Roe v. Wade: We Cannot Go Back

Our Thoughts on Roe v. Wade

When envisioning a world where women and girls achieve gender equity and freedom from violence, we at Aura Freedom push ourselves to not only imagine freedom from, but freedom to. Not just freedom from violence, from prosecution, from inequality – but freedom to make choices: about our bodies, our education, our health, our families, our movement, our paths. 

In response to the recent publication of a leaked document from SCOTUS that points to an imminent overturn of Roe v Wade, Aura Freedom would like to discuss the impact of this document and the impending decision from SCOTUS, and the matter of reproductive justice. 

Roe v Wade was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1973, which affirmed women’s rights to privacy as outlined in the U.S. Constitution. Under this right to privacy, it was decided that women had the right to access abortion without extensive government restriction. While States have differing regulations regarding abortion, Roe v Wade signalled a massive step forward in the movement for reproductive justice and bodily autonomy both in the United States and abroad. This landmark decision hugely influenced other countries in their subsequent decisions to decriminalize abortion, and its will undoubtedly have similar effects, especially in neighbouring countries in South America.

Of course, we know that abortions existed and were performed before the Roe v Wade ruling. Illegal or informal abortions have always existed underground in contexts where abortion is criminalized, with varying levels of safety and accessibility. These illegal abortions present significant social, financial and health risks to all women, and these risks are more significant for poor, racialized, immigrant, disabled and queer women (to name a few). 

Leading up to the legalization of abortion, feminist groups across North America organized self-help clinics to place knowledge and tools about women’s reproductive health in the hands of women. These clinics touched on subjects ranging from pregnancy tests, reproductive anatomy, and self-induced abortions.These feminist consciousness-raising groups recognized reproductive health as a site of political power, and reappropriated biomedical knowledge and tools to place this power in the hands of women. 

Feminist self-help clinics are a heart-warming example of resilience and grassroots feminist movement-building in the face of oppressive restriction on bodily autonomy and integrity. However, the reality of abortion before Roe v Wade for most women was in stark contrast to the empowerment and sisterhood that defined self-help clinics.

For decades, feminists have endlessly repeated what we all know to be true: criminalizing abortion will not prevent abortions from occurring, it will only make them more dangerous and less accessible, especially for marginalized women. This is backed up by research that concretely demonstrates that abortion levels are roughly the same across countries where it is legal and countries where it is criminalized. In countries with high levels of poverty where abortion is criminalized, abortion rates are four times higher than in higher-income countries where abortion is legal. 

This research confirms that the restriction and criminalization of abortion only results in unsafe and unregulated abortion procedures, which puts the lives and the health of women at immense risk. Furthermore, it demonstrates that rates of abortion are more influenced by social factors, such as income and social status, than by legal restrictions or rights. 

The criminalization of abortion is therefore not simply a matter of reducing abortion rates – it is a matter of restricting women’s bodily autonomy and integrity, and thus an infringement on their Human Rights. The criminalization of abortion is violence against women, in action.

So, where does this leave us? 

Grassroots organizations and activists working in the Gender-Based Violence sector are no strangers to showing resilience in the face of oppression. Aura Freedom stands firmly in solidarity with feminists fighting to keep their rights to privacy and bodily integrity in the U.S., and voices our strong concern with recent popular anti-abortion and anti-woman political and social discourse. 

In Canada, where abortion is still legally accessible, we must fight to reaffirm our right to bodily autonomy, and demonstrate our will to protect this right. Furthermore, we must continue to fight for equal and safe access to reproductive justice for all in Canada. Currently, barriers in accessibility to safe and culturally appropriate reproductive health services are faced by the most marginalized communities – eliminating these barriers must be our first priority. The fight for legal, safe and accessible abortion for Canadians is not over until this right is guaranteed to all those who need it. 

Reproductive justice, as defined by the group Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, is “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives”. 

Abortion is not a singular condition for reproductive justice, but it is a necessary one. The right to choose an abortion is as important as the right to choose to have children; the circumstances under which this choice is made is also of upmost importance.

This is what we are fighting for. This is what our sisters and siblings in the U.S. will lose if SCOTUS follows through with their decision to reverse Roe v Wade

We cannot go back.

Orlaith Croke-Martin is the Research & Policy Analyst at Aura Freedom

Aura Freedom’s Analysis of the 2022 Federal Budget

Our Analysis of Budget 2022

On Thursday, April 7th, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled her second federal budget for Canada to move ‘beyond the pandemic’.

While we recognize there have been large investments allocated towards housing, and further investments in the childcare sector, we argue that the government has failed to recognize how the effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt by many working class women, racialized and Indigenous women, LGBTQ2S+ caregivers, newcomers, women with disabilities, migrant workers, and more.

Although Budget 2022 has been touted as a feminist one, gender equality did not seem to be a priority this year. Indeed, the Statement and Impacts Report on Gender, Diversity, and Quality of Life is separated from the budget, as opposed to being embedded in it.

The following is Aura Freedom’s analysis of Budget 2022-2023, through the lenses of gender-based violence eradication, equity, human rights and intersectional feminism.

The National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence (NAP)

The release of Budget 2021 was a victorious day for feminists and advocates working to end gender-based violence in Canada. After decades of advocacy, we finally had our moment with an announcement of over $600 million to finally implement a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence.

Many of us were looking forward to hearing more in Budget 2022, but were met with vague language on the “forthcoming National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence”. The complete lack of information in this short section is deeply concerning for the GBV sector.

Budget 2022 proposes $539.3 million over five years “to enable provinces and territories to supplement and enhance services and supports within their jurisdictions to prevent gender-based violence and support survivors.” This does not seem like a coordinated, national plan. What does it all mean? Moreover, most of the money is forecasted in 2024-2027, which poses the question of how we are to get this long overdue and urgent NAP off the ground.

Gender-based violence does not just “go away”. As a deeply rooted societal issue, it will take years – if not generations – to eradicate it. Thus, it must be addressed consistently and in every fiscal budget, not just once.

In a world that has collectively mobilized to respond to COVID-19, from finding a vaccine to a multibillion-dollar plan to build the economy in five years, the question still remains: can we not mobilize in the same way for a pandemic that has affected the lives of millions of women and girls for centuries?

We believe that we can. With sustainable funding that places trust in grassroots organizations, and a strong political will, we can eradicate gender-based violence for good.

It just has to mean enough to us.

We will be monitoring this issue closely in the coming months and look forward to hearing more on the roll-out of the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, including Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Gender diverse peoples.

Indigenous Peoples and Reconciliation

$11 billion will be invested over six years in recognition of past harm and discrimination towards Indigenous children and families, to support Indigenous communities and advance self-determination. This is a significant reduction from the $40 billion announced in 2021 and much less than the amounts called for by Indigenous leaders and organizations.

The recognition of the intergenerational impact of the residential school and child welfare services on Indigenous communities, and the prioritization of the safety and health of Indigenous children are two essential steps towards Reconciliation and towards reproductive justice for Indigenous women.

Missing from the budget, however, was any mention of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls to Justice – and no new investments to implement those calls. We recognize that in 2021, $2.2 billion was announced over five years to respond to MMIWG2S, but there has been no further allocation of funding to get the work off the ground. In fact, “missing and murdered Indigenous women” was mentioned 16 times in Budget 2021, but only once in Budget 2022.

Genocide cannot be undone in one budget year.

The lack of prioritization of responding to the genocide of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit peoples is simply not good enough. We implore a sustained commitment to addressing the root causes of violence towards Indigenous women and girls, and new investments in preventative programs to address this violence and empower survivors.

Also noted in this section of Budget 2022 is the lack of distinction between Indigenous groups and the diverse needs of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Funding to address the criminalization of Indigenous land defenders was also missing, which is directly related to the ongoing discrimination and displacement of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Human Trafficking

There is not one mention of human trafficking in the entirety of Budget 2022, yet those of us working in this space know there has been a sharp increase in online youth exploitation and increased exploitation of migrant workers during the pandemic. This indifference to one of the worst human rights abuses of our time is infuriating and unacceptable.

Sexual Violence and Misconduct in the Military

In December of 2021, a public, formal apology was issued towards all Defence Team members and veterans that were victims of, or affected by sexual assault, harassment, or discrimination based on sex, gender, or sexual orientation.

This apology was a big step forward, recognizing the responsibility of the Canadian military to protect its service members, and acknowledging its long history of silencing victims of sexual violence and not bringing perpetrators to justice. 

To address this, Budget 2022 will invest $100.5 million over six years to address sexual violence within the Canadian Military. Since the language is vague on how the monies will be employed, we suggest a strong focus on the prevention of sexual violence, rather than the response to the violence after it has already occurred. This means investments in addressing the deeply rooted patriarchal beliefs and culture of the military, as well as training for leadership.

Housing

Budget 2022 presented significant investments in housing, responding to a long-standing housing crisis and rising levels of homelessness. Housing is a key social determinant of health, safety and wellbeing – and a human right.

While the report announced many exciting investments with regards to housing, there was no explicit mention of how these investments will immediately address housing insecurity and homelessness, especially for women – who have a higher incidence of core-housing needs, especially when they belong to marginalized communities, are a lone-parent, have a disability, or when they experience violence. We know that many women must choose between living in a violent home or facing homelessness. In the same way, we know that women who experience homelessness face much higher rates of violence and are extremely vulnerable to trafficking. Canada must address the housing crisis with a gendered and human rights lens to respond to the unique issues faced by women experiencing housing insecurity.

Housing supply is mentioned frequently in the budget, with claims that Increasing our housing supply will be key to making housing more affordable for everyone. However, supply alone will not end the housing crisis. Even with more supply, too many people living in Canada will still not be able to afford homes, including women, single parents, migrant workers, refugees, and those living in poverty. Livable incomes and wages are the biggest factor to housing stability and seem to be missing from the housing equation.

Delivering on Child Care

Budget 2021 made an historic investment of $30 billion over five years to build a high-quality, affordable and accessible early learning and child care system across Canada. In less than a year, the federal government reached agreements with all 13 provinces and territories, meaning that by 2025-26, it will mean an average child care fee of $10-a-day for all regulated child care spaces across Canada.

This investment will save lives – literally. It is well-documented that many women must choose between leaving an abusive relationship or living in poverty. Our own community research has shown that many survivors stay in violent homes because they cannot afford daycare on their own. Read more here.

Women are, for the most part, the primary caregivers of children in their families. Therefore, child care costs are also a major barrier to economic empowerment for the most marginalized women in Canada, including single mothers, immigrant and refugee women, Indigenous and racialized women.

Budget 2022 will provide an additional $625 million over four years, beginning in 2023-24, for an Early Learning and Child Care Infrastructure Fund. We are worried that this current funding, however, is inefficient to support the expansion needed (workforce, facilities, training, etc.) to make the child care dream a reality. We will be monitoring this situation closely in the coming months.

Anti-Racism and Combatting Hate

Anti-Racism Strategy and National Action Plan on Combatting Hate

$85 million over 4 years has been allocated to launch an Anti-Racism Strategy and National Action Plan on Combatting Hate is a positive step, however advocates have consistently said that more is needed to address the deeply embedded racism in Canada’s systems and the rising rates of hatred we are all bearing witness to in our communities.

Important to note here is that misogyny is also a form of hate, and must be addressed in order to prevent brutal gendered attacks like the Montreal Massacre, the Toronto Van Attack, the Nova Scotia Mass Shooting and Canada’s rising rates of femicide and filicide.

Funding for Black Researchers

Budget 2022 promises $40.0 million over five years and $9.7 million to the federal granting councils to support targeted scholarships and fellowships for promising Black student researchers. This funding is critical to support Black researchers and developing research on marginalized Black communities. It is important for the federal granting council to not only consist of diverse members who represent various backgrounds, but that the recipients are diverse as well. This will ensure research is created that is diverse, intersectional, and reflects the lived realities of Canadians.

Women at Work

Sick Days

Missing from the Budget 2022 was any mention of paid sick days, and how the lack of them particularly affects women who make up the majority of the work force in the childcare sector, long-term care sector, and most other caring professions.

Union Training and Innovation Program

Budget 2022 proposes $84.2 million over four years to support 3,500 apprentices per year from underrepresented communities (women, newcomers, persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and racialized Canadians) to access good-quality and high-paying jobs in the trade industry through the Union Training and Innovation Program. This is a great initiative that can lead to women’s economic development, and we look forward to the relevant communities being easily able to access the program. 

Menstrual Equity Fund

Budget 2022 proposes to provide $25 million over two years, starting in 2022-23, for Women and Gender Equality Canada to establish a national pilot project for a Menstrual Equity Fund that will help make menstrual products available to those in need.

Over two years, Women and Gender Equality Canada will be provided $25 million to establish and pilot a Menstrual Equity Fund that will provide menstrual products to marginalized women, girls and gender diverse peoples. This project is critical in eliminating barriers to education and participation for women and girls. We look forward to the project roll-out and learning of the ways these investments will be accessible to all marginalized people who are not adequately supported by the healthcare system.

Addressing Mis/Disinformation

Budget 2022 has allocated an investment of $10 million over five years to combat disinformation in order to protect Canada’s democracy. We recognize the immense potential of mis- and disinformation for real-life harmful effects, especially on frequently targeted populations such as BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, and religious minority communities, and applaud this investment.

Budget 2022 acknowledges that there has been a rise in anti-democratic ideology in concurrence with a rise in misinformation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and increasing geopolitical tensions. However, the budget fails to acknowledge how anti-democratic ideology is directly connected to misogyny and other anti-gender equality ideology – and the proof of this is right next door. We are disappointed that the Budget did not acknowledge the ongoing movement to restrict reproductive rights and freedoms in the USA, nor propose action to combat similar misinformation campaigns about reproductive rights in Canada.

Supporting Charities

Budget 2022 greatly lacks sustainable investments to support the charity sector. While the funding for the Performance Art and Heritage sector is welcomed, there is no mention of the need to provide the charitable sector with sustained, core funding to do their important work.

In short, project funding is destroying the charitable sector. Organizations must spend the bulk of their time writing project grants, and then reporting back on those grants in tedious ways that kill us softly. Moreover, project funding forces organizations to carry out their projects in siloed ways and limits the possibilities of salary increases for our overworked and underpaid staff members. We strongly advocate for sustained, core funding for the charitable sector, as well as simplified grant applications and reporting requirements that do not drain smaller, grassroots organizations of their time and resources.

After all, it is the charitable sector doing the work of lifting up communities and supporting marginalized people to participate in the economy, and we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

International: Responding to the War in Ukraine

Budget 2022 proposes to invest $111 million over five years to implement two new immigration streams for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion.

While we commend Canada’s commitment to supporting Ukraine during the Russian invasion, we were concerned at the lack of attention paid to Ukrainian women, girls and gender diverse people, and the issue of wartime sexual violence. Indeed, while the Statement and Impacts Report on Gender, Diversity, and Quality of Life for the 2022 Budget states that more women will benefit from the new immigration streams, there is an urgent need for funding for local organizations in Ukraine to address sexual violence and support survivors.

Conclusion

Overall, while positive investments have been made, Budget 2022 lacked a human rights-based approach and a gender-informed, intersectional framework. Small ‘bits and bobs’ in the budget simply will not amount to the systemic change that is needed to eradicate gender-based violence and lift marginalized communities out of poverty.

For women in Canada who experience gender-based violence in their homes, every day is an emergency. Every day is life or death. For these women and their children, COVID-19 presented complex risks that went beyond the virus itself, and continues to affect their daily lives. These are the women who were not represented in Budget 2022.

Gender Equity Consultations for the City of Toronto

Gender Equity Consultations for the City of Toronto

In early 2022, Aura Freedom led multiple community consultations in partnership with Social Planning Toronto to inform the Gender Equity Strategy that will be implemented by the City of Toronto. 

We consulted with a number of community partners in Toronto to ensure that their lived experiences, research, and grassroots expertise on gender-based-violence and human trafficking are an integral part of the Gender Equity Strategy for the city. 

Our community partners highlighted various ways women, girls and gender diverse people face inequality, discrimination, violence and control in Toronto. Marginalized and racialized women and girls experience added layers of discrimination and barriers to support, as well as youth in care and ones battling mental health. Moreover, colonialism, systemic racism, and homo/transphobia have created intergenerational trauma within communities, which are then targeted by traffickers and exploiters. Indigenous, Black, and other racialized women, girls and youth often lack social support, leaving room for exploitation under the guise of love, community and a better life.

Through our community consultations, we also heard about the impact of gender-based violence and exploitation in communities, and how violence against women, girls and gender diverse people is affecting every aspect of life in Toronto, from housing and food security, to mental health and addiction, to education and the economy. Therefore, we must actively work to eradicate GBV not only to advance gender equity, but to restore health and prosperity to our communities. 

Gender-based violence is a human rights abuse, although never treated as such, and the right to live free from gender-based violence is enshrined in multiple international treaties and declarations. In order to implement a successful Gender Equity Strategy in Toronto, we strongly encourage the City of Toronto to zoom out, unpack societal power imbalances and inequities, and most importantly, employ a strong anti-GBV lens that is intersectional, survivor-centric, and trauma-informed.

We also recommend the Gender Equity Strategy be central to all other planning at the city level, and not simply an afterthought.

 

Stay tuned for our full report.

Canada’s Implementation of UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime’s Protocols on Trafficking

Canada's Implementation of UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols: Civil Society Inputs

Aura Freedom was invited to share our views on Canada’s implementation and application of the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols on human trafficking and migrant smuggling as part of a national consultation with civil society conducted by the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform (ICCLR) of UBC.

As Canada is a party to the Convention and the aforementioned two protocols, the Government of Canada engaged in a self-assessment exercise as part of an international review process under the auspices of the United Nations Conference of the Parties to the Convention. The review was designed to assess countries’ responses to transnational organized crime through civil society inputs, and facilitate the exchange of lessons learned for future progress.

Click here for more information and to download the full publication.

Aura Freedom’s Analysis of the 2021 US State Dept TIP Report

Our Analysis of the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report

The U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report was published in June 2021, highlighting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on anti-trafficking efforts and focuses on building future and current efforts through an equity-building lens. 

The Pandemic

The report broke down human trafficking in the context of a global pandemic, in addition to the definitions commonly used in understanding human trafficking. It notes the exacerbation of new and old vulnerabilities caused by the economic and social distress generated by the pandemic – we recognize that this will need more research to confirm the exact effects and determine next steps for the future. The report also discusses the increase in forms of online sexual exploitation which has also been noted by Aura Freedom and partners in the beginning of the pandemic and connecting this issue to the recirculation of sensationalized and fabricated trafficking-related stories and mis/disinformation on social media platforms.

Due to governments across the world diverting resources and attention towards the pandemic, resulting in cuts to social supports and anti-trafficking efforts, systemic gaps and inequalities were exacerbated and impossible to ignore. The TIP Report notes these issues and calls for sustained collaboration among key anti-trafficking actors in the name of equity such as governments, civil society organizations, private sector, and survivor leaders. This is good, but it must also be noted that addressing inequities without grassroots inclusion will lead to the dog chasing its tail in vain.

Resilience

Interestingly, the report included a special focus on how anti-trafficking stakeholders adapted during the pandemic, including the resilience of survivor-led and survivor-informed innovations. This is indeed a positive aspect to highlight, however it could lead to an overdependence on the resilience of survivors and grassroots groups without lending proper support to ensure this resilience is sustainable. 

Lived Experience

A section in the report gave space for experts and those with lived experience to highlight special topics. This is a great practice in equity by showcasing other expertise and lived experience, and contributes to the growing dialogue of progress within the anti-trafficking sector. This is explored further in a separate section below.

Use of Survivor Experiences and Photographs

A stark contrast from the 2020 TIP Report is the inclusion of a disclaimer on the sharing of survivor experiences and pictures. The re-exploitation and re-traumatization of survivors through the use of sensationalized imagery in the anti-trafficking sphere has been well-noted – this practice of including survivors in the TIP report while staying mindful of their rights is a step towards progress that we hope many in the anti-trafficking field would appreciate and/or adopt into their practices.

Topics of Special Interest

This section gave space to discuss special topics ranging from navigating the unique complexities in familial trafficking to unifying trauma-informed practices, voices of survivor leadership, and the negative impacts of human trafficking misinformation. The importance of this section is clear – from centering survivor experiences to dispelling dangerous beliefs and misinformation campaigns, this section stands out and should be a permanent feature going forward.

In the article, The Role of the Financial Sector, Canada’s Project PROTECT and FINTRAC was highlighted. FINTRAC has been successful in disclosing suspicious transactions of money laundering to law enforcement to aid in their cases. Unfortunately, there is not a survivor equity lens in this analysis as it fails to mention that survivors of human trafficking lack support in rebuilding their credit scores after their traffickers use their financial information to take out credit cards and loans in their names.

A grassroots analysis would have benefited this report, to note the organizing efforts of grassroots women’s organizations who are currently advocating to expand the federal strategy to end gender-based violence to include financial and economic abuse. Economic abuse has been a barrier for survivors in leaving, accessing supports, and in their pursuit of a higher quality of life. Canada and its banks have failed to recognize this issue with regards to human trafficking, nor has it taken any steps to enacting policies to support survivors of economic abuse and human trafficking who have had their identities stolen and credits ruined.

Canada’s Ranking

Canada has received a Tier 1 ranking for fully meeting the minimum standards in its efforts towards elimination of trafficking despite not providing comprehensive data on investigations, prosecutions, and convictions. We do note that the recommendations to Canada provided in the TIP Report do align with some of our own calls to actions in Aura Freedom’s Relentless Resilience report, specifically increasing trauma-informed specialized services and shelter for all survivors.

Additionally, the TIP Report highlights the fact that Canada’s human trafficking definitions in the Criminal Code and Immigration and Refugee Protection Act diverge from international standards and there is inconsistent application (and understanding) of different manifestations of exploitation. This discrepancy has been noted by advocates and community organizations for quite some time. We would like to point out that this inconsistency does not align with the Canadian federal strategy and pillar of Empowerment. Empowerment cannot happen without clearly defining and addressing the effects and root causes of exploitation.

For context, the 5 pillars as outlined by the Canadian National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking 2019-2024 are: Empowerment, Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, and Partnerships.

In terms of Prevention, the report and past reports consistently show a lack of appropriate funding for grassroots prevention efforts rooted in equity-building and community empowerment. Unfortunately, prevention initiatives that focus on education from a grassroots perspective were sorely missing within Canada’s anti-trafficking efforts. The TIP report mentions the emergency funding of $100 million to combat gender-based violence during the pandemic, including $20 million allocated to Indigenous-led organizations and assumes that some of this funding has reached survivors of human trafficking – at this current moment, we cannot be sure of this statement but are hopeful that survivors were able to be supported.

The TIP Report notes that there were no reports in Canada of victims being criminalized for criminal acts traffickers compelled them to commit – this is not the case. Our colleagues have anecdotal evidence of the failure to recognize survivors of human trafficking within the criminal justice system, leading to their criminalization and/or deportation. This is an issue due to the fact that Canada’s data is mainly based on law enforcement activity that fails to illustrate the actual gravity of the issue of human trafficking and the many different lived experiences. This TIP report, and previous ones, ignore the reality that survivors of human trafficking and forced criminality face within the Canadian Justice System – thereby continuing the human trafficking cycle. 

Labour Trafficking and Migrant Workers

A prioritized recommendation for Canada was to “increase proactive identification of victims, particularly male victims and forced labour victims, through screening among vulnerable populations and proactive outreach and assistance to migrant workers.” Canada’s current efforts to date with regards to addressing human trafficking have overwhelmingly focused on sexual exploitation, not forced labour. This is in contrast to a long history of migrant workers visiting and working in Canada to ensure its economic progress – Canada has historically failed to provide proper supports for migrant workers, thus leaving them more susceptible to human trafficking and exploitation. 

During the pandemic, the report notes that the Canadian government continued to fund migrant work support centres, initiatives, and networks. Including allocating a small amount of $4.71 million in emergency funding to support migrant workers during the pandemic and starting an initiative that allowed migrant workers in an abusive employment situation to apply for an open work permit – a great step forward in allowing migrant workers to change employers while still keeping their status.

Indeed, as noted in our Relentless Resilience report, the legal status of migrant workers is dependent on employers, which makes for the perfect conditions for exploitation and violence. This is mainly due to a lack of awareness of their rights as a migrant and employee, paired with systemic issues like racism, xenophobia and gender inequality. While other smaller changes were created to support migrant workers stranded in Canada during the pandemic, such as extending the time for foreign nationals to renew their temporary immigration status, there is no data as to how many people used these initiatives or supports. Given that Canada does not currently have a federal outreach strategy to connect with migrant workers in a culturally-sensitive and supportive manner, it may be safe to conclude that this is a barrier to access of services and may translate into less people taking advantage of these supports and initiatives. 

Migrant workers in Canada’s biggest barrier to support is their varied immigration statuses – whether they have the Temporary Foreign Work Permit or are undocumented. A legal avenue to becoming citizens or at least to permanent residence has been underlined by grassroots activists and survivors as a key component to the recovery journey – however this is still lacking in Canada.

The Trafficking of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Cases of state-sponsored human trafficking was discussed, but left out Canada’s genocidal policies against Indigenous Peoples. Particularly, the TIP Report failed to fully devote attention to historical and ongoing practices of child apprehension of Indigenous children within the child welfare system. While the TIP Report has consistently noted for the past few years that youth in the child welfare system are at high risk of exploitation, it fails to note this in an intersectional manner and the deliberate actions of past and present Canadian governments. It is a fact that must be analyzed through a systemic approach, especially since 52% of children in foster care are Indigenous Indigenous, but account for only 7.7% of Canada’s child population.

For centuries, Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit peoples have been murdered and have gone missing with little or no support from the Canadian government. In 2015, the Government of Canada finally announced a National Inquiry into the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit peoples (MMIWGT2S). In the end, the National Inquiry concluded that the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people in Canada amounts to genocide. The connection between MMIWGT2S and human trafficking has been noted by numerous Indigenous women’s organizations – from pipeline man camps and their direct connection to the sexual exploitation of Indigenous women, to the many women and girls from northern Inuit communities who are lured to Southern cities under the guise of a better life. The Native Women’s Association of Canada released a Fact Sheet in 2018 showing that Indigenous women and girls make up only 4% of the population, but 50% of human trafficking survivors. The 2021 TIP report briefly mentions instances where the system fails to properly support survivors in their healing and justice journeys, but fails to include a present and historical systemic analysis on the trafficking of Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit peoples in Canada.

Our final grade for Canada would be: Work in Progress

A Note on Resilience

The concept of resilience was discussed in the report, even if briefly, showcasing the power of survivor leaders to organize for their communities in response to the pandemic. We will always applaud survivors and their resilience – resilience built in community, support, and radical love. We hope that governments and private stakeholders who are quick to celebrate resilience understand their role in supporting – not depending upon – this resilience. Resilience must be understood as a system response to trauma; it must be understood as a host of protective factors that come together against other risk factors of human trafficking. The performance of celebrating resiliency without truly understanding the science behind it will only create more harm. 

Resilience without support, without community, cannot be sustainable, nor can it be Relentless.

A Note on Conscious Writing 

We would like to point out that if the US TIP reports truly advocated for change and support for survivors of human trafficking, they would be more conscious of centering and advocating for human rights principles to be included in the analysis of tier rankings. The failure to include principles such as The Non-Punishment Principle of Human Trafficking, survivors’ rights to a dignified life is significantly diminished. It serves to question the true purpose of the US TIP reports – are we creating true systemic change or are we advocating for the bare minimum? 

 

Talija Končar is the Research and Policy Analyst at Aura Freedom

Ontario Mandates School Boards to Address Sex Trafficking

Ontario Mandates School Boards to Address Sex Trafficking

After years of advocacy from community organizations, activists and survivors, the Ontario government has announced a new policy framework mandating all school boards to have anti-human trafficking protocols in place to protect students.

Finally.

As long-time advocates that work with survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking, this announcement is a positive one. Indeed, we have been talking about the importance of including anti-human trafficking information in school curricula for years.

In fact, we think it’s just as important as Math, Science, Reading…you get the picture.

Community organizations know sex trafficking inside and out, and involving us at all levels will ensure that Ontario is actually preventing sex trafficking, and not simply talking about it.

Most cases of youth sexual exploitation look a lot like romantic relationships or friendships in the beginning stages – so it’s key to incorporate information on healthy relationships and consent.

Most importantly, human trafficking thrives in situations of inequity – where there is a power imbalance. Therefore, plans to address sexual exploitation must centre equity – gender equity, racial equity, and more. We need an intersectional approach that recognizes who is trafficked most in Ontario – girls, Indigenous and racialized youth, newcomers, youth in care, LGBTQ2S+ youth, and more. These are not catch phrases, these are the youth we see being exploited and any plan that does not centre them will ultimately fail.

The Framework is very thorough, mentioning marginalized groups like Indigenous and Black youth, and systemic issues like racism and communities targeted by the child welfare system. It is encouraging to see these inequities being outlined, but we want to stress the importance of having grassroots community organizations at the table throughout the entire process to ensure the needs of Indigenous and racialized students are met.

We also hope to see a further gender lens applied to the Framework. We know that although boys can be and are trafficked, the majority of survivors identify as girls. Details on this information was missing from the Framework, as was the importance of addressing unhealthy masculinity and misogyny – two huge drivers of sexual exploitation.

We look forward to smaller grassroots organizations in Ontario having a seat at the table during continued community consultations in the rollout of these plans. Although we may not have the budget needed to promote our work or make it sustainable, many grassroots groups are out there doing a lot of ‘heavy lifting’ in efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and our voices are integral to the success of any plan.

Marissa Kokkoros is the Executive Director of Aura Freedom and author of Relentless Resilience

QUICK FACTS:

  • Aura Freedom has consulted at the Regional, Provincial and Federal levels of government in anti-trafficking efforts, ensuring an intersectional approach is not only considered, but centred. We are a member of several national and international coalitions addressing human trafficking around the world.
  • Aura Freedom was a key advisor to the York Region District School Board in creating their anti-sex trafficking protocol currently in place, as well as an advisor to White Ribbon in creating their digital resource for educators – both of which are mentioned in Ontario’s News Release.
  • We currently sit on numerous Advisory Committees for various initiatives addressing sexual exploitation in Ontario, including Victim Services Toronto, FCJ Refugee Centre, White Ribbon, and more.
  • On July 5th, we were given the Mayor’s Community Safety Award from the City of Toronto for our work preventing youth sexual exploitation and trafficking with our Peer Prevention Project
  • On November 25, 2021, Aura Freedom launched its Human Trafficking Info Hub. This grassroots hub of information and resources is part of our ongoing Relentless Resilience movement to end gender-based violence in Canada. The Info Hub – which currently focuses on sexual exploitation – is a culmination of Aura Freedom’s years of grassroots human trafficking prevention and survivor support, as well as continuous consultations with our community and colleagues.

An Award From the City of Toronto

Aura Freedom Awarded Mayor's Community Safety Award

Recognition from our hometown of Toronto.

We’ve been recognized by the City of Toronto with a Mayor’s Community Safety Award for our Peer Prevention Project preventing sexual exploitation and gender-based violence among youth. The grassroots is where the magic happens.

Happy to see the City of Toronto honouring small, grassroots groups doing heavy lifting in their communities. We’re honoured to share space with the other community leaders doing life-changing work in our city.  Check out the other beautiful organizations here.

This award is dedicated to all our supporters who believed in this true grassroots project from day one.

Highlighting GBV Prevention & Equity at Toronto’s SAFE TO Consultations

To Keep Toronto Safe, We Must Prevent GBV and Trafficking

In March 2021, Aura Freedom was invited to participate in the City of Toronto’s Safe TO Consultations for both the gender-based violence sector and the counter-human trafficking sector.

As always, we brought an intersectional feminist voice to the consultations and advocated for the City of Toronto to prioritize equity-advancing education, projects and policies that prevent gender-based violence and trafficking, not just respond to it. We also discussed how gender-based violence leads to many other issues affecting Toronto, like homelessness, housing and food insecurity, poverty, addiction, crime and more. 

Stay tuned for the final report on those consultations, which has not yet been released. 

Aura Freedom’s Analysis of the 2021 Federal Budget

Our Analysis of the 2021 Federal Budget

On Monday April 19th, Chrystia Freeland, the first-ever woman to hold the title of Federal Minister of Finance, released the Federal Budget for 2021-2022. Women are mentioned often in Budget 2021-22, which sees a plan for universal child care, historic investments for Indigenous and Black communities, and funding for a long-awaited National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence.

This is Aura Freedom’s analysis of Budget 2021-2022, through the lenses of gender-based violence eradication, equity, and intersectional feminism.

ESTABLISHING A CANADA-WIDE EARLY LEARNING & CHILD CARE SYSTEM

The star of the Budget show was definitely child care, and we know we were not alone when we celebrated the announcement of $30 billion over five years to build a high-quality, affordable and accessible early learning and child care system across Canada. The investment will allow for a 50% reduction in fees by the end of 2022, with the end goal of $10 a day for families across the country.

Quality and affordable child care is key to the health and well-being of everyone living in Canada. Women are responsible for the majority of child care in Canada and often must leave the work force because of high child care fees. When we consider gender-based violence, we know that a safe and healthy child care environment for children living in homes with domestic violence is key to their mental and physical health and protection.

If implemented, the positive effects of a $10/day child care system on mothers, families, children, communities, (society as a whole!) are immeasurable.

This is the proactive and smart investing that sees countries thrive.

This is the way we honour, respect, and support working class mothers, marginalized mothers, single mothers, racialized and Indigenous women, LGBTQ2S+ parents, newcomers, and more.

We applaud this investment and will be here to hold the government accountable to ensure this promise is realized.

 

MISSING AND MURDERED INDIGENOUS WOMEN, GIRLS AND TWO SPIRIT PEOPLES

 $2.2 billion over 5 years and $160.9 million ongoing was announced for a National Action Plan in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls to Justice, as well as the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

We applaud this hearty investment into what we see as Canada’s greatest shame: the ongoing genocide of violence against Indigenous women, girls and Two Spirit peoples. Implementation will be key and we know that promises have been made time and again – but time is up.

We would like to relay what our Indigenous partners have told us on numerous occasions – including during our community consultations for the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence – which is that any funding or plans for Indigenous communities must be Indigenous-designed and Indigenous-led, with Indigenous communities at the table well before funding is released so that they are involved and in the driver’s seat from the start.

We look forward to the day when Indigenous women can finally see justice and peace restored to their communities and when they can finally live free from violence and exploitation. Until then, we will be here supporting and advocating in every way we can.

ADVANCING A NATIONAL ACTION PLAN TO END GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE (GBV)

As advocates of the urgent need for a National Action Plan to end the national emergency that is gender-based violence, we welcome the $600 million to finally begin to put this long overdue plan into place and have provided a detailed breakdown and analysis of this section of the Budget.

We are happy and encouraged to see GBV prevention mentioned in this section of the Budget, but it still seems that frontline response is being prioritized when it comes to gender-based violence.

According to the Budget, the government “is moving forward on developing a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, focusing on ensuring that anyone facing gender-based violence has reliable and timely access to protection and services, no matter where they live.”

But, the National Action Plan is to end gender-based violence, not solely respond to it. And the only way to end the violence is to prevent it. 

In Relentless Resilience, our Beijing +25 report on gender-based violence in Canada released in 2020, we raise the alarm about the lack of funding for GBV prevention and recommend more robust investments in this area.

This doesn’t mean that life-saving frontline agencies are funded less – it means that prevention initiatives are funded just as much. Proper investments in prevention will mean that Canada’s GBV sector can finally stop chasing its own tail and cycles of violence will be disrupted.

Every day, my colleagues in domestic violence shelters see two women leave their facilities and another three show up.

In an open letter penned to Dr. Theresa Tam in 2020, Heidi Illingworth, Federal Ombudswoman for Victims of Crime, implored Canada’s chief public health officer to include violence-prevention in the federal recovery response, saying it’s “critical” that resources be directed at preventing behaviours that lead to intimate partner violence, sexual violence and child abuse. Considering domestic violence alone costs Canadians billions of dollars per year, the economics point to prevention.

Here is what we know about the $600 million for the National Action Plan:

$200 million was proposed to enhance the capacity of organizations such as sexual assault centres, women’s shelters, and other organizations that provide critical and often life-saving services and supports for women, girls, LGBTQ2, and gender non-binary people experiencing violence. Moreover, $30 million was proposed to support crisis hotlines that are experiencing a rise in call volumes during the pandemic and 85.3 million was proposed to support free legal advice for survivors of GBV.

This is all good news. Frontline organizations are critical and their work saves lives. These investments are crucial to the health and well-being of women experiencing violence and their children.

But, we remind the government that gender-based violence is preventable. Femicide is preventable. Sexual exploitation is preventable.

In February 2021, Aura Freedom organized community consultations with the GBV sector on behalf of the Federal government to ask them what they would like to see in a national action plan to end gender-based violence. Over and over again, what we heard (including from frontline organizations) was the need to address the roots causes of GBV in order to prevent it, which include gender inequity, sexism, colonialism, systemic racism, homo/transphobia, ableism, classism, and more.

So, exactly how much will be dedicated to prevention in Budget 2021? It is still unclear, but it is considerably less than frontline response.

Prevention is explicitly mentioned in some areas, like the $50 million dedicated to Safer Relationships to prevent family violence and the $55 million dedicated to preventing violence against Indigenous women and Two Spirit peoples, which we applaud.

But if we do the math (see below), it looks like frontline response is being funded at least twice as much as prevention. If we include the Unclear category, it is upwards of three times as much.

Further comments regarding the National Action Plan investments outlined above:

Safer Relationships

Budget 2021 proposes $50 million over five years for the Public Health Agency of Canada to design and deliver interventions that promote safe relationships and prevent family violence, including intimate partner violence, child maltreatment, and elder abuse.

Although the details of this investment are not clear at the moment, we hope to see partnerships with and allocation of funding to community and feminist organizations that are already doing gender-based violence prevention work.

Gender-Based Violence Program

It seems that some prevention activities may fall under the Federal Gender-Based Violence Program, which is described as follows: Budget 2021 proposes to invest $105 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, for the Department for Women and Gender Equality to enhance its Gender-Based Violence Program. Funding will go to initiatives that engage men and boys. It will increase funding for initiatives to stop human trafficking, including support for at-risk populations and survivors. It will also provide support for testing and implementing best practices to address gender-based violence, with a focus on projects that could be scaled at the national level.

We don’t know how much of the $105 million will go to GBV/human trafficking prevention. In fact, supporting survivors who have already experienced violence is mentioned again in this section. As we expressed above, the idea is not to provide less funding to frontline GBV services, but to provide equal funding for GBV prevention initiatives so as to prevent future violence.

Indigenous Peoples

$55 million over five years will be invested for the Department for Women and Gender Equality to bolster the capacity of Indigenous women and 2SLGBTQQIA+ organizations to provide gender-based violence prevention programming aimed at addressing the root causes of violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. These investments are in addition to those outlined above for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

This is the type of funding that will eradicate gender-based violence and we desperately need more of it. We applaud this investment and look forward to more progressive funding like this in the future that centres root causes and equity as a way to end GBV.

Protections for Women and Children during Divorce or Separation

This progressive investment is why we do the work we do and this investment is a direct result of grassroots advocacy. Aura Freedom has been very vocal about the connection between Domestic Violence, Amber Alerts and Femicide/Filicide. We know that children’s lives are at risk during or after separation or divorce. Aura Freedom’s Relentless Resilience report and accompanying campaign feature frontline stories (view one here) from advocates that document cases of femicide and filicide during divorce or separation. We are heartened and encouraged to see support for women and children during divorce or separation, as this will prevent femicide and filicide from occurring. Budget 2021 proposes to provide $28.4 million over five years for Justice Canada to support supervision services for parenting time in cases of separation and divorce.

We celebrate this investment and support it whole-heartedly, so that we may never again see another Amber Alert like that of Riya Rajkumar, who was killed at the hands of her father on her 11th birthday. We can, and must, do better.

Support for Newcomers Experiencing Gender-Based Violence

$2 million over five years was announced for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to increase access to information and support for new Canadians facing family and gender-based violence, including enhancing the availability of anti-violence resources.

In our experience, newcomers who experience gender-based violence face multiple barriers to support, as well as systemic violence and discrimination. We see the amount of $2 million as quite low, as it works out to $400,000 per year for all of Canada.

Women living with disabilities are not explicitly referenced in the investments outlined under the National Action Plan to End GBV. We look forward to hearing more about their inclusion in the Plan in the coming months.

 

To conclude our analysis of the investments allocated to the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, we are pleased with the funding allocated to frontline organizations doing crucial work to support survivors. On the other hand, GBV prevention has fallen short. If we are to truly eradicate GBV, then Canada must prioritize the prevention of it. Just as urgent as domestic violence shelters and hotlines is the need to prevent the violence from happening at all; to prevent the trauma that rips through families and communities and costs Canada more in the long run.

No, we can’t “see” the impact of education and prevention happening in real-time. But the fact is, education saves lives, too.

We look forward to hearing more about how the $600+ million dollars for the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence will be allocated to prevention activities that centre equity, including funding and support for grassroots feminist groups doing GBV prevention work and advancing the intersectional feminist movement.

ADDITIONAL BUDGET 2021-2022 INVESTMENTS RELATED TO GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE & EQUITY:

Preventing Radicalization to Violence

This was by far the most surprising element of Budget 2021 for us. We applaud and welcome this progressive investment of $8.2 million over three years to increase support and research for frontline initiatives and programming that prevent and counter radicalization to violence, including violent misogyny. In our work, Aura Freedom often raises awareness about the connection between misogyny and GBV, and how mass murders like the Toronto Van Attack and the Nova Scotia Massacre are, in fact, hate crimes and directly related to misogynistic views of women.

Sexual and Reproductive Health

$45 million over three years was announced to fund community-based organizations that help make sexual and reproductive health care information and services more accessible for vulnerable populations.

How this rolls out will be important. We would like to see Indigenous midwifery services included in these investments, as well as interventions to address the ongoing forced sterilization of Indigenous women. We look forward to other marginalized women being supported through these investments, such as survivors of female genital mutilation and cutting who are not adequately supported by the healthcare system.

Sexual Violence and Misconduct in the Military

Budget 2021 proposes $236.2 million over five years to eliminate sexual misconduct and gender-based violence in the military and support survivors. We applaud this investment as it will create more awareness of sexual violence in the military and break the stigma in a sector that is known to be silent on violence and discrimination. It is important to note that adequately funding GBV prevention in the National Action Plan to End GBV would also prevent violence in the military.

Gun Control

Research shows that femicide and filicide are more likely to occur when a firearm is present in a household where domestic violence or intimate partner violence occurs. We applaud the Budget 2021 proposal of $312 million over five years, with $41.4 million ongoing, to implement legislation to help protect Canadians from gun violence and to fight gun smuggling and trafficking.

Support for Black Communities

Budget 2021 proposed $200 million to help combat anti-Black racism and improve social and economic outcomes in Black communities. We applaud this investment and look forward to seeing the positive effects in the gender-based violence sector as we know one of the root causes of gender-based violence is systemic racism. We look forward to seeing Black communities leading these initiatives in the ways that best suit their communities.

LGBTQ2S+ Support

$15 million over three years was announced for LGBTQ2S+ community organizations supporting LGBTQ2S+ peoples, who often experience gender-based violence. This investment is simply not enough for the many LGBTQ2S+ groups across Canada, many of them doing ground-breaking work with little to no funding. Without proper investments, many grassroots organizations will be forced to close their doors forever, leaving the folks they support even more isolated.

Housing for Women/Children Experiencing Violence

There were various investments made for Housing for GBV survivors and their children, which we welcome with open arms. We applaud the following tailored approaches to Housing for GBV survivors, which will not only save lives, but create healthy and vibrant communities in the future.

 -$250 million in funding will be allocated to support the construction, repair, and operating costs of an estimated 560 units of transitional housing and shelter spaces for women and children fleeing violence.

-$1.5B will be for Rapid Housing to address urgent affordable housing with at least 25% going to women-focused housing projects.

-$315.4 million over seven years through the Canada Housing Benefit is to increase direct financial assistance for low-income women and children fleeing violence to help with their rent payments.

Non-Profit Sector

$400 million will be allocated to a Community Services Recovery Fund to help charities and non-profits better support the economic recovery in our communities. This type of funding can be a game changer for smaller, grassroots organizations and is crucial to the health of many communities. Indeed, the federal Emergency Community Support Fund allowed Aura Freedom to keep our own doors open during the pandemic. We hope to see more core funding supported as opposed to project funding, as well as simplified grant applications and reporting requirements that do not drain smaller organizations of their time and resources.

International: Responding to the Rohingya Crisis

Budget 2021 proposes to allocate $288.3 million over three years to Global Affairs Canada to respond to the Rohingya crisis as part of Canada’s ongoing efforts to address the crisis in Myanmar. Many of us in the GBV sector have heard of the horrific sexual violence being used as a weapon of war against the Rohingya people and hope to see some of this funding allocated for local organizations working with survivors. Moreover, considering the recent actions of the Myanmar military against its own people, we applaud this investment to uphold human rights in Myanmar, along with the rights and safety of women and girls.

All in all, Budget 2021-2022 is a great start to feminist budgeting thanks to its investments in Indigenous communities, affordable child care, housing support for GBV survivors, and investments for a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. Of course, there is room for improvement. We are heartened at many of the investments made to respond to gender-based violence, and will continue to advocate for further grassroots support to prevent gender-based violence, advance equity, and empower women, girls and gender diverse peoples across Canada.

We can’t wait anymore.

 

Marissa Kokkoros is the Executive Director of Aura Freedom and author of Relentless Resilience

Relentless Resilience 2 – The Grassroots Speaks Again

Relentless Resilience 2 - The Grassroots Speaks Again

Grassroots consultations for a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence 

 

Aura Freedom’s original Relentless Resilience report highlighted numerous grassroots voices and the voices of GBV survivors. It also outlined the urgent need for a National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence.

In January 2021, the Government of Canada recognized the need for a National Action Plan, after years of advocacy from the women’s sector.

In February and March 2021 (in partnership with the Federal Government’s Office of Women and Gender Equality Canada and YWCA Canada), Aura Freedom held community consultations with grassroots gender-based violence organizations and survivors to hear more of their recommendations, suggestions and insight in regards to the National Action Plan.

Called the Community Engagement Initiative, this undertaking was “an opportunity for civil society and the Canadian government to help inform the country’s first National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence” and “influence action on gender-based violence for decades to come.”

Aura Freedom’s goals for these grassroots community consultations were clear:

– To have grassroots voices heard and respected.

– To achieve a country free of gender-based violence.

– To present concrete recommendations to the Government of Canada that will help empower our communities and change Canada and the world as we know it.

Explore our summary report below, which can be seen as a sequel to Relentless Resilience.

Relentless Resilience 2 has arrived.

A year after the original Relentless Resilience, explore the summary report of our consultations with grassroots GBV professionals and survivors on what is needed in Canada’s National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. 

We are once again elevating community voices to high level government to end the pandemic that is gender-based violence and providing crucial insight on how the Plan must be created.

The Grassroots speaks again.