Statement made on 03 December 2009 by Senator Rose-Marie Losier-Cool (retired)
Hon. Rose-Marie Losier-Cool:
Honourable senators, three days before the 20th anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre, it is with great emotion that I draw your attention today to violence against women and girls.
Yes, I know that you probably think this is a subject we talk about a lot, perhaps even too much. And I agree with you. I agree with you because we should not have to talk about this kind of violence at all. It should simply not exist.
However, it does exist, and it has been around for far too long. Violence against women and girls is an aberration that began in ancient times, and the earliest justification for it was probably the physiological differences between men and women.
Nonetheless, I would point out that in ancient times, many societies considered men and women to be of equal importance, and some societies were even matriarchal. So what has changed since then, and why has male domination become the universal norm? There are many answers to that question, honourable senators, and I do not know them all.
A look back in time teaches us that some religions codified male-female inequality and imposed male domination on all aspects of society. But surely we cannot place all of the blame on religions. Consider the wartime practices that have allowed men to commit the worst atrocities against women and still allow them to do so. Consider also industrialization, which favoured men's greater physical strength, bestowing upon them dominance in the workplace that carried over into the home. There are other reasons, honourable senators, but I will not list them all.
Today, in 2009, such violent behaviour still exists, honourable senators, and it is time for it to stop. Despite the largest women's movement in the history of humanity over the past 50 years, violence against women is still a problem today, although it has taken on new forms. Women are no longer burned at the stake, but they are still raped. Women are no longer regarded as livestock, at least not in Canada, but women are still beaten. Women are no longer thought to be incapable of judgment and reason, but they are still harassed in many workplaces.
What are the many forms this perpetual violence can take? Let us begin with the worst form, murder.
Honourable senators, every year nearly 200 women in Canada are killed by a husband, spouse or partner.
I also know that little girls are being killed in our country before they are even born, when their parents, who usually come from cultures that prefer little boys, ask for an abortion as soon as they know the sex of their unborn child. And if those little girls are born, what kind of future will they have? Will they be entitled to the same care and education as little boys? Will they be forced into an arranged marriage in the name of other foreign traditions condemned by our laws? Yes, honourable senators, these things do happen in Canada, and even to Canadians. Why?
I will never forget the many times my female students, who were only 16 to 18 years old, confided in me about the violent behaviour they had been subjected to. Over 20 years later, just last week I was horrified to read in a newspaper from my home province about the violent murder of a 16-year-old girl whose body was found on a former military firing range in my hometown.
And what about the violence too often committed by men who do not always leave bruises on a woman's body, but who nonetheless leave their mark on her mind? I am talking about men who dictate how their girlfriend or wife should dress or wear her hair; who make decisions on her behalf without consulting her and demean and ridicule her, sometimes in front of other people; who criticize how she raises the children, keeps house or cooks; who deliberately ignore her in the hope of hurting or bothering her; who prevent her from going out by herself or seeing her friends and family; who threaten to harm her, shove her, forcibly restrain her and force her to engage in sex or perform sexual acts she does not want.
Honourable senators, these behaviours are all forms of violence that are too often committed against women. Why? And what about sexual assaults or rapes of unknown women whose only transgression was to walk alone in the street, jog alone or leave their office alone? And what about men who do not allow the women with whom they have sex to take contraceptives or who refuse to wear a condom? Those men force those women to run the risk of sometimes serious venereal diseases, if not an unwanted pregnancy that will ruin their lives.
These are other violent, unacceptable behaviours to which more women than you might think are exposed more often than I would like. Why?
At the dawn of the 21st century, we can point to perhaps three main phenomena that perpetuate this cycle of violence against women. First, there is advertising on television, in the print media, on radio, everywhere. This omnipresent advertising depicts a woman as a body, if not simply a body part, and takes away her mind and her ability to think, leaving only an object of desire, an image devoid of meaning. Does advertising treat men in the same way? I do not think so.
There is also pornography, which has become increasingly accessible since the sexual liberation of the 1960s and thanks to technological advances. Not only is pornography increasingly degrading in its depiction of the woman's role in sexuality, but it is increasingly easy for anyone, including young children, to access.
Does pornography treat men in the same way as women? Certainly not.
What can be said about the unbelievable persistence of sexual stereotypes? Christmas is coming. Take a look at the advertising on television and in all the media these days. Do the stereotypes treat boys and girls equally in advertising? No. These stereotypes are even more dangerous because they last into adulthood and too often result in an insidious form of violence against women. Just consider the very sexist treatment of important women, politicians or others, by their colleagues or the media. Just consider the hurtful comments and gestures that have been directed at women like Belinda Stronach, Kim Campbell, Hillary Clinton and Ségolène Royale. Just consider the notorious glass ceiling that prevents women from reaching the highest positions in their corporations because they have had to or may have to take leave or devote less than 24 hours a day to their jobs due to pregnancy or family commitments. And let us not forget the harassment, veiled or not, that they have to endure throughout their careers.
Logic dictates that this violence should not exist, but logic is not a human trait, and we all know that. Most levels of government in our country have laws or policies in place that ban this violence. Many people oppose this violence, including many men, but the violence still lives on. Why? I am tempted to surmise that our leaders — be they in politics, the police, the business world or the social sphere — would have too much to lose in the short or medium term if they decided to give their all to fighting and eradicating violence.
Why is it not compulsory to register before purchasing any kind of firearm and to take regular psychological tests to retain the right to use that firearm? These weapons account for 54 per cent of all marital murders in Canada. This percentage amounts to five murders per month. We should remember these statistics when we have votes on a national firearms registry.
Why were improvements not made to Bill C-8 after the Native Women's Association made their recommendations, rather than having it die at second reading in the other place last May? Had the association prevailed, this bill would have brought respect for matrimonial rights and interests in goods and property located on First Nations reserves.
I am not telling you anything new when I say that Aboriginal women and girls are victims of violence on a regular basis and that, proportionally, they are mistreated more often than non-Aboriginal women living in Canada, as our colleague Senator Brazeau alluded to yesterday.
Why do the budget cuts made by many governments in these times of crisis affect women more than men? Examples include the closing of Status of Women satellite offices in 2007 and the elimination of court social workers by the Government of New Brunswick in the Spring of 2009, a program that was of particular benefit to women.
Allow me to make a brief aside to mention these wonderful shelters or transition homes. There are 13 of them in New Brunswick where many women fleeing domestic violence seek shelter. There is L'Accueil Sainte-Famille in my hometown of Tracadie-Sheila, which is marking its 30th anniversary this year. Our Acadian Peninsula is grateful for the incredible work that L'Accueil Sainte-Famille does. While we cannot celebrate its 30 years of existence, we should acknowledge them. I wish these homes had no reason to exist, but since they do, why not help as much as possible to give women a sense of dignity?
Clear, standard and identical definitions across Canada of what constitutes an act of violence would help prevent 27 per cent of New Brunswick's men from thinking that it is not a crime to force their spouse to have sexual relations. And what about the 53 per cent of men in my province of New Brunswick who think that hitting their wife during an argument is not an act of violence? What do you make of the 34 per cent of men in my province who believe that women are to blame for the violence committed against them?
If these acts of violence were clearly defined as crimes, they would happen much less often.
Fortunately, not all men are so violent or narrow-minded. Many men want to eliminate violence against women, which they believe is completely senseless. As women, we must be in a position to welcome this support. It is true what they say: once bitten, twice shy; centuries of fear have led us to be not as open-minded as we might be.
But the tide is changing, honourable senators, as evidenced by the domestic violence awareness campaign that the province of Quebec launched two weeks ago. There were more than 17,000 reported victims of domestic violence in 2008, and the province hired a "real man", actor Patrice Robitaille, to tell others in the province that he cannot imagine getting off on dominating someone.
If you think that 17,000 victims is a lot, you should know that this figure is less than a third of the total number of victims of domestic violence. In fact, general statistics show that fewer than three out of ten domestic violence crimes are reported to the police.
Newfoundland and Labrador has recently come out with a charming campaign. It says: "Show him how to tie his shoes, spell his name, pitch a tent and respect women."
I also urge you to read the master's thesis published in May by Miguel LeBlanc from Scoudouc, New Brunswick, in which he explains how to get men involved and active in preventing violence against women and finding solutions to the problem.
Honourable senators, violence against women is a huge and long-standing problem.
Honourable senators, I would ask for two additional minutes to complete my remarks.
Hon. Donald H. Oliver (The Hon. the Acting Speaker): Honourable senators, is leave granted?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Losier-Cool: It is a problem that the whole of society and all of our leaders must tackle in a coherent, consistent and efficient way across borders. It will be excellent when Canada finally eradicates all violence against women in the land. It would be even more wonderful if eradicating that violence were to include Canada's neighbours.
All government levels should work simultaneously on two fronts. The first front must be the systematic zero-tolerance criminalization of all forms of violence against women and girls. Each form of violence must be clearly and consistently defined across all jurisdictions in our country. Each form of violence must be punishable by a criminal record and either a fine or jail term commensurate with the act of violence.
I thank our current government for bringing December 6 to the attention of the people. However, fighting violence against women takes a lot more than a minute of silence or a white ribbon. Fighting violence against women requires concrete and useful action that all levels of government — federal, provincial, regional, municipal and First Nations — must take.
The second front that all levels of government should work on is the implementation of economic policies to eliminate poverty, which contributes to violence, and — more specifically — policies designed to help women. I would like to see programs that are less universal and more gender-specific. Employment insurance is one such program, because women's employment conditions are often much different from those of men. Social assistance is another program that often penalizes single-parent families headed by women. And then there is the child benefit supplement, which I still call family allowance; it is just not enough for many parents. Violence against women will not go away as long as women are still falling behind in our society's economic race.
Honourable senators, we all want violence to end. Therefore, let us walk our talk.