Justin Trudeau speaks at the Equal Voice International Women's Day lunch. Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

Two weeks ago, a new study by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability confirmed the state of domestic terrorism against women in this land. A woman is murdered by a man every other day in Canada, with at least 78 known acts of femicide up to July 1 (the numbers are likely higher given that it is based largely on media reports). A disproportionate number of those murdered were Indigenous women.

That very same day, there was audible silence from the self-proclaimed “feminist” Trudeau government. Instead of declaring that the time had come to finally launch a National Action Plan to End Violence Against Women and Girls (NAP), Trudeau was in Latvia, trying to match the toxic masculinity of Donald Trump by whipping out hundreds of millions of dollars to continue funding Canadian troops to engage in endless war games through the year 2023 against a non-existent threat to the people of this land.

Indeed, instead of showing solidarity with Canadian women, Trudeau chose to show what he and Chrystia Freeland have deemed “solidarity” with the world’s leading state terrorist organization, NATO. (As in most things the Trudeau government does, their perverse abuse of language normally associated with the struggles of marginalized and targeted groups like feminism and solidarity co-opts, confuses, and destroys the powerful meaning of such terms.)

The next day, Trudeau and Freeland again chose not to address one of the most serious national security issues facing women in this land, instead announcing that Canada would lead a NATO occupation mission in Iraq. Freeland declared:

“Our first — and really our only consideration — was what served the Canadian national interest, what served Canadians, what was appropriate to do for Canada given our role in the world and the very great interest we, as Canadians, have in a functioning, rules-based international order.”

Radicalized misogyny

But as hundreds of thousands continue to get turned away from women’s shelters (and the severe shortage of affordable housing units keeps women faced with the choice between sleeping on the streets or staying with an abuser), there was no discussion of how the national interest was being served to end this scourge of radicalized misogyny.

While the use of the word terrorism is problematic because it is more a political than precisely defined legal term — there remains no internationally agreed upon meaning, and governments always use it for political ends to deflect from their own role in state-sponsored and approved violence — it has long been argued by various scholars that reframing male violence as torture and terrorism actually helps us better understand the systemic nature of the war against women.

Indeed, as Isabel Marcus of the University at Buffalo School of Law writes, such reframings serve to:

“jolt our consciousness, and, hopefully, our conscience. They uncover the deep affinities of domestic violence with categories of violence that are universally condemned as human rights violations because they deny human dignity and integrity. They shock us into recognition of the extent to which domestic violence cannot be narrowly cabined or diminished or controlled by reliance on formal equality. They help us understand that domestic violence is a form of substantive gendered inequality — a societal distribution, at both individual and structural levels, of who does and is allowed to do what to whom. Domestic violence violates the rights of women who, like men, are entitled to integrity, security and dignity. It constitutes discrimination against women by maintaining both the individual, woman and women as a class in an inferior and subordinated position within their respective societies. Consideration of domestic violence under the rubric of torture or terrorism is not designed to raise the threshold of what constitutes domestic violence. Nor does it entail the disregard for diminution of its consequences. Nor does  it undermine recognition of survivor/victim’s agency and resistance. Rather it, provides greater space for the silenced voices of significant numbers of women, by acknowledging their painful, shocking, lived experiences and eliminating the normalization of their pain and trauma. It helps in the worldwide, campaign to change the nature of the specific behavior from acceptable to unlawful.”

As Mitchell argues:

“Unlike targets of politically inspired terrorism or torture, however, women, who are targeted in domestic violent relationships often do not elicit sympathy or respect for the oppression they face. All too often, there is a conceptual shift to a focus on the nature and extent of their ‘provoking’ the violence and abuse. This shift is of crucial significance. It disconnects the violence from the social, cultural, economic, and political context of sex-gender domination and subordination. Instead, abused women become the incarnation of prevailing gender stereotypes…”

Depoliticizing domestic terror

We see the depoliticization of such domestic terrorism when the worst mass casualty acts of misogynist terror in the past 30 years in this country — the 1989 Montreal massacre as well as the Yonge Street “incel”-inspired van attack in Toronto this past spring — are dismissed as “senseless” tragedies and acts of deranged individuals wholly unconnected to the woman-hating societies in which the perpetrators have grown up. Indeed, the same day of the van attack, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, in Toronto for a meeting of the G-7 “national security” ministers called “Building a more peaceful and secure world,” concluded: “The events that happened on the street behind us are horrendous but they do not appear to be connected in any way to national security, based on the information available at this time.”

Goodale came to this conclusion even though the perpetrator left behind clear indications that he was inspired by the woman-hating “incels.” In addressing why he did not consider the van attack an act of terrorism, the vague and tone-deaf Goodale replied by saying: “There are those who might want to cause mayhem in our society that use certain techniques that are deliberately designed to be totally disruptive and fearful.”

But as Marcus points out, this is exactly what happens in intimate partner violence:

“I contend that there are striking parallels and similarities between terrorism as a strategy used to destabilize a community or society consisting both of women and men, and domestic violence abuse perpetrated against women. Violence against women in intimate partnership relationships is designed to exercise and maintain domination and control, to enhance or reinforce advantages, and to defend or maintain privileges. As targets of domestic violence, many women live in a world punctuated by violent, traumatic and/or catastrophic events, some of which are predictable and others unpredictable — tailored by the perpetrator to the domestic intimate context. These events include threats and humiliation, stalking, surveillance, coercion, and physical or psychological violence. Whether that violence is identified as the imposition of discipline, as a strategy of family governance, or as an act of the assertion of masculinity, women can be kept in their culturally and socially designated ‘place’ as well as threatened with or actually lose their social attachments. For many victim/survivors the perpetrator often appears to be omnipotent and omniscient.”

Trillions misspent

Since the events of 9/11/2001, governments have devoted trillions to end so-called acts of terror, murdering millions in the process and doing nothing to prevent what is the single greatest threat to women’s lives: male violence. 

On the same day as the Toronto van attack, Dubravka Šimonović, United Nations “Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences,” issued a report noting that male violence in Canada remains a “serious, pervasive and systematic problem.” She called on Ottawa to enact a federal law on combating and preventing violence against women because currently, ‘women’s human rights in Canada are protected in an incomplete and patchwork way at the federal, provincial and territorial level  …and thus result in different levels of protection for women’s right to live free from violence.” She also called on Canada to adopt a National Action Plan (NAP) on violence against women and a separate NAP on Indigenous women “in order to ensure that women in all areas of the country have access to comparable levels of services and protection in line with international human rights standards accepted by Canada.”

The Special Rapporteur also took note of, among numerous other issues, “the dire shortage of shelters for women and children escaping violence and a general lack of affordable public housing, including transitional housing and second-stage accommodation and employment opportunities.”

But monies which could go towards such vital infrastructure are instead diverted into the pockets of those who benefit most from the narrowly defined state security threat: arms manufacturers, police forces, and domestic agencies charged with repressing populations engaged in democratic discourse (i.e., the RCMP, CSIS, the Canadian military).

While Trudeau has received much applause whenever he goes to the United Nations to discuss feminism, he is never called on his failure to implement a National Action Plan. Canada has long refused to enact such a plan, which the UN mandated to be in place no later than 2015. Three years into the Trudeau regime, there is none. In 2016, a year into his rule, Trudeau ignored the UN call for Canada to:

“expeditiously adopt a national action plan, in consultation with civil society organizations, especially Indigenous women’s organizations, to combat gender-based violence against women and ensure that adequate human, technical and financial resources are allocated for its implementation, monitoring and assessment.” That call has been echoed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In an International Women’s Day letter to Trudeau last March, a large number of Canadian civil society groups wrote:

“The Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence enacted in June 2017 is a step in the right direction, but is limited to areas under federal jurisdiction, and fails to address the gender discrimination that is at the root of gender-based violence. A truly national action plan involving the federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous governments and governance, is needed to ensure policy and programming coherence and consistency that in turn will lead to decreased levels of gender-based violence.”

For a self-proclaimed feminist prime minister, Trudeau has utterly failed in his government’s efforts to protect the national security of women. All it took was the tragic killing of one young soldier in Ottawa for his Liberals to support some of the most repressive Canadian legislation ever passed, C-59 (the so-called Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015), despite the lack of any documented threat as defined by the government. And yet despite the mountains of evidence on male violence, no similar sense of urgency attends the every-other-day murder of women.

Failing women abroad

To deflect attention from his domestic failures, Trudeau tends to go abroad, where those without proper context are eager to applaud anyone who talks a good talk, regardless of his actual record. Trudeau receives applause for his negligible funding commitments to women overseas — much of which will end up going into the urban skyscrapers and high-end offices housing big-name NGOs — but any potential good done here is negated and reversed by his policies of suppressing “terrorism” through the use of draconian financial instruments.

As the Duke International Human Rights Clinic documented in their report, Tightening the Purse Strings: What Countering Terrorism Financing Costs Gender Equality and Security,  “war on terror” financing restrictions enforced by Canada, the U.S., and Australia, among others, have unduly affected grassroots, women-led groups, which the U.S., Australia, and Canada used as examples.

“Due to the strictures of these legal regimes, private, government, and inter-governmental donors increasingly have put clauses in funding and partnership agreements that require ‘NGOs to provide onerous guarantees that their funds are not, used to benefit terrorists or to support acts of terrorism.'”

But the problem is that many women’s rights organizations are often targeted by their own governments as “terrorist,” which forces many to operate under the radar and thus unable to meet the stringent reporting requirements of the counter-terror financing regime. “The ways in which countering terrorism financing rules have been designed and implemented take little to no account of [the unique] features of women’s rights organizations and the environments in which they operate,” the report finds, which means “large, established organizations get favoured treatment and the bulk of funding.”

The researchers note that in their survey of grassroots groups:

“it is clear that women’s rights and their defenders across the globe are frequently squeezed between terrorism and violent extremism on the one hand, and counter-terrorism or preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) on the other. In the survey of grassroots women’s organizations undertaken for this Report, 86.67 per cent of respondents classified their organization’s work — including in areas such as peacebuilding and conflict resolution — as contributing to combatting terrorism and violent extremism. Yet, 90 per cent said that counter-terrorism measures had an adverse impact on work for peace, women’s rights, and gender equality generally.”

In 2009, the United Nations took special note of the fact that:

“Those subject to gender-based abuses are often caught between targeting by terrorist groups and the State’s counter-terrorism measures that may fail to prevent, investigate, prosecute or punish these acts and may also perpetrate new human rights violations with impunity.”

But Freeland and Trudeau, for all their talk of rules-based international orders that represent women’s best interests, appear more interested in the incredibly low standard of looking “better than Trump” than in truly ending the terrorism inflicted on women across the land and around the globe.

In the meantime, Women’s Shelters Canada is sharing a petition demanding Trudeau commit to finally enacting a National Action Plan. With an election looming next year, there’s no better time to be calling out the Liberals on their failure to protect over half the population.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Matthew Behrens

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate.