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Gender Block: Trudeau time

Gender parity in the cabinet is great—but where does our new PM Justin Trudeau stand on other women's rights issues? Hillary Di Menna examines Trudeau's stance on childcare, women's shelters, abortion and more

Hillary Di Menna

Monday October 19 came and went, showing Stephen Harper the door on the way out. Canada’s new Prime Minister is loved, hated, and internationally lusted after apparently (PILF is a thing now, huh). Justin Trudeau, a self-described feminist, talked about women’s rights throughout his campaign; time will tell if the talk goes anywhere. Our new prime minister was disappointed that Up for Debate’s event, a debate for party leaders to discuss women’s issues, was cancelled after Tom Mulcair and Stephen Harper decided they would not participate—a whole “He did it first!” thing. However, Trudeau was one of the leaders who participated in a one-on-one taped interview with the alliance of over 175 national women’s organizations. During the interview he spoke of his past work helping women, condemning sexual assault in parliament, his reactions to domestic violence, the Liberal childcare plan, missing and murdered Indigenous women, sex work, and abortion.

Trudeau volunteered at McGill University’s sexual assault centre. He notes in his interview that he was one of the only male facilitators there. His work there is what he credits for his response to two Liberal MPs who were proven to have sexually harassed multiple women. After the first report was made to Trudeau directly, he suspended Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti, and eventually expelled the pair after an investigation. During his interview he says of the events, “When she came to the leader of a different party to talk about this, I realized that this was something that I wasn’t going to simply shrug and look away from.” Though he says in the same interview that any sort of violence against women is unacceptable, and that his party will strengthen the criminal code for repeat offenders, he could not offer a dollar figure for what was being put aside for places like women’s shelters: “The issue with the infrastructure program we’re putting forward is we’re being a partner to municipalities and provinces. I don’t think it’s up to the federal government to draw lines on a map or to tell a municipality what it needs and where.”

Trudeau often spoke of misogyny within the old boy’s club of politics, and in older generations. However, when asked about why it exists in younger generations, he mentioned misogyny in certain types of music and absent fathers in certain communities. “Is it a coincidence that two of the three factors Trudeau cited about violence against women are well-worn stereotypes about black people,” asked activist and writer Desmond Cole while tweeting about Trudeau’s interview last month. Trudeau responded to these questions regarding subtle racism when speaking with reporters in Montreal on September 22, “I wasn’t speaking of any community in particular. I was saying as leaders, as parents, as community leaders, we need to make sure we are combating misogyny in all its forms, wherever it’s found. Whether it’s in fashion magazines or popular music or popular culture, we all have to work together.” Still, this wasn’t what was initially said. His original comments were pretty specific and the dots were not hard to connect. Even the most well-intentioned rich, white dude is bound to be out of touch with the rest of us, but I hope he continues his education on the social factors he admits to playing a role in our society’s acceptance of misogyny.

The Liberals talked about improving childcare throughout their campaign. Something that is much needed, especially after being destroyed by the Conservative party. A national childcare plan has not been laid out. Instead, money will be given to each province to address their specific childcare needs. But as Up for Debate interviewer Fracine Pelletier says, this does not necessarily mean better childcare, “[Mulcair’s] saying, you get this money if you do a daycare. You’re saying we’ll give you money, we hope you do daycare.” This is a fair point, and it would certainly be more comfortable knowing there is a solid national childcare program in place.

Another fair point was that though Trudeau and his party are pro-abortion rights, Prince Edward Island, lead by a Liberal government, does not have access to abortions. Trudeau responded saying this needs to change and that he will have a conversation with any jurisdiction not living up to its responsibilities under the Canada Health Act, which includes reproductive rights.

When Harper said Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women were not radar-worthy, the Liberal party said a national inquiry is needed. The party’s Policy Resolution 110: A Resolution for Action for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women states the Liberals will reinstate the research funding the Tories took away from Sisters in Spirit, a research, education, and policy initiative run by Indigenous women researching and raising awareness about violence against Indigenous women and girls. The party also says they will align themselves with Indigenous advocacy groups.

The Liberals opposed Bill C-36 and Trudeau has said they will be looking at the Nordic Model when reforming the law. The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network quote the party saying it will “deliver on prostitution reforms laws formed in consultation with experts and civil society, including sex workers themselves, which includes rigorous examination of supporting facts and evidence.”

There are so many more questions regarding women’s rights that have yet to be answered. Unfortunately this is all a wait and see situation, one that we need to keep on top of whilst trying not to be distracted by a no-more-Harper afterglow. Seriously, though, that was a heck of a celebration.

A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna is in her second year of the gender and women’s studies program at York University. She also maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.









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