UN ruling against NWT govt means better legal services for Aboriginal women across Canada

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) has just issued its first decision on a complaint against Canada under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

It is a decision on a complaint filed by an Aboriginal woman in the Northwest Territories, Cecilia Kell, who is a member of the Rae-Edzo community. The Committee ruled that the NWT Housing Corporation and the Government of the Northwest Territories discriminated against her because the Housing Corporation was responsible for her losing ownership in her house in the community, and failed to provide her with adequate legal aid when she sought a remedy.

This is a very important decision as it makes the connections between male violence, loss of housing, and inadequate legal aid. Cecilia Kell experienced violence at the hands of her male partner, attempted to escape it, lost her house and was evicted as a result, and then was not provided with adequate legal aid to obtain an appropriate remedy. As we know from our work, this is a paradigmatic pattern of events for Aboriginal women, and for women facing male violence.

The Committee found that Cecilia Kell was discriminated against because of her aboriginality and her sex, and that Canada failed to take the necessary steps to protect Aboriginal women who face violence.

The Committee has made four recommendations:

  • that Cecilia Kell be provided with housing commensurate in size, location and quality to the housing of which she was deprived;
  • that she be given appropriate monetary compensation for material and moral damages;
  • that Canada recruit and train more aboriginal women to provide legal aid to women from their communities; and
  • that Canada review its legal aid system to ensure that aboriginal women who are victims of domestic violence have effective access to justice.

From Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA)