Women's rights? Not so equal
This article is an overview of the current state of women's rights in Canada and why Women Matter Canada exists as a women's advocacy group today.
Many Canadians believe that women, adult human females, have equal rights in law and society. They are mistaken. With changes to the definition of woman in 2017 through Bill C-16, women no longer have the right to define themselves as adult human females. Women no longer have the right to private same-sex change rooms that exclude biological males. Women no longer have the right to play sports without being forced to compete against physically stronger and larger biological male athletes. Women no longer have the dignity of choosing a female health care provider for the most intimate care. Women prisoners no longer have the right to living arrangements that exclude male bodied rapists. Bill C16 equates a male bodied person to a woman, and punishes anyone who does not comply with this belief. Women are becoming, once again, second class citizens, whose identity, safety, and dignity are being disregarded, despite sex being a protected characteristic in section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedom, as set out below:
Equality rights – section 15
Equality before and under law and equal protection and benefit of law
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
What's changed? We still have our Charter Rights.
Policies. Policies are what have changed. Instead of making legislative changes, which would have forced debate and public dialogue, the government has made changes to policy through stealth, much of which has flown under the public radar. Though our Charter Rights still exist, policies have quietly been put in place since then that have affected our rights to equal protections and benefits. Those policies include three critical areas: female prisons, statistical data, and language.
Interim Policy Bulletin 584
Since the 1980s male prisoners who have undergone full sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) prior to incarceration have been able to request being transferred to female facilities. In 2017 Correctional Services Canada implemented Interim Policy Bulletin 584 (which can be read here) which allowed male prisoners to transfer into women's prisons without having undergone SRS, without taking hormones, and without physician or psychiatric consultation. This has effectively allowed any male to self-identify into women's prisons. There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence about how harmful this has been to female prisoners - the harms discussed include sexual assault, harassment, and violence. Currently CSC does not keep track of assaults so the full impact remains unknown. To date no female has been transferred to male prisons because it is deemed too dangerous and the needs of those female prisoners would not be able to be met. In effect this is policy that has created male prisons and mixed sex prisons. C-16 is cited as the reason for this change.
Statistics Canada has cited the change in the way it records statistics with respect to crime data involving recording of sex to the passage of Bill C-16. The only form of public announcement that we have been able to find on this topic was through the form of two Tweets:
All statistical crime data has been based on declared gender to police as of January 2019. The data now makes this vital data in the Uniform Crime Reporting survey meaningless for researchers and policy makers because of its unreliability. For example: Around 5% of the entire population of federal prisoners are female, or approximately 700 prisoners. 94% of sexual assaults and 86% of violent crimes are committed by males. Reporting even a few males as females completely alters statistical data, and involves the public having to contact Statistics Canada to dig for this information.
Definition of Woman
We do not know when the government changed the definition of "women" from "adult human females” to a non-definition of "All people who identify as women, whether they are cisgender or transgender women", but it was first noticed on the Department of Justice website April 23, 2021 (note that the definition of "men" was not included, but it was since updated and added sometime in June or early July 2021). You can find the current iteration of that page here. When the Department of Women and Gender Equality (formerly Status of Women) was asked what definition it uses of woman earlier this year, it responded it does not use a particular definition. This fits with what has happened with respect to women's prisons and statistical data, but has posed more problems.
Firstly, this has resulted in issues with the reporting of suspects in the media, as pictured below:
It doesn’t require a lot of imagination to grasp the sorts of issues this presents. It sensationalizes newspaper headlines, grabbing more clicks because of how rare it is for women to commit such offences, at the expense of being able to use the media to find potential victims and witnesses alike. Another serious issue that has arisen is that of compelling victims of violent crime, mainly women and girls, to describe the people who allegedly assaulted them by the accused’s “preferred pronouns”, which generally is not how the victim experienced their assaults, or their attackers. This has caused further issues for female victims who are shamed for using the "wrong pronoun".
While much of the information has been about how these changes have affected criminal matters, it spills over into negatively impacting access to medical care and basic human rights for women. In medical campaigns, ads, and general information females are now referred to in dehumanizing terms, such as "cervix owners", "people with vulvas", and "birthing bodies". Meanwhile, males are still referred to as "men". Pictured below are two articles that appeared in the same publication on the exact same topic on the exact same day:
Not only is this sexist, misogynistic, and dehumanizing, it also is a disservice to the most vulnerable women. Many women do not know what a vulva or cervix are. In the cases of refugees, females whose first language is not English, and females unaware of what all the different terms are for their anatomy, many are missed entirely by medical campaign advice which was once designed to help them.
Sex Segregated Spaces
The UN has released a number of articles and reports over the years that have detailed how important it is for females to have separate toilet and changing facilities from males. This is for a variety of reasons including: safety, security, dignity, equal access to education, and ability to fully participate in public life. It's been found that regions where there are no separate toilet facilities that females are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted. It was also found that in those regions a high proportion of girls miss more school or stop going to school altogether when they start menstruating. The results can be observed at the University of Toronto when they attempted to implement mixed-sex changing rooms and toilets, but had to change back to sex segregated facilities. This was because of a number of reports of harassment and voyeuristic activities, including setting up spy cams. The highest number of sexual assaults that happen in changing rooms take place in mixed sex changing facilities. Despite these issues happening around the globe shelters, toilets, and changing rooms (including in schools) that were traditionally female are now mixed sex with a male just needing to self-identify as a female to access these spaces, presenting safeguarding issues.
This is a part of an email that was sent to parents from the Ottawa Carleton District School Board for the 2021-2022 school year:
Note that there is nothing about the safe-guarding of other students, nor does it share that information will not be disclosed to parents that there will be a student of the opposite sex accessing the same facilities as their own child. For example, a 16 year old trans identified male student may be sharing the communal changing room with 13 year old female students.
All documentation, including for federal employees, completely disregards the safety, dignity, privacy, and security of all other employees.
Because of these policy and definition changes there are now very few female-only shelters for the most vulnerable women who have just escaped domestic violence, are homeless, and who have undergone traumas such as rape.