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It's the start of a new year and, for many activist organizations, this brings a renewed desire to see some key issues addressed. rabble spoke with several organizations to hear what they thought Canada's big issues would be for 2016. Here's what they had to say. Add your suggestions to the comments section below!
Some responses have been edited and condensed.
Kim Stanton, Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF):
"Very clearly the inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls should be a priority for all of us this year. It's really important that we get this right. The pre-inquiry consultations have started and it's important to put resources into this phase and ensure that the institutional design of that inquiry is well thought out. It's terrific that the new federal government has made such clear commitments verbally with respect to repairing the relationship -- if possible -- between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, but now we need to see those commitments turned into substantive actions. This needs to be done with very good consultation with Indigenous women, their families and their communities.
Another thing, with the change in government, is that we think it's very important that equality be returned to the mandate of Status of Women Canada. The research funding and grassroots organizational funding that Status of Women Canada used to have to distribute needs to be returned because the kind of work that was done with those funds was really important, systemic work.
We also need a national action plan on violence against women. The inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women is related to that but, more broadly, a national action plan on violence against women is absolutely critical.
Of course, reversing a bunch of the Harper government's regressive legislation is important. The mandatory minimum sentencing needs to be repealed under the criminal code and the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act needs to be repealed. There needs to be an end to arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and there needs to be prison reform to address the shocking increase in the number of Indigenous women that have been imprisoned in the last few years.
On that note, I would also advocate for a focus on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action because it's a really important priority for all of us. The government isn't required for all of those calls to action -- a lot of them are for citizens to do and I think that it's really important for us to act in solidarity with Indigenous people."
David Suzuki, David Suzuki Foundation:
"The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. That is the challenge -- to look at the world from a different perspective. We need to recognize as biological creatures we are completely dependent on nature for our health and well-being.
My foundation's ultimate goal is to get recognition in Canada's Charter to protect the right to clean air, fresh water and safe food for all Canadians. This is a powerful idea that has gained enormous support across the country in a very short time. Once passed, it would require any business or development to prove it will not negatively affect a healthy environment. I hope 2016 will move us much closer to our ultimate goal.
As of the end of 2015, we finally have an international commitment to act on climate change. The Paris Agreement will only be as strong as we need it to be if we continually ratchet up our commitments in our own individual countries. Canada needs a responsible plan with clear, ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions. I'm hopeful that, with the strong leadership of cities and input of provinces, 2016 will usher in a national price on carbon emissions, significant new investment in green and low-carbon infrastructure and stricter efficiency standards for vehicles and buildings.
Despite the groundswell of support for environmental rights, some communities continue to wait for essentials such as clean water. There are routinely over 100 water advisories in effect in First Nation communities, with some communities living under advisories for more than 10 years. This is absolutely unacceptable and must be addressed immediately in 2016."
Leilani Farha, Canada Without Poverty:
2016 is the year when all levels of government must commit to solving poverty as a matter of human rights and not just political whim. A human rights approach to poverty will produce lasting solutions.
It's very encouraging to see that the federal government is willing to explore solutions to poverty, having mandated Minister Duclos responsible for children, families and social development, to establish a Canadian poverty strategy.
The concern, however, is that the government won't be willing to do what's actually needed to meaningfully address poverty. That is, change both the way it makes decisions and the decisions it makes, particularly with respect to economic development and taxation policies.
To solve poverty in Canada requires government to recognize that poverty has systemic causes, that it is created and perpetuated by a vast array of decisions by governments at all levels, and across all sectors. It also requires recognition that poverty is perpetuated and entrenched by the stigma and discrimination against poor people that informs many policy decisions, whether intentionally or not.
A human rights analysis and approach exposes all of this and underscores that it is the responsibility and obligation of governments to ensure -- by right -- that marginalized groups have access to an adequate standard of living. Thus, no decision taken by a government can jeopardize this right. In other words, a human rights approach to poverty requires that all relevant national and subnational laws and policies (old and new) be examined from the perspective of the potential socio-economic impact on vulnerable and marginalized groups.
Without a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy, which recognizes the human rights of people in poverty, we risk perpetuating the cycle of poverty faced by 4.9 million people in the country. And with the arrival of 25,000 new Syrian refugees, there is no better time to re-think the way we address poverty in Canada. There is a real risk that after one year of support, they will fall into the trap of poverty."
Amira Elghawaby, National Council of Canadian Muslims:
"Canadian Muslims, like our fellow citizens, are concerned with numerous issues including justice and fairness for Aboriginal communities, meaningfully addressing climate change, combatting poverty, and tackling a myriad other social justice causes. Additionally, there are specific legislative issues that Canadian Muslims will be working hard to address with various allies in civil society in the coming year.
Those issues include calling on the federal government to tackle the reckless anti-terrorism legislation, aka C-51, and remove the problematic elements which erode our civil liberties without assuring us any further security. As well, there are expectations that Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, will be repealed as it created two classes of citizens, as well as S-7, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which stigmitizes minority communities rather than meaningfully tackling serious issues around violence against women in Canada.
Finally, Canadian Muslims will continue to work hard to positively contribute to the well-being of our nation, and in so doing, help dispel misconceptions and stereotypes that may exist in their communities. What's hopeful is that Canadians of all backgrounds came together frequently to stand united against bigotry and hate of all kind in 2015, and this collective resolve should only grow in the years ahead. Because it's 2016."
Angela Marie MacDougall, Battered Women's Support Services:
"Violence against women continues unabated. That hasn't stopped. We really haven't seen a single change with respect to its prevalence. We've seen more awareness, because of some high profile media, and with the advent of social media we've been able to help shape the way that conversation is going, but the violence against women continues.
There's no pause, there's no ceasefire. It's 24/7, 365.
From our point of view that's appalling. For every woman that's murdered there are thousands more that are living in fear. That's the activist issue for 2016. That's the first and foremost issue: to continue to fight for our survival as women-serving organizations. We matter and the work that is happening on the front lines in women's groups matters very much. We continue to want to have our issue to be front of mind for the public, for the general population, for policy makers and for the media.
An important thing that Canadians can do is know that there are women in their lives -- in their communities and in their families -- that are dealing with this violence right now. Then, without outing her if she hasn't come forward, they can make an effort to raise this as a concern for the community.
They can also support their local women's organizations that are doing this front-line work. Those are the groups that are making a huge difference in the lives of women.
For 2016, we would like to see frontline women's organizations receive more funding for their services. We'd like people to understand that this a public health issue, this is a human rights issue and there are frontline serving organizations that are doing incredible work saving lives and helping to end this cycle of violence for children. Supporting that front-line work makes a huge difference. This work matters."
Alyse Kotyk is a Vancouver-based writer and editor with a passion for social justice and storytelling. She studied English Literature and Global Development at Queen's University and is excited by media that digs deep, asks questions and shares narratives. Alyse was the Editor of Servants Quarters and has written for the Queen's News Centre, Quietly Media and the Vancouver Observer. She is now rabble's News Intern.