Every year on 6 December, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women provides an opportunity to reflect on how violence affects women in Canada, and how our communities can take action to end violence against women. Established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada, the day marks the anniversary of the 1989 gender-based murders of 14 young women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal.
In Canada and around the world, violence against women and girls remains a serious challenge. Violence impedes women’s full and equal participation in public life; it causes short- and long-term damage to women’s mental and physical health; it has a negative effect on the economy; and it hurts families and society as a whole.
Violence Against Women: Overview
In Canada, according to the most recently available (2014) self-reported data, women face a higher rate of violent victimization than do men: 85 incidents per 1,000 women compared with 67 incidents per 1,000 men.
This is the first time the rate of violent victimization was notably higher for women than for men. This difference is attributable to relatively unchanging rates of sexual assault, in which most victims are women, and decreasing rates of other violent crimes, offences involving mostly male victims.
The violence faced by women in Canada is of a different scope and severity than that faced by men:
- Women are more likely to experience violence at the hands of individuals they know, such as intimate partners or family members, whereas men are at greater risk of violence from acquaintances or strangers.
- Women are at greater risk of certain forms of violence, including sexual assault, forcible confinement and abduction, and criminal harassment (stalking).
- Women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence of a severe nature, which includes being sexually assaulted and beaten, living through chronic incidents of violence, and being threatened with a gun or knife.
Recent statistics on violence against women in Canada reveal that:
- the rate of intimate partner homicides in Canada in 2016 was approximately four times greater for women than for men;
- on a “snapshot” date in April 2014, 7,969 women and children were staying at shelters for abused women in Canada; 73% of these individuals were there primarily because they had suffered domestic violence;
- according to 2015 police-reported data, women comprise 88% of sexual assault victims and 97% of the accused perpetrators were male; and
- both reporting rates to police of sexual assaults and conviction rates are low; approximately 5% of sexual assaults were reported to police in 2014, and from 2009 to 2014, 12% of sexual assaults that were reported to police led to a criminal conviction.
Recent Federal Government and Parliamentary Initiatives to Address Violence Against Women
Recent parliamentary initiatives in this area include:
- The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women tabled a report in March 2017, entitled Taking Action to End Violence Against Young Women and Girls in Canada. The report examined cyberviolence, harassment in public spaces and sexual assault on post-secondary campuses.
- In February 2017, the Honourable Rona Ambrose introduced Private Member’s Bill C-337, Judicial Accountability through Sexual Assault Law Training Act, which is currently at second reading in the Senate.
Recent federal initiatives include the following:
- It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence was released in June 2017. Budget 2017 committed $100.9 million over five years starting in 2017-2018 to the strategy.
- An Advisory Council on the Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence was launched in June 2016 as a forum for exchanging knowledge, experience, promising practices and research on gender-based violence.
- The mandate letter for the Minister of Status of Women lists as a priority working with “experts and advocates to implement and monitor the comprehensive federal gender violence strategy and action plan, aligned with existing provincial strategies.”
- In June 2017, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada introduced Bill C-51, whose goal, among other things, is to “clarify and strengthen sexual assault laws.”
- The National Housing Strategy, released in November 2017, makes a number of commitments intended to assist survivors of family violence.
- In April 2017, Statistics Canada announced it would start collecting and publishing data on unfounded criminal cases, including sexual assault, following a report by the Globe and Mail. Statistics Canada plans to release the first results in July 2018.
- On 8 December 2015, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Status of Women and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs announced the creation of a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Vulnerable Populations: Indigenous Women and Girls
Violence affects women of all social, economic and cultural groups. However, certain groups of women, such as Indigenous women, are at greater risk of victimization.
Indigenous women – First Nations, Métis and Inuit women – are more likely to be targets of violence than non-Indigenous women. For example, the self-reported rate of sexual assault was three times higher for Indigenous women (11.5%) compared to the rate for non-Indigenous women (3.5%).
A 2014 report by the House of Commons Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls outlined some of the root causes of such violence. Recognizing that the underlying causes are varied, complex and interrelated, the Committee identified factors that contribute to Indigenous women’s risk of victimization, such as “human trafficking, substance abuse, prostitution, poverty, lack of housing and poor living conditions, lack of prevention services such as mental health services, and the ongoing legacy of residential schools,” as well as systemic racism.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was launched in September 2016 and is currently holding community hearings across Canada. The deadline for the National Inquiry to complete its work is 31 December 2018, although a letter from the National Inquiry suggested that an extension will be requested. In November 2017, the National Inquiry released an Interim Report, Our Women and Girls are Sacred.
Mahony, Tina Hotton et al. “Women and the Criminal Justice System.” Women in Canada: A gender-based statistical report – seventh edition. Statistics Canada, Ottawa, 6 June 2017.
World Health Organization. Violence against women: Intimate partner and sexual violence against women. Fact sheet No. 239, November 2017.
Author: Laura Munn-Rivard, Library of Parliament