Domestic Policy

Action Canada works to ensure increasing action by the Canadian government to advance sexual and reproductive rights.

Statement on Canada’s Interim Report on National Pharmacare

Dr. Eric Hoskins, chair of the National Pharmacare Implementation Committee, revealed an 8-page interim report today on Pharmacare implementation. Dr. Hoskins is correct when he said this morning that far too many people fall through the cracks of our health system when they cannot afford their medication.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights knows that an alarming number of people cannot afford HIV/AIDS medication, contraceptives, medical abortion, or gender affirming medication among other urgent sexual and reproductive health needs. Every person in Canada has the right to equal access to health, including medication. We are hopeful today that our government will respond to the needs of people and not the financial interests of pharmaceutical and insurance corporations.

While the creation of a national drug agency and a national formulary is a step towards creating a universal Pharmacare strategy, today’s announcement failed to answer our most important questions. Will a national formulary cover the full scope of all drugs needed to support sexual and reproductive health choices? Will it be a universal single payer system or a patchwork system? A National Pharmacare Strategy must cover all drugs and be universal to ensure that all people, including young people and vulnerable people, can claim their right to health.

Read Action Canada’s briefing for the National Pharmacare Implementation Committee’s Consultation on SRHR and Pharmacare

BC Launches $10-a-day Child Care Pilot

Congratulations to the government of British Columbia for beginning to fulfill their promise of universal access to childcare in the province through their $10-a-day child care testing program. Universal childcare is an essential step towards the realization of people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, and a move towards achieving reproductive justice. A lack of affordable, universal childcare has serious social and economic impacts borne disproportionately by low-income individuals and their families, but that ultimately affect families of all socioeconomic status. We look forward to seeing the government continue to progress towards the implementation of universal childcare in BC.

Why Politicians are Trying to Rob a Generation of their Right to Sex-Ed

Sex-ed, when done well, saves lives, so what young people stand to lose in this fight is clear: health, safety and wellbeing.

Op-Ed by Action Canada
Originally published in the Huffington Post

Sex-ed has become a hot political topic across the country.

At the same time as tens of thousands of Ontario school students staged walkouts to protest the return of an outrageously outdated health curriculum, social conservatives in British Columbia are banding together to run municipal election platforms against LGBTQ curriculum content.

For many parents, voters and politicians, sex-ed is understood as part of the health and wellbeing of young people. At the same time, we’re seeing a rise in the exploitation of people’s fears with misinformation to win political points.

What young people stand to lose in this fight is clear: health, safety and wellbeing. Sex-ed, when done well, saves lives. Comprehensive and inclusive sex-ed leads to declining STI and unintended pregnancy rates, the prevention of gender-based violence, and increased school safety for LGBTQ students. When sex-ed uses an explicit human rights-based approach, it even increases open dialogue with parents about sex and relationships.

Those very facts should be enough to end the debate. Yet despite the research and overwhelming parental support for sex-ed in schools, a small but vocal minority who want it abolished are being rewarded by a disproportionate amount of media attention and political success.

The backlash to a resource that was developed in collaboration with the B.C. Ministry of Education to create safer learning environments for LGBTQ students is disturbingly similar to what transpired in Ontario.

Rallies are being held in front of the provincial legislature, rampant misinformation about the content of the toolkit and lesson plans is spreading, and political platforms are being built to roll-back the resource in schools where it’s currently being used and to ban it from schools where it isn’t.

The lobbying success of these groups in B.C., like Ontario, is a symptom of the growing political influence of a once-fringe brand of social conservatism. Conservatives are being told that their worldview is under attack and that the classroom is an appropriate venue to wage war against the human rights of women, girls and LGBTQ youth.

A genuine fight for human rights and freedoms is never won at the expense of others.

The morality showdown is cleverly cloaked in language appropriated from a human rights lexicon. Parental rights are pitted against the health and rights of young people, as if it’s a zero-sum game. Freedom of parental expression is invoked to curtail freedom of gender expression. Freedom of religion is used to undermine support for sexual minorities and the notion that a robust health education will benefit all of our children.

Misinformation about what is being taught is being used to gain political support under the guise of protecting children.

In the end it comes down to this: human rights are interconnected and equal, they extend only insofar as they don’t harm another person. A genuine fight for human rights and freedoms is never won at the expense of others.

Freedom of expression, for example, cannot override people’s right to health, to education and to live free from violence and discrimination; it cannot override the right to sex-ed, which is enshrined in international human rights laws and protected by global experts such as the World Health Organization.

In Ontario, bolstered by the many complaints made by young people and parents, the Ontario Human Rights Commission filed a notice of intervention last week with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to protect the rights of girls and LGBTQ students who will suffer the most from sub-par sex-ed.

In B.C., resistance to backlash has taken the form of a youth-led campaign called “Sex ed is Our Right.”

Every one of us is entitled to receive relevant, accurate education and health information throughout our lives, and no government has the authority to deny it to an entire generation.

Resistance matters and your voice counts. If you believe in every person’s right to live a safe, healthy life that is free from violence, make yourself heard. Young people need you.

October Update: Abortion, sex-ed, human rights

Information and updates on sexual and reproductive health and rights this month:

[Winnipeg Event] Rights from the Start: Advancing sexual and reproductive health in a National Pharmacare Strategy

You are cordially invited to attend Rights From the Start, Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health in a National Pharmacare Strategy, a panel discussion in honour of the Federal Provincial and Territorial Health Ministers’ Summit. While momentum builds for a National Pharmacare Strategy, a progressive coalition of health advocates are joining forces to ensure that a truly equitable pharmacare plan is implemented.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, the Canadian Health Coalition, the Canadian Federation of Nurses UnionsWomen’s Health Clinic, and Sexual Education Resource Centre Manitoba, among other health sector advocates, share an inclusive vision of a pharmacare strategy that supports the full realization of people’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Join us to discuss these policies and principles with Ministers of Health, nurses and other health professionals, policy makers, and advocates.

Click here to RSVP

DATE AND TIME

Thu, 28 June 2018
5:30 PM – 7:30 PM CDT

LOCATION

The Fort Garry Hotel
222 Broadway
Assiniboine Room
Winnipeg, MB R3C 0R3

Light refreshments, wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served.

Newfoundland urged to offer universal coverage of abortion pill

Source: The Canadian Press | CTV News

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador is being pressured to provide universal coverage for the abortion pill amid complaints the province is one of the worst when it comes to access to abortion.

It is the only province in Canada that does not offer some coverage of Mifegymiso, a two-drug combination that induces an abortion up to nine weeks into a pregnancy.

Maggie O’Dea, a medical student at Memorial University in St. John’s, said students are meeting with provincial legislators this week and sitting down with the health minister, John Haggie, on Wednesday.

“Every other province has put in place some sort of coverage,” O’Dea said in an interview Monday. “Mifegymiso is an incredible opportunity to break down barriers and inequities to accessing abortion care in this province.”

Women in rural and remote communities in Newfoundland and Labrador face lengthy wait times and significant costs to access abortion services, said O’Dea.

“Accessing an abortion often requires travel, a hotel stay, gas money, food, child care and time off work,” said O’Dea, an elected representative of the government affairs and advocacy committee with the university’s Medical Students Society.

Universal coverage of the abortion pill would be a win-win for the province, she said, as it would both reduce barriers to abortion care and help the province trim costs.

The abortion pill costs roughly $350, while a surgical abortion can cost as much as $1,500 — in addition to travel and accommodation expenses at times covered by the province, O’Dea said.

The province’s health minister was not available for comment Monday.

Health Canada first approved Mifegymiso — initially known as RU-486 — in July 2015.

Since then, every province in Canada, except for Newfoundland and Labrador, has announced some cost coverage of medical abortions using pills, from payment depending on a patient’s income, private health benefits and other factors to full universal coverage for all residents.

The drug, which has been used for decades in countries such as France and China, can be dispensed directly to patients by a pharmacist or a prescribing health professional.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, surgical abortions are offered only in St. John’s at the Health Sciences Centre General Hospital or at a standalone private abortion clinic, the Athena Health Centre (formerly The Morgentaler Clinic) — though Athena has plans to open two satellite clinics.

Robin Whitaker, an anthropology professor at Memorial, said one of the biggest hurdles facing women seeking an abortion in the province is the travel required.

“For someone in northern Labrador, it’s a substantial journey to access abortion health care,” she said. “If you already have kids, you have to find someone to look after them, and if you don’t qualify for public assistance it can be a financial hardship.”

While Whitaker applauds students for urging the government to cover the abortion pill, she noted that it’s “one piece of a bigger picture.”

She said ensuring women have access to a local health care provider and ultrasound — currently a requirement for prescribing Mifegymiso — may continue to be barriers to access.

“There are more pieces to the puzzle then simply funding the drug but it’s an important piece of puzzle,” Whitaker said.

Frederique Chabot with Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights said the limited number of abortion providers in Newfoundland and Labrador puts women at risk of running into so-called gatekeepers.

“There are very few points of service in Newfoundland with a lot of gatekeepers,” she said. “There are people that actively work against people to undermine their ability to access abortion, and the fewer points of service there are the more power they have.”

— By Brett Bundale in Halifax

Budget 2018: 23 year old obligation met!

Canada takes long-overdue steps to meet commitments made in 1995 Beijing Declaration

 

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights welcomes Canada’s first “gender sensitive budget.” We acknowledge the expertise and capacity that has gone into creating the Gender Results Framework and are pleased that the Budget will be accompanied by accountability measures, gender-sensitive data and Gender Based Analysis+ Legislation. In doing so, Canada is taking a strong step towards meeting its commitments from the 1995 UN Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. We look forward to the Government of Canada taking further steps to ensure all public spending promotes the equality of women and other marginalized peoples.

A “gender equality” budget without childcare is not a gender equal budget

Funding towards the creation of a national universal childcare strategy is missing from this self-described gender equality budget. While the framework of “take it or leave it” spousal parental leave supports shifting gender norms, we know from examples in other countries that this initiative does not go far enough to make a substantive dent in the gender wage gap or create environments in which individuals are supported to raise their families with full respect for their economic and social rights.

Safe, accessible, and affordable daycare facilitates a holistic approach to sexual and reproductive rights in that it seeks to address power structures to enable individuals (particularly marginalized individuals) with the ability to make decisions about their lives – including whether to have children, and when parenting, the ability to do so in healthy environments.[1] Universal childcare is also necessary for alleviating poverty and promoting gender equity. In developing further policies that seek to meet the needs and rights of individuals and families, further measures are required to enhance the eligibility criteria for Employment Insurance to ensure single and other marginalized parents will equally benefit from the proposed changes to parental leave policies.

Pay equity

There is mass evidence to support the need for proactive pay equity legislation. Wage inequality in the public sector has been proved in the Human Rights Tribunal and through two separate studies conducted by the federal government. We are pleased to see the government taking steps to implement concrete measures to ensure that all federally regulated workplaces will be required to demonstrate equal pay for equal value work. Efforts to address the pay gap must include an intersectional analysis, which recognizes the ways in which black, Indigenous, and people of colour experience disproportionately higher gaps in pay. Looking forward, we encourage the Government of Canada to actively engage private sector, provincial, territorial, and municipal workplaces to develop the same standards of wage equality.

Paid Leave for Domestic Violence

Action Canada congratulates our colleagues in the labour and anti-violence against women movements whose tireless advocacy has succeeded in achieving 5 days of paid work leave for survivors of domestic violence who work in the federal sector and investments in legal aid for people who experience sexual assault and harassment in their workplace. Efforts are still required to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence. We therefore call on the Federal Government to play a leadership role in engaging all provinces and territories towards legislative changes to ensure all workers are able to exercise their right to live and workfree from violence.

Universal Pharmacare

We are pleased to see the announcement of a National Advisory Council on the Implementation of Pharmacare, led by former Ontario Health Minister Dr. Hoskins. Alongside our health sector colleagues, Action Canada defines pharmacare as universal, accessible, and single payer cost-coverage for prescription medications. International law guarantees all people the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, which includes the delivery of accessible, available, acceptable, and quality sexual and reproductive health information and services. We are therefore encouraged by Dr. Hoskins repeated statements in support of universal pharmacare and take the word “implementation” as a promise that Canadian healthcare will soon include universal cost-coverage for medicines.

Action Canada knows first-hand that access to medications is often unaffordable for those who need it most, especially those suffering from intersecting marginalization and discrimination. The ability to manage your own fertility, have healthy pregnancies, affirm your own gender, and prevent, treat, or manage sexually transmitted infections should not be dependent on income, place of residence, or immigration status. People in Canada who require vaccines, medication, or contraceptive devices should not need to rely on insurance or personal savings to afford the resources needed to maintain or realize the best possible sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

Introducing the Department for Status of Women Canada!

Status of Women Canada will now be a freestanding department within the Government of Canada, supported an increase in modest funding, in part to support projects that promote equality for women. We are pleased to see Canada taking steps to recognize the importance of this mandate by elevating its status alongside other governmental departments. Looking forward, we expect to see concrete measures to ensure the department invests in initiatives that reflect core feminist priorities, processes, and principals.

Meeting international commitments: Canada’s role in the world

This Budget includes a badly needed, yet modest, investment in overall Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending: $2 billion over 5 years. While this is a significant investment, in real terms it amounts to only a 2% increase/year – barely ensuring ODA keeps up with inflation. This investment will keep Canada’s ODA at 0.26% ODA to GNI spending, well below the international target of 0.7% ODA/GNI agreed to by OECD countries in order to effectively fight discrimination, poverty, and inequality around the globe.

Within the ODA envelop, Budget 2018 does not include new money for global sexual and reproductive health and rights, despite this being one of the core policy areas of the Feminist International Assistance Policy (stated priorities of the Minister of International Development and areas in which Prime Minister Trudeau has committed to invest to address Canada’s past failings). While Canada’s 2017 commitment of $650 million over 3 years is a strong step in the right direction, with no new commitment of funding beyond 2020, it falls short in establishing Canada as a global leader on sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly in light of the $8 billion funding gap created by Trump’s Global Gag Rule. A meaningful commitment requires a sustained political and financial commitment to realize substantive change in the most neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights – safe abortion care, comprehensive sexuality education, advocacy, and adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights. It requires the creation of an institutionalized approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights within our development agency (Global Affairs Canada) through a Canadian global sexual and reproductive health and rights policy that can’t be swept under the rug with a change in government. It requires modernizing government funding mechanisms so that grassroots feminist organizations working to achieve legal and policy gains are able to receive financial support.

An investment of $1.5 billion over 5 years was made to support “innovation” in Canada’s international assistance, including to expand innovative development financing options and a sovereign loans program. Action Canada encourages the government to find new and better ways of engaging new partners in development financing and strengthening existing mechanisms to facilitate collaboration with small and medium size organizations (ensuring less onerous and more inclusive mechanisms for grassroots partners), while ensuring feminist principles and human rights remain at the center of policy-making in this area. We are however concerned that this new funding will not only remove emphasis from the importance of official development assistance as a primary source of funding for development initiatives and global commitment, but also promote the leveraging of public/private partnerships. Governments must continue to be the duty bearers in meeting human rights obligations. If private corporations are to assume greater responsibly for the delivery of development assistance, we risk losing the ability of individuals to hold their governments accountable to its human rights obligations. We urge the government to heed historical experience, particularly related to the delivery of family planning programs and initiatives in the extractive industry. Action Canada will be monitoring this area, pushing for transparency and accountability.

[1] Sister Song: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice.

Annual Report 2016-2017

Whether it’s been campaigning for universal cost coverage of medical abortion, launching a cutting-edge resource for teaching sexuality education in schools, securing a major investment in global SRHR from the government Canada, offering thousands of people the health information they are looking for, or supporting sexual and reproductive rights defenders around the world to hold their governments accountable, we’ve been working tirelessly to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada and globally.

Read our Annual Report to learn about the significant strides we made in 2016-2017 »

Having trouble reading the report? Click here to download in PDF

Safe zones around abortion clinics now in place

New law bans protesting against abortion within 50 metres of a clinic

Source: CBC News

A new Ontario law establishing safe zones around abortion clinics is now in place, and  Ottawa police were out on Thursday enforcing the boundaries.

The Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, which received royal assent in October last year, establishes a ban on protesting within a 50-metre radius of an abortion clinic.

The new law means women across the province can access abortion services safely and securely, free from intimidation or interference, said Ontario Attorney General and Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi.

Although abortion clinic staff have for years complained about aggressive demonstrators, Naqvi said reports of escalating violence near the Morgentaler Clinic in downtown Ottawa inspired the new law.

“We have heard instances where women have been spat on,” he said. “Those types of things are absolutely unacceptable.”

Clinics can also apply to extend the radius up to 150 metres. Whatever the zone is established to be, the legislation states that it begins at the boundaries of the property the clinic sits on — not at the clinic’s front door.

Other health facilities that offer abortion services, including hospitals and pharmacies, can apply for safe access zones as well, though they aren’t automatically included in the legislation.

Preventing harassment, intimidation

The law has been well received by groups that have long demanded better protections for women seeking abortion services.

“We’re thrilled with it,” said Darrah Teitel, a spokesperson for Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

Teitel said she hopes other provinces will follow suit, and rejected critics who argue the law restricts the rights of protesters to freely express their beliefs.

“I would say the actions of harassment and intimidation and threats — and in some cases physical violence — preclude their ability to do that,” she said.

Protesters assemble outside safe zone

Demonstrators gathered on Sparks Street Thursday say there’s no proof any of them have ever acted inappropriately.

“The pro-life movement is a peaceful movement and we would never, never allow anyone to behave in that way towards any woman,” said Louise Harbour, decrying the new law as an attack on freedom of speech.

“We only believe in peaceful means to present our message,” she said.

Ottawa police were on site, marking a “physically visible” boundary to let protestors know where the new safe zone starts.

“We respect the fact that people have an opinion to promote, but we also [will be there] for the safety of the public as well as the laws we have to enforce,” said Const. Chuck Benoit.

One of the protesting groups, Campaign Life Coalition, said they already met with police to ensure they won’t be in violation of the new law.

“The 50 metres was literally paced out by the police, so that we would know exactly where we can stand with our signs,” said the coalition’s Johanne Brownrigg.

Police to issue warnings at first

Anyone violating the new rules will be risking a hefty fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to six months in prison for a first-time offence.

Police will only be issuing warnings at first, Const. Benoit said.

“They will proceed to arresting people if it continues.”

The bill also stipulates that a person cannot be convicted unless they know about the safe zone.

In order to avoid such a situation, Benoit said the police have been focusing on educating the public about the new safe zone.

“That’s a reason we will be [at the protests], to educate the people.”

Brownrigg said her group is seeking other ways to protest with the new law coming into effect.

“We might not have access to directly communicate with women as we’ve had, but we will find other ways,” Brownrigg said.

The coalition is unsure what other ways they will be pursuing, but Brownrigg said they will likely channel their efforts to lobbying the provincial government.

“If we have to invent another campaign we will.”

Brownrigg did not rule out the possibility of challenging the law in the courts, but did not comment on whether they would proceed with a legal challenge.