Achieving a GBV-free Canada

After several months of intense work, Women’s Shelters Canada (WSC) today launches its Roadmap to a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Gender-Based Violence.  Its report to guide the implementation of the NAP was submitted to Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef at the end of April, and the advocacy campaign is now underway.

I had the honour of co-chairing the justice and legal systems working group, one of four created by WSC to provide input to its report. It was intense work: in a very short period of time, my co-chair, Deepa Mattoo, and I worked with a dedicated team of eight feminists, each bringing unique and valuable perspectives, knowledge and expertise to our discussions. We considered and debated hundreds of possible recommendations, knowing we could submit only 20 for inclusion in the report.

The other three working groups had similar experiences: with so much needed, how could we prioritize? We all followed the same path, making large asks that covered a lot of terrain.

The recommendations from our working group call for a major overhaul of many aspects of legal and justice systems: education and accountability for all legal/justice system actors, coordination of family laws across the country, access to legal advice and representation for all survivors of GBV/VAW, increased community-based supports for survivors engaged with the criminal system, reforms to immigration policies and protocols, systems accountability and many more.

The final report weighs in at an impressive 411 pages, and is packed with recommendations that are strongly evidence-based.

First asks

WSC is calling for three immediate actions to begin the 10-year journey to a full-blown NAP: ensuring proper governance and accountability, harmonization with responses to MMIWG and ensuring a stable VAW/GBV sector.

To do this, the NAP itself requires sustained and escalating investments at the federal and provincial/territorial levels. The 2021 federal budget made a good start with its allocation of more than $600 million over the next five years to build and implement a NAP. This positive beginning now needs to be supported by ongoing government commitments – regardless of which party is in power – to ensure that work, once begun, can continue.

From the top down

“Canada’s NAP is about fundamentally shifting society – attitudes, norms and narratives. And the type of all-of-government approach it requires to be successful is unprecedented in Canada.”

To do this, WSC notes that the plan requires strong leadership structures so the work survives election cycles and different government mandates. It must support collaboration and cooperation across all levels of government and all parts of the country.

WSC is calling on the federal government to create and develop terms of reference for the NAP Secretariat, to be housed within the Department of Women and Gender Equality, by Fall 2021.

Independent oversight is critical to the success of the NAP. That oversight needs to be arm’s length and free from political interference. WSC is calling for an Independent Oversight Body of Experts to be established, with terms of reference, by Fall 2021.


The rate of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people in this country is a shame on all of us. It has been condemned by domestic and international human rights bodies, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women.

“Voices and experiences of Indigenous women and gender-diverse people must be centred in all process to address VAW/GBV.”

Stable funding

The past 16 months has made obvious the seriousness of GBV/VAW in Canada. Emergency money has assisted shelters, rape crisis centres and community organizations that support survivors to keep our doors open, telephones answered and services operating, but more than stopgap funding is needed if the NAP is to have meaning.

Bold and daring

The WSC report concludes with these words:

“Our project, to guide the framing and implementation of Canada’s first National Action Plan on VAW/GBV starts and finishes with a bold, ambitious and intersectional vision. Rooted in vibrant activism, a network of services, leaders and experts, and a context calling for radical system change, this report is offered as one building block to achieve that vision.  . . .Viewing this moment as the rarest of all moments – a once-in-a-generation opportunity for real change . . . we have dared to imagine that one day this will lead to the elimination of GBV/VAW and threats of such violence for all. . . We hope that you, the reader of this report, accept this challenge and find the base we have provided helps you achieve this daring goal.”

In all likelihood, we will be faced with a federal election in the fall. This is the year to make gender-based violence a campaign issue, and the National Action Plan roadmap is a perfect place to start.

As Inuk NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said in her final speech before the House of Commons:

“It is possible to create change. It can be started here.”

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