Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Concluding Observations: Canada, U.N. Doc. A/52/38/Rev.1, paras.306-343 (1997).
306. The Committee considered the third and fourth periodic reports of Canada (CEDAW/C/CAN/3 and 4) at its 329th and 330th
meetings, on 28 January 1997 (see CEDAW/C/SR.329 and 330).
307. In introducing the reports, the representative placed the implementation of the Convention and the Platform for Action
adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women within the framework of the Canadian federal system. She noted that in
Canada, the federal and provincial/territorial governments shared legislative authority. Responsibility for areas such as education,
health and social services was largely devolved to the provincial/territorial level. Canada's national machinery for the advancement
of women was well-established at the federal level, and women's bureaux or agencies existed at the level of all
308. Canada's approach to promoting gender equality was based on the recognition that gender factors influenced political,
economic and social systems. As a consequence, all social policy must take into account the differential impact of policies on men
and women. The national machinery provided gender analysis and policy advice to government entities to ensure that gender
factors were incorporated into legislation, policies and programmes.
309. The representative stressed that her Government attached great importance to close cooperation with non-governmental
organizations and civil society as a crucial aspect of the advancement of women. Various efforts were undertaken to reflect the
views of civil society in policy-making processes. Extensive networks existed with non-governmental organizations, and the
Government provided funding to many women's organizations.
310. Noting that Canada faced new domestic and global socio-economic challenges, the representative emphasized that Canada
had taken decisive steps to provide women with an effective legal framework against discrimination. The Canadian Charter of
Rights and Freedoms guaranteed equality before the law and under the law and the equal protection of the law to women and
men. Individuals and groups could challenge legislation and practices of the federal or provincial/territorial governments if they
perceived them to be discriminatory. The Charter provided protection against intentional discrimination as well as systemic
discrimination and protected women against laws and practices that resulted inadvertently in unfair treatment of women. A special
programme provided financial support for groups and individuals seeking the equality protection of the Charter. A recent
amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act granted protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
311. The representative highlighted a number of recent efforts by her Government to advance women's equality in the economic
and social fields. As women's employment and economic autonomy were considered to be key building blocks for women's
equality, improvements were needed with regard to women's earnings and to deal with persistent occupational segregation. A
number of recent legislative measures were intended to address those areas. Efforts were also ongoing to measure and value
women's and men's unpaid work in the household and to take it into account in policy.
312. The elimination of violence against women and children was another issue of high priority. Canada approached the problem in
a comprehensive and holistic way, with particular attention to the underlying causes of such violence. In addition to recent
amendments to strengthen the Criminal Code's response to violence, a number of legislative initiatives were pending.
313. The representative pointed out that special assistance was provided to women who were multiply disadvantaged, a third area
of recent initiatives by the Government. Canada recognized that women were disadvantaged not only because of gender but also
because of ethnicity, disability or income. The situation of aboriginal women required special attention, and recommendations
contained in a recently completed study by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People were expected to play an important role in
future policy-making in that field.
314. A fourth area was to ensure women's equal access to health care. Given rising health care costs in Canada, major changes in
the Canadian health care system were expected to be implemented over the next decade. The preservation of women's equal
access to quality health care would be an essential concern in that process.
315. In conclusion, the representative recognized that despite the progress made in many areas, a lot remained to be done. She
assured the Committee of her Government's willingness to develop innovative solutions to the remaining problems, working closely
with all parts of Canadian society.
Concluding comments of the Committee
316. The Committee commended the Canadian Government for its third and fourth periodic reports and for the excellent and
comprehensive replies to the numerous written questions prepared by the experts.
317. The Committee also appreciated the high-level delegation, which included representatives from the provinces.
318. The Committee found the format of the written reports, broken down by provinces, difficult to analyse and evaluate. As a
result, experts were unable to appreciate fully the gains and obstacles in implementing the Convention.
319. The Committee noted the leading role of Canada in promoting gender equality at the international level through its
development cooperation programmes on gender mainstreaming and violence against women.
320. The Committee also noted that while in the report there was a comprehensive review of new legislation and jurisprudence on
human rights affecting women, the information provided did not adequately explain the impact on either women in general or on
specific groups of women.
Factors and difficulties affecting the implementation of the Convention
321. The restructuring of the economy, a phenomenon occurring in Canada and other highly industrialized countries, appeared to
have had a disproportionate impact on women. Although the Government had introduced many measures designed to improve the
status of women, the restructuring was seriously threatening to erode the significant gains and advances made by Canadian
women. Given the Government's proud record of leadership on women's issues globally, those developments would not only have
an impact on Canadian women, but would also be felt by women in other countries.
322. The Committee commended the high degree of importance attached to the promotion and implementation of human rights in
Canada emphasized by its Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as its ratification of international human rights instruments,
including the Convention.
323. The Committee noted that Canada had, by its landmark decision-making gender-based violence a basis for granting asylum to
women, once again led the way.
324. The Committee noted with appreciation the introduction of the Federal Plan for Gender Equality, which was Canada's
framework and blueprint for implementing the Beijing Platform for Action.
325. The Committee welcomed Canada's emphasis on the participation of civil society in promoting gender equality and in
providing mechanisms for cooperation and dialogue, in particular with non-governmental organizations. The annual consultation on
violence against women conducted by the Minister of Justice in cooperation with the Council on the Status of Women was
326. The Committee also noted with satisfaction that Canada continued to strengthen and refine its gender mainstreaming efforts
at all levels.
Principal areas of concern
327. While many measures, including laws, were in place to address violence against women, the incidence of such violence was
not diminishing, but had in fact increased in some areas.
328. The Committee was concerned about the rising teenage pregnancy rate, with its negative impact on health and education and
the resulting increase in the poverty and dependency of young women.
329. The Committee expressed its concern about the trend towards the privatization of health care programmes, which could
seriously affect the accessibility and quality of services available to Canadian women, especially the most vulnerable and
330. The Committee was concerned that within the framework of economic and structural changes, including those arising from
regional and international economic arrangements, insufficient attention had been paid to their impact on women in general and on
disadvantaged women in particular.
331. The Committee was concerned about the deepening poverty among women, particularly among single mothers, aggravated by
the withdrawal, modification or weakening of social assistance programmes.
332. The Committee was concerned that despite the steps taken to implement the Federal Employment Equity Act in the public
sector, it was still too limited to have a real impact on women's economic position and suffered from weak enforcement.
333. The Committee was concerned that programmes directed at aboriginal women might have discriminatory effects.
334. The Committee also expressed its concern that current budget cutbacks were affecting the continuity of services in women's
Suggestions and recommendations
335. The level of violence against Canadian women in general and sexually exploited women and girls, prostitutes and women
victims of trafficking in particular requires urgent action. Measures to combat violence against women need to be continuously
monitored and evaluated for their impact on long-term behaviours and attitudes.
336. The Committee suggested that the Government address urgently the factors responsible for increasing poverty among women
and especially women single parents and that it develop programmes and policies to combat such poverty.
337. Information on the valuation and qualification of women's unpaid work, including domestic work, should be provided in future
338. The Committee suggested that in the next report the Government, within the possibilities of its legal framework, integrate the
information from federal and provincial levels article by article. The Committee also recommended that the report include explicit
information on the impact of legislation, policies and programmes on Canadian women in general and specific groups of women in
339. Methodologies to assess progress made in closing the gap in pay between men and women and in ensuring equal pay for
work of equal value should be developed.
340. The Federal Plan for Gender Equality should have a specific time-frame, benchmark and measurable goals to monitor
implementation and the specific resource allocation required.
341. A comprehensive picture of the situation of aboriginal women should be provided, including their educational situation, their
position in the labour force and a description and evaluation of past and present federal and provincial programmes for aboriginal
women. Programmes directed at aboriginal women should be monitored for possible discriminatory effects. The plight of aboriginal
women in prison is of urgent concern.
342. The Committee recommended that social assistance programmes directed at women be restored to an adequate level.
343. The Committee urged the wide dissemination of the present concluding comments in Canada to make Canadians aware of
the steps that had been taken to ensure de facto equality for women and the further steps required in that regard.