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Canada: UN expert urges new measures to target gender-based violence, especially against indigenous women

GENEVA (27 April 2018) – The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Dubravka Šimonović, has appealed to the Government of Canada to step up its efforts to prevent and combat discrimination and violence against women.

In a statement at the end of a 13-day visit to the country, she called for improvements in Canada’s legal framework, and urgent action on systemic violence against indigenous women. 

“Despite Canada’s feminist policy and its strong political will to end violence against women, there is no human rights-based national law on violence against women and domestic violence applicable to all parts of the country,” she said.

“I therefore urge the Government to enact a federal law to tackle the issue in line with international and regional human rights standards, and I call upon ministers to ratify important international and regional agreements dealing with the issues,” she added.

Ms Šimonović commended the Government for upgrading the Federal Agency on the Status of Women to a full Government department, saying it was an important step that would enable better coordination and alignment of laws and policies. She believed the current lack of a consistent approach had resulted in fragmented provincial laws and policies offering varying levels of protection for women in different parts of Canada. 

The Special Rapporteur visited three out of the 10 provincial governments (Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba) as well as one territorial government, Nunavut, and had meetings with representatives of each, as well as other relevant authorities and civil society organisations. 

Ms Šimonović expressed concern that indigenous women from First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities faced issues including marginalisation, exclusion and poverty because of institutional, systemic, multiple intersecting forms of discrimination not addressed adequately by the State. She appealed to the Government to adopt a distinct national action plan to target the problem.

The expert also encouraged the Government to establish databases on femicide in line with her global call to help determine the extent of the problem.

She noted that because of a lack of sufficient shelters and adequate and affordable housing facilities, many women fleeing from domestic violence were forced to return to their homes, exposing themselves to the risk of further violence.

“In a vast country such as Canada, it is crucial to provide sustainable funding for a sufficient number of safe shelters, and housing, including in rural and remote areas, and with an adequate number of such shelters dedicated to indigenous communities taking into account cultural and language diversities,” she stressed.

“Such deep-rooted discrimination stems from the long-standing intergenerational trauma resulting from colonialism, and discriminatory legal provision and practices.” 

She called for the urgent repeal of remaining discriminatory provisions in Canada’s Indian Act which, for too long, had led to discrimination against indigenous women. The expert welcomed the dialogue and ongoing healing process initiated with the launch of the National Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered indigenous women and girls but called for urgent action on other CEDAW recommendations from its Inquiry report. 

The expert also urged reform of child welfare policy, as the current system resulted in a disproportionately high number of indigenous children being institutionalised. This, she said, rendered indigenous women more vulnerable to violence as they were reluctant to seek help because of fears their children could be taken away.

Ms Šimonović expressed alarm at the over-representation of indigenous women among the inmates of the two prisons she visited, as well as serious overcrowding and widespread use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure. 

“The Government should, as a matter of priority, change its overall incarceration policy that is based on outdated classification rules, and which results in the jailing of too many indigenous women. It should also ban the use of solitary confinement as this can have an adverse impact on women with mental illness, expand the capacity of women’s prisons to avoid overcrowding and strongly consider alternatives to detention,” she emphasised.

The Special Rapporteur also called for changes in immigration and refugee policies to end the current practice under which women and children can be detained indefinitely, and to adopt measures that would help to regularise those with precarious migrant status and that have been subject to violence.


Ms Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015, to recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. Ms. Šimonović has been a member of the CEDAW Committee from 2002 to 2014. She headed the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia and finished her diplomatic career as Ambassador to the OSCE and UN in Vienna. She co-chaired the Ad hoc Committee (CAHVIO) of the Council of Europe that elaborated the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention). She has a PhD in Family Law and has published books and articles on human rights and women’s rights.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Canada

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. María Vivar Aguirre (+41 79-444 4355 / mvivaraguirre@ohchr.org), Sara Cavallo (+41 229179942/ scavallo@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.