway
Geneva, Switzerland – Canada is not doing enough to protect the human rights and safety of women and girls, especially First Nations, Metis, Inuit and migrant and refugee women and girls, says Amnesty International as Canada undergoes its first review before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) since 2008. Amnesty International is particularly concerned that many past recommendations from the Committee remain unimplemented.
“We welcome the government of Canada’s renewed commitment to gender equality, to Indigenous rights, and to ending violence against Indigenous women and girls,” says Jackie Hansen, Women’s Rights Campaigner with Amnesty International Canada (English). “However, Canada continues to fall short of its international obligations and it is crucial that Canada’s commitments are matched with concrete actions and measurable results in the near-term.”
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In 2008, CEDAW noted the urgent need to ensure all cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls were thoroughly investigated, and called for “an analysis of those cases in order to determine whether there is a racialized pattern to the disappearances.” CEDAW expressed further concern and conducted its own investigation leading to a report in 2015 which included recommendations to address this human rights crisis.
However, Canada has failed to provide a full update on the implementation of those recommendations and others by CEDAW. When asked for a report by the UN Committee, Canada submitted a report in September 2016 noting the launch of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls but did not provide details on how Canada is implementing a broad range of other CEDAW recommendations.
“The announcement of the Inquiry was a welcome and encouraging sign of Canada’s commitment to address the shameful scourge of violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada, but the Inquiry alone will not end this human rights crisis,” said Beatrice Vaugrante, Director General of Amnesty International Canada’s Francophone Branch. “We were disappointed by the government’s inadequate response to CEDAW and that it chose not to report on progress it should be making in other areas to protect the human rights of Indigenous women and girls.
Migrant Women Caregivers
Amnesty International remains concerned that migrant and refugee women and girls in Canada face serious human rights challenges. In particular, Amnesty International urges Canada to address human rights concerns for women migrant domestic workers (also known as caregivers) by adopting a system of open work permits. Many caregivers live with their employers and some caregivers have reported intimidation, threats and violence at the hands of their employers. When work permits are tied to an employer, employees may find it difficult to leave an abusive situation, either because they cannot afford to be without work until they can secure another work permit through a new employer, or because they fear they will lose their path to permanent residency in Canada.
"Despite changes to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers regime in 2014, female migrant domestic workers still confront particularly high risks due to the nature of their work,” says Beatrice Vaugrante. “Canada should start by opening up work permits to allow women to leave situations where they are at risk without sacrificing their livelihoods or prospects for permanent residency. We must also ensure women can access justice when human rights violations occur.”
Pregnant Women and Women with Children in Immigration Detention
In July, Canada committed to overhaul its immigration detention regime. Amnesty International welcomes this commitment but remains concerned by the fact that Canada continues to regularly detain women with their children in immigration detention facilities. Canada also lacks adequate safeguards for pregnant women in immigrant detention as the Canada Border Services Agency does not have systematic screening process for people, such as pregnant women, who require special protections. Risks to women’s human rights in Canada’s immigration detention regime are further compounded by broader shortcomings, including inconsistent detention decisions, no upper time limit on detention and a lack of oversight of the agency responsible for detention.
“Canada’s announcement of plans to overhaul its immigration detention regime is encouraging in light of the serious human rights shortcomings which place women and their children at particular risk,” says Jackie Hansen. “Respect for human rights and basic human decency demand that Canada recognizes pregnant women and women with children do not belong behind bars. At the same time, in all cases, immigration detention must be undertaken solely as a last resort.”
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