Grounds for Discrimination

January 3, 2001

The Honourable Anne McLellan
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Room 707, Confederation Building
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A OA6

Dear Ms. McLellan:

I am writing to you today to urge the Government of Canada to adopt the recommendation of the Canadian Human Rights Review Panel (CHRRP), in its report, Promoting Equality: A New Vision (Department of Justice, June 2000), to add social condition to the prohibited grounds for discrimination listed in the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA). Our organization believes strongly that this issue should be a priority for the new Government.

As the report concludes, prejudice against the poor is widespread and systemic, based on characteristics related to social condition, such as poverty, low education, homelessness and illiteracy. Examples of prejudice are widespread in the media, and extend to questioning the moral worth of welfare recipients, the motivation of parents to look after their children and even their love for their children.

One of the most blatant and best known examples came when Premier Mike Harris of Ontario cut a welfare supplement for pregnant beneficiaries, saying “.. we’re making sure those dollars don’t go to the beer ..”; although he later apologized, the cuts were not reinstated. More recently, his Government is proposing legislation to have social assistance granted – conditional on recipients being declared drug free on mandatory tests. This must be seen as an infringement of human rights by any reasonable standards; yet the Premier apparently believes his legislation will not contravene the CHRA. Action is urgently needed to ensure that such legislation cannot be passed in Canada.

It is not only the provincial jurisdictions that are suspect. The CHRRP report also found widespread discrimination in services provided at the federal level, such as banking and telephone services or housing on Indian Reserves.

This widespread discrimination occurs in Canada, judged by the United Nations, in may respects, to be the best country in the world to live in. Moreover, the government of Canada is a signator of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and social services and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age and other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Indeed, discrimination on the basis of social condition makes no economic sense. It prevents people from participating in the economic and social lives of their communities and contributing to their own rehabilitation. For example, cutting off a welfare supplement from pregnant beneficiaries increases the likelihood of low birth weight babies, which have many health problems and difficulties in development, and are a real burden on the health care system and social services.

The National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) is very concerned about the discrimination that is being practiced in Canada today, and urges your government to amend the CHRA without delay to make social condition a prohibited ground for discrimination.

NCWC was founded in 1893. It is a non-profit organization of women’s groups representing a large number of citizens of diverse occupation, language, origin and culture, reflecting a cross-section of public opinion. NCWC is composed of 20 local councils, five provincial councils, one study group and 26 nationally organized societies.

NCWC policy is formulated by means of local council initiative. Policy additions and changes are proposed, circulated and voted upon by the general membership. Council members may speak only on existing policy when contacting the government, the media and the public. Thus, this view is the united voice of the federated membership of the National Council of Women of Canada, which represents many thousands of women.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Hutchinson
President
National Council of Women of Canada

Cc: The Right Honourable Jean Chretien, Prime Minister;
The Honourable Allan Rock, Minister of Health;
The Honourable Jane Stewart, Minister of Human Resources;
The Honourable Alfonso Gagliano, Minister of Public Works and Government Services;
The Honourable Hedy Fry, Secretary of State, Status of Women
Maria Neil, NCWC Convener Economics, President OCLCW

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