In 1991, the federal government established the Canadian Panel on Violence against Women to examine the incidence of spousal violence and the measures necessary to combat it. The panel presented its report on 29 July 1993. It contains 494 recommendations. Many of the panel members were familiar with spousal abuse by virtue of their involvement with women’s shelters, the courts, or public health. They were, nevertheless, shocked by the evidence presented to them at public hearings in 139 Canadian communities. Among the statistics compiled, the following figures paint an alarming picture:
1) Interviews with a random sample of 420 women between the ages of 18 and 64 revealed that 51 percent of them had been the victims of rape or attempted rape and 43 percent reported at least one experience of incest and/or extrafamilial sexual abuse before the age of 16.
2) More than 78,000 people were admitted to protective shelters in 1992.
3) In 1991, 270 women were murdered. Of the 225 cases that were solved, all but 15 women were killed by men - more than half by husbands or lovers.
Using what is termed a "feminist lens," the report characterizes violence against women as inextricably linked to women’s social and economic inequality. In consequence, the recommendations in the report are extremely ambitious and far-reaching, so much so that some early critics regarded them as utopian, while others contend that the $10 million cost of the report would have been far better spent on funding women’s shelters, sexual assault centres, and advocacy groups, all of which are chronically underfunded.
The following summary highlights the wide range and multiplicity of the recommendations:
1) Equality Rights: Make sexual orientation a prohibited ground for discrimination; strengthen human rights laws to address systemic discrimination; recognize persecution on the basis of gender as an explicit ground for granting refugee status; reinstate and expand the Court Challenges Program to enable women to fight for equality rights in the courts.
2) Services: Provide core funding for women’s shelters, sexual assault and rape crisis centres; establish national standards for the provision of adequate services, such as a crisis toll-free telephone number in each community in remote communities and an emergency shelter or services within one hour commuting distance from each community; set up a committee in every community to co-ordinate services to...