Remembering the Journey: The Forty-fifth Anniversary of the Final Report of the RCSW

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December 2015 will mark the forty-fifth anniversary of the publication of the findings of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada (RCSW). The RCSW was established in 1967 by Liberal prime minister Lester B. Pearson in response to pressure being exerted on the government by the women’s movement.

The commissioners’ mandate was to “to inquire into and report upon the status of women in Canada, and to recommend what steps might be taken by the federal government to ensure for women equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society.”[1] Florence Bird was chosen to lead the enquiry, the first time in history a woman had been appointed to chair a royal commission.

filmhalfthesky[1]

Many in Canada were opposed to the establishment of the commission, especially male politicians and journalists. Several editorial cartoonists mocked the commissioners, feminists, and women who were testifying during hearings. And in the House of Commons, where women were not generally considered to be voting constituents, Conservative member Terry Nugent bluntly called the idea of an inquiry “utter balderdash.” Nugent commented during the debate that the best approach to handling women was to simply agree with them when they were right and agree with them when they were wrong.[2]

The RCSW held a series of public hearings between April and October of 1968 in numerous locations across the country. They received a total of 468 briefs and some 1,000 letters of opinion from individuals and organizations in addition to submissions from 890 witnesses.  In their final report released in December 1970, the commissioners made 167 recommendations that clearly documented women’s concerns over inequality between genders in Canadian society.[3]

Their concerns were justified. At the time in Canada, there was just one female member of parliament sitting in the midst of 263 men. There were four female senators (out of 102) sitting in the upper chamber, and only 14 of 889 judges in Canada were women.[4] The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s federal police force, did not allow women in its ranks. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was still twelve years away from development. Sexual harassment case law was still ten years away and it was not until 1983 that the Canadian Human Rights Act included sexual harassment as a discriminatory practice.

The Commission’s final report was not perfect. Visible minorities and immigrant women were not recognized, nor were women with disabilities. A discussion on sexual orientation and gay rights was also missing, and the issue of violence against women was not addressed.

Female RCMP members 1975

Nevertheless, the recommendations made by the commissioners included wider access to birth control, improved access to higher education, the inclusion of women in the RCMP, changes to the Indian Act, employment equity, access to trades in the Canadian Armed Forces, paid maternity leave, family law, and pensions. All were identified as fundamental rights for women in Canada. Most of the recommendations have since been enacted, a claim few royal commissions before or since can make.

The commission’s findings represented a milestone for women’s rights in Canada. Today, Canadian women can look to the RCSW as an important touchstone in the ongoing fight for equality. We can thank the women from all walks of Canadian life who participated in the hearings and made submissions, as well as the commissioners, for their work in helping to establish the rights we all enjoy today.

 

[1] See the Status of Women Canada website http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/rc-cr/roycom/index-eng.html

[2] Christina Newman, “What’s so funny about the Royal Commission on the Status of Women?,” Saturday Night 84:1 (January 1969), 23.

[3] Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada (Ottawa: Information Canada, 1970): x.

[4] Doris Anderson, “The Report: Making Women More Equal,” Chatelaine 44:2 (February 1971): 1.

What the RCMP Can Learn From the Mistakes of the Military

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The RCMP has a lot to learn from the experience of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Canada’s military recently underwent an external review of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct practices in the organization by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps. In her report, Deschamps made ten recommendations for changes to the CAF where she found the existence of a “sexualized culture” that is “hostile to women.” (Deschamps’s report can be accessed at http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/military-harassment-report-10-recommendations-1.3055935.)

My research into the history of women in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), a paramilitary police force, has also shown that sexual misconduct and the sexual harassment of female police officers are endemic. In fact, many of Deschamps’s findings and recommendations are applicable to the RCMP, who would be well served to pay attention not only to her research, but to the response of government and the public over revelations that the CAF’s leadership planned to ignore some of the report’s key recommendations well before it was even released. See http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/military-s-response-to-sexual-misconduct-report-curtailed-by-general-s-orders-1.3071386.

Here are six ways the RCMP can change the sexualized culture of the police force:

  1. Acknowledge that sexual misconduct and harassment is a problem within the RCMP.
  2. Reinforce to all members that sexual assault and sexual harassment is illegal and clearly defined under sections 264, 265, 266, and 273 of the Criminal Code of Canada as well as under civil law – federal, provincial, and territorial legislation as well as under provincial human rights codes and labour legislation.
  3. Realize that women (and men) in the RCMP are no longer willing to be silent about sexual assault and harassment.
  4. Understand that the problem is based on beliefs and assumptions about gender. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are not about sexual intercourse but about power and control over individuals, groups, institutions, and the culture of an organization.
  5. Change the culture of the RCMP. Begin with denying employment to those applicants who view sexual misconduct as acceptable behaviour. Reinforce zero tolerance throughout the training period at the academy and openly discuss the problem sexual misconduct poses. Insist on further training on the subject before constables are promoted to the non-commissioned ranks, and again before they receive a commission. Hold those who are guilty of the practice to account.
  6. Work to regain the trust of the Canadian public. Canadians want to trust their national police force but they also want their rights as citizens living in a democratic society to be respected. The RCMP has long understood that trust is essential to ensuring the public’s compliance when enforcing the law. But trust is also a necessity if police officers want to be treated with respect in return.

It is no longer possible to ignore sexual misconduct or accept it as a normative part of military or police culture. Attempts to sweep the issue under the carpet will only harm the reputation of the RCMP and the CAF in the long run, not to mention the lives of those who experience sexual harassment and sexual assault at the hands of their peers and supervisors. Canadians are no longer willing to wait for change.

The Human Face of War

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Lately, I’ve been asking my dad questions about our family history since he is the last surviving member of his family and is now eighty-seven years old. My dad often speaks about one of his favourite uncles who used to take him to hockey games when he was a teenager. Uncle Mac served in the Canadian army during WWI and returned home with shell shock, what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My father remembered Uncle Mac going for shock treatments on a regular basis after the war when depression set in and he was unable to work.

Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada

I wanted to know more about this great-uncle and began an online search. I discovered that Library and Archives Canada has a database of service records for Canada’s Expeditionary Force during WWI. The database is accessible to the public at http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/first-world-war-1914-1918-cef/Pages/canadian-expeditionary-force.aspx. I located Mac’s war record there, which revealed that he was drafted in 1917 under the Military Service Act. Although his draft form was all there was to the record, it listed some personal information about Mac such as his date of birth, physical description, and his occupation.  He was just twenty years old when he was drafted.

After more digging I discovered other family members, specifically two of my grandfather’s cousins who also fought in WWI. One record for a cousin named Reginald was very interesting. It contained his attestation papers, casualty forms, medical history, and a pay certificate from which I was able to piece together considerable information about his war service. Reginald voluntarily enlisted in September 1914, achieving the rank of lieutenant. He was injured in France in April1915 in the left knee, hip, and buttock. He spent several months in the hospital in England where he endured twenty-one operations “for drainage” following the removal of “dead bone” from his hip, an indication of how rudimentary medical care was at the time.

National Archives Records Administration (U.S.)

National Archives Records Administration (U.S.)

When he recovered, Reginald was declared “fit for home service” and was assigned to an administrative posting with the Imperial Royal Flying Corps at Camp Teliaferro in Ft. Worth, Texas, a joint training facility for fliers established by the Allies in 1917.

Now, it’s possible that the specifics of my family history may only interest me. But Reginald’s and Mac’s war service records do serve an important purpose for all of us. They put a human face to warfare. WWI-Lesson-Plans-Trench-Warfare[1] By detailing the experiences of individual Canadians, service records bridge official accounts and the more personal stories and experiences of the men and women who fought in one of the more brutal wars of the twentieth century. Not only do they fill in the gaps when memories begin to fade, but they provide insight into the physical and emotional toll war has on individuals and their families, both during and long after the conflict has ended.

Many thanks to Library and Archives Canada for the reminder.

Hiding Carrie Fisher in Vancouver

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Last weekend Vancouver, BC hosted a Fan Expo that included as its main headliners Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame and William Shatner from the Star Trek television series. Princess Leia, as Fisher is known to many of her fans, was at the Expo to sign autographs, be photographed with fans, and participate in a Q & A session.

A friend who attended the event remarked that Fisher was hidden behind a black curtain signing autographs, so he missed a chance at seeing her in person. When asked why she was behind a curtain, he commented that the rumour around the Expo was that she “hadn’t aged well.” His comment passed as a reasonable explanation to those who were present and no one challenged this perception.

Source: www.dailymail.co.uk

Carrie Fisher at the Vancouver Fan Expo Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Now, Fisher, who is fifty-eight years old, was not exactly hiding. She was in fact signing autographs as well as having her photograph taken with fans that had paid for the privilege, which explains the curtain. Her appearance at a question and answer session was well-documented and photographed by the media such as the UK’s Daily Mail, who commented that Fisher appeared “happy and healthy.” These are hardly the actions of a woman who wanted to remain hidden.

(See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3027032/Carrie-Fisher-looks-happy-healthy-headlines-Fan-Expo-Vancouver-William-Shatner.html)

The idea that Fisher was being concealed by organizers of the Expo, or had asked to be hidden behind a curtain because she was aging, was the most disturbing aspect of my friend’s explanation. The notion that women are required to “age well” so permeates our society that it is now considered normal thinking and a reasonable expectation that requires no further probing.

Of course, little was said by my friend about the male celebrities at the Expo who were also concealed by the curtain. And there was no mention of Fisher’s accomplishments as a bestselling author and screenwriter, not to mention her acting achievements. Unfortunately, assumptions about women and aging demonstrates that a gendered double standard continues to thrive in western thinking.

The pressure being placed on women to remain forever young continues to be a sad reality. Despite the work of social reformers and feminists during the past fifty years, people of all ages continue to buy into the idea that women must not look their age, especially if they are in the public spotlight. Apparently, women who actually look their age do not deserve our respect or our attention.

It is long past the time to change this socially constructed and unobtainable ideal. And Carrie Fisher, you look fantastic.

Fear and Fearlessness in Policing

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Are police officers ever afraid? In a time where violent confrontations between police officers and members of the public are frequently captured on someone’s cell phone, the public is becoming increasingly aware of what an altercation looks and sounds like. For me, it’s often the voices and sounds that are being communicated by both sides of the confrontation that are the most disturbing.

Historically, an emotional response to traumatic events was considered unmanly and unprofessional behaviour for police officers. Stoicism was equated with impartiality and viewed as a sign of professionalism.  Expressing emotion was also associated with mental weakness and irrationality, characteristics that called into question whether a police officer was fit to do his job.

Female Troop Parade SquareIn the RCMP, emotional management emerged as a core value early in the twentieth century. The practice was communicated to police recruits at the academy who were trained to be unresponsive when yelling and profanity were directed their way, especially during drill manoeuvers.

The emotional strength of junior police officers was assumed by RCMP commanders who viewed it as sufficient when dealing with violent crime on the street. So ingrained was this belief that the RCMP did not acknowledge the need for trauma counseling for its members after violent incidents until late in the 1980s.

Fear was and is a reality for most police officers. Although life-threatening danger is not a constant during their workday, the potential for it still exists. The fear of not returning home at the end of a shift is always in the back of a police officer’s mind.

Male and female police officers continue to adopt traditional approaches to fear when dealing with traumatic situations. Most do not like to admit to being fearful, and they are usually more apprehensive than they are willing to confess.

Fearlessness is still considered a necessary part of policing. Sometimes, however, when altercations are captured live and replayed later in the news, we can hear differently.

Do the Homeless Deserve to be Seen?

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Last week a friend posted a comment on her Facebook page about a homeless person sleeping on the pavement in front of her favourite coffee shop. She expressed sympathy, not for the homeless person, but for the owner of the coffee shop who had to tolerate this person sleeping in front of their business.

She further noted that there was no reason why the city shouldn’t be moving these people along to nearby shelters where they can “get all the free food they want.” She complained about the “earth muffin” attitude in the city toward the homeless, who she said felt a sense of “entitlement to sit, sleep, relieve, etc. anywhere they want.” She then posted a photograph of the sleeping person online.

Her comments, and those her post generated, reflected the lack of knowledge most Canadians have about the homeless. One person thought that many homeless people have homes but choose to live on the streets instead. My friend observed that homeless people are living with the consequences of their own bad choices.

But it’s not quite that simple. Homelessness is the result of an accumulation of aimages[9] number of factors, not the result of one single cause or a bad decision. Yes, some homeless people do have addictions and many struggle with mental illness. Most have made poor life choices.

However, structural factors, or outside societal issues, also strongly influence homelessness.

For example, most people don’t realize that a significant number of homeless people have jobs but live in shelters because they can’t find affordable housing, especially in cities where the cost of living is high.

Homeless youth often struggle financially as they make the transition from foster care to independent living. People leaving the correctional system, those exiting mental health facilities, immigrants, and refugees are also at risk of becoming homeless. So are seniors on fixed incomes.

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Personal and relational factors also figure into the equation. Many homeless people have suffered some type of trauma in their lives such as the death of a loved one, brain injuries, fetal alcohol syndrome, domestic violence, accident, child abuse, rape, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Job loss, layoffs, foreclosures, and the loss of unemployment or welfare benefits are also contributing factors.

Every homeless person has a history. Just like the rest of us who have a roof over our head.

Yes, homelessness is hard to look at. That’s because it demands a response from each one of us. Should we see people living on the street as a problem? Should they be corralled away so we don’t have to look at them? Or do they deserve to be seen?

The homeless are citizens of our cities too. In our democratic society, they have the same basic human rights that we all enjoy. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. They are, after all, human beings.

So, the next time you see a homeless person in front of your favourite coffee shop check to make sure they’re okay. Then buy them a meal or give them a gift card so they can purchase one later. Your kindness will not only help them out, but it will go a long way toward dispelling some of the myths about homelessness that we all need to put to rest.

For more information on homelessness in Canada visit www.homelesshub.ca.

To read an inspiring story about homelessness pick up a copy of Same Kind of Same Kid of DifferentDifferent As Me: A Modern-day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.

A Few Words About Autism

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With all of the discussion in social media lately about vaccinations, there have been some pretty uninformed statements being made about autism. And I’m not just talking about the “vaccinations cause autism” statements. I’m thinking of the words many people use when debating this highly complex issue.

For instance, I recently read an article written by Anne Theriault titled, “Austism Isn’t the Worst Thing to Happen to a Child.”[1] In her article, Theriault states that our society tends to treat autistic people as though their neurological make-up is a catastrophe. She goes on to suggest that perhaps anti-vaxers should start reading “articles written by people who actually have autism” in an effort to “re-evaluate why you think so negatively of autism.”

It is a good idea to talk to those living with autism. That is, of course, if the person with autism can speak. Or write. Or read. Or use utensils. Or go to the bathroom by themselves. Or dress themselves. Or go to school.

My point is that Theriault’s suggestion is filled with assumptions that do not reflect  reality for all autistic children and their families. Like the disorder itself, there are as many variables to consider as there are people.

Yes, there are many highly functional autistic people who have benefitted from therapies, who write, speak, blog, acquire degrees, hold down jobs, and who live independently. Perhaps those are the people Theriault had in mind. But what about those parents who do happen to feel that autism, especially in its more severe forms, is the worst thing to happen to their child?

Simplistic solutions have the potential to do more harm than good. History has shown us just how damaging generalizations can be – whether we’re talking about religious, gender, class, racial, economic, or cultural minorities, lumping individuals together and applying our assumptions to everyone in that group can have grave consequences.

Generalizations and assumptions diminish a person’s value and worth as a human being. Which is why I wish people on both sides of the vaccination debate would consider their words more carefully before venturing out onto social media with opinions about autism.

[1] http://qz.com/340623/what-vaxxers-and-anti-vaxxers-are-missing-autism-isnt-the-worst-thing-to-happen-to-a-child/

Are the Working Poor Working Hard Enough?

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Sometimes we don’t mind donating money toward helping people who are struggling with addiction or mental illness. But when we talk about helping the “working poor” questions are raised about their worthiness to receive that help.

Most Canadians are descendants of immigrants who came to Canada looking for a better quality of life. In many cases, their ancestors worked extremely hard to gain the economic prosperity that they enjoy today. So, it is not unusual for them to question why the working poor need assistance; shouldn’t they just work harder to get ahead?

Source-www.aflcio.org

Source-www.aflcio.org

Although the working poor maintain employment they remain in poverty. In 2001, they numbered 653,000 Canadians. Young people, single parents, recent immigrants, Aboriginal people, persons with a long-term illness, seniors, and workers whose spouse is unemployed, make up the majority of the working poor. Additionally, 1.5 million persons, usually dependent children, are directly affected by the low income their parent(s) earn.[1]

The working poor can be self-employed or may work full- or part-time at contract, temporary, or seasonal jobs, usually at the minimum wage level. Most will earn less than $20,000.00 per year, $10,000.00 below the poverty line.[2] None of them have benefits such as medical, dental, pension, or life insurance which contributes to their poverty.

Family plays the greatest role in the economic uncertainty of the working poor. The greater the number of dependents, the higher the probability of a worker earning wages below the poverty line. A disabled spouse, partner, or child to support is also a factor. The level of education a wage earner has acquired is a determinant, as is a person’s ability to integrate into the labour market.

Why don’t they just work harder to get ahead?

In Canada, the working poor are exerting a significant amount of effort toward improving their lives. According to government researchers, “In 2001, most low-income workers demonstrated a significant work effort: 76% of them stated they had had 1,500 hours or more of paid work during the year. This percentage is slightly lower than that of workers who were not in a low-income situation in 2001 (88%).”[3] The working poor are working hard, many of them at more than one job each year.

Yet most find it difficult to make ends meet. They are a growing number of Canadians who work but find it necessary to visit food banks, soup kitchens, used clothing stores, and charities that provide food. It is no longer unusual to see entire families in line waiting for a nightly meal.

Source-publichealthwatch.wordpress.com

Source-publichealthwatch.wordpress.com

So, please consider the working poor the next time you make a charitable donation. Don’t assume that the people who use the services provided by charitable organizations are lazy or uninterested in bettering themselves. The lives of the working poor are more complicated and challenging than that, and they deserve to live with dignity and respect despite their income level.

[1] Dominique Fleury and Myriam Fortin, “Research Briefs – Canada’s Working Poor,” Social Development Canada, 22 July 2013. http://www.horizons.gc.ca/eng/content/research-briefs-canada%E2%80%99s-working-poor.

[2] “The Canadian Policy Research Networks defines a low-paid worker as someone who works full time throughout the year but who earns less than $20,000.” Fleury and Fortin, “Research Briefs,” f.n. 3. Statistics Canada determined that the Low Income Cut-Off (poverty line) was $30,487.00 after taxes in 2011. See http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75f0002m/2012002/lico-sfr-eng.htm.

[3] Fleury and Fortin, “Research Briefs,” f.n. 3.

Remembering the Journey: Judy LaMarsh

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A number of women were instrumental in achieving the gains made by activists in the women’s movement during the 1960s and 70s. Their activism on behalf of women’s rights laid the groundwork for many of the social, economic, and political rights that Canadian women enjoy today.

Judy LaMarsh was one of these women. LaMarsh served as a member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps from 1943-1946, obtaining the rank of sergeant. She trained as a lawyer following the war, entering politics in 1960 and winning her first seat in 1963 as a member of Parliament for the riding of Niagara Falls, Ontario. LaMarsh held a number of portfolios under the leadership of Liberal prime minister Lester B. Pearson, her most important being Secretary of State from 1965-68. She was only the second woman in Canadian history to hold a Cabinet post.

portrait%20judy%20lamarsh%202[1]

Judy LaMarsh (1924-1980)

LaMarsh proved to be an important ally within the government for the Canadian women’s movement. She had been quietly encouraging Pearson to establish a Royal Commission on the Status of Women since taking office. In her memoirs, LaMarsh claimed that Pearson had been prepared to accept her advice in 1965 until she publicly mentioned the need for a Royal Commission at a national women’s meeting. It was a comment that was vehemently attacked in the press by a number of male journalists. According to LaMarsh, “Pearson backed off as if stung with a nettle.”[1]

LaMarsh repeatedly raised the issue with him afterwards, but Pearson remained obdurate. It was not until 1967 that a door opened for LaMarsh to revisit the issue with the prime minister. On 5 January, journalist Barry Craig of the Toronto Globe and Mail published a threat made during an interview by Laura Sabia of the Committee for the Equality of Women in Canada (CEWC). Sabia impulsively told Craig that three million women were prepared to march on Parliament Hill to demand a Royal Commission if the government failed to meet its demands. LaMarsh later recalled that Pearson was “sufficiently frightened” by the prospect and wanted to re-open talks with the CEWC.[2]

Three days after Sabia’s threat was published, LaMarsh strategically delivered a public response, via the media, meant to appease the prime minister and members of the Cabinet. She warned the CEWC about its strident tone, cautioning that the “Prime Minister and the Cabinet are men as other men and if you have harpies harping at them you will just get their backs up and they won’t do anything. I think the women have made their point and they should just wait a few weeks and see what happens.”[3] By appearing to offer a more reasoned approach to the issue by publicly castigating the “harpies,” LaMarsh was pandering to male concepts of women and their proper role in society.

The tactic worked because it allowed Pearson to appear to be making an informed, rather than a reactive, decision. Some feminists later noted that LaMarsh’s pressure tactics inside the Cabinet were more important in gaining a Royal Commission than Sabia’s threatened march on Parliament Hill.[4] The approach that was the most influential has been a question of debate for decades. The answer is probably that both tactics were successful because on 16 February 1967, a Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada was created.

2015: The Fortieth Anniversary of the United Nations’

International Women’s Year, 1975

 

[1] Judy LaMarsh, Memoirs of a Bird in a Gilded Cage (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1968), 301. [2] Morris, “‘Determination and Thoroughness’,” 15. [3] Rudy Platiel, “Stop harping about a royal commission, Judy LaMarsh warns women’s group,” The Globe and Mail, 09 January 1967, 13. [4] Cerise Morris, “‘Determination and Thoroughness’: The Movement for a Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada,” Atlantis 5:2 (Spring 1980): 16.

Remembering the Journey: Women’s Rights in Canada in the 1970s

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2015: The Fortieth Anniversary of the United Nations’

International Women’s Year, 1975

As strange as it may seem to us in the twenty-first century, women’s rights were not always equated with human rights in Canada. In the 1940s, a number of Canadian provinces began to develop human rights legislation, particularly in an effort to protect racial minorities against discrimination. Saskatchewan was the first, enacting a statutory Bill of Rights in 1947.  51F17660-1560-95DA-43B6EDA36078E1F4 (1)[1]

Source: nextyearcountrynews.blogspot.com

The issue of fair wages for women in the workplace was just beginning to be addressed, too. Ontario was the first to pass the Female Employees Fair Remuneration Act in 1951, with most other provinces following suit over the next ten years.[1] In 1960, the federal government developed a Bill of Rights which recognized the rights of Canadians to freedom of speech, religion, assembly, association, and due process.[2] None of these pieces of legislation, however, made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex.

When Canada became a member of the United Nation’s (UN) Status of Women Commission in 1958, some women’s groups were quick to point out that the federal government violated its commitment by failing to implement employment equity policies in its own institutions. Women were required to resign from their civil service jobs as soon as they married or became pregnant. Several government agencies such as the RCMP and the armed forces resisted employing women, Aboriginal people, and ethnic and cultural minorities with impunity.

filmhalfthesky[1]March on International Women’s Day, 1970s

Activists pushed the federal government to honour the agreements it had ratified but not yet acted upon, with little success.

In 1968, the UN designated the year as the International Year for Human Rights. The Canadian government planned a number of events to celebrate. A conference was being organized, but not one woman was appointed to the planning committee. It was an ironic development that was not lost on activists who feared that any human rights ASC04612[1]

Abortion Caravan protestors, 1970 – Source: socialist.ca

commission investigating the status of women in Canada would be comprised solely of men. As the planning for the humans rights conference demonstrated, their fears were justified and activists continued to lobby the government to establish a royal commission instead. The Canadian government hesitated on the grounds that Québec resisted federal impingement on the jurisdiction of the provinces. Judy LaMarsh, the only woman on the federal cabinet in 1968, quipped that it seemed “odd to think that in some men’s minds women belong predominantly to the provinces.”[3]

It was only after activists threatened to march three million women to protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario if the government continued to refuse to establish a royal commission that the prime minister finally relented. abortion%20caravan[1]

Abortion Caravan activists protest on Parliament Hill, May 1970 – Source: Jack Holland, Toronto Telegram, yorkspace.library.yorku.ca

On 16 February 1967, Order-in-Council PC 1967-312 was approved by the Governor General and a Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada was created. The commissioners were mandated to “inquire into and report upon the status of women in Canada, and to recommend what steps might be taken by the federal government to ensure for women equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society.”[4]

It was a turning point for women’s rights in this country. The commission’s hearings and its final report (published in 1970) received a considerable amount of media coverage which drew attention, not all of it positive, to the issue of women’s inequality in Canada.

A number of Canadian women were instrumental in advancing the rights of women throughout the decade. Their stories will be featured in upcoming blogs in celebration of the United Nation’s fortieth anniversary of International Women’s Year (1975).

[1] Dominique Clément, “‘I Believe in Human Rights, Not Women’s Rights’: Women and the Human Rights State, 1969-1984,” Radical History Review 1 (Spring 2008), 111. [2] Ibid. [3] Judy LaMarsh, Memoirs of a Bird in a Gilded Cage (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1968), 301. [4] Right Hon. L.B. Pearson, “Announcement of Establishment of Royal Commission to Study Status,” House of Commons Debates, 3 February 1967, 12613.