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Status of Women in Canada

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Attack on women's groups reveals Harper's style

'Just shut up - that's been this government's style right from the start.' - NUPGE president James Clancy.

Ottawa (6 May 2010) - Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth's advice to Canadian women's groups to "just shut the [expletive] up" for fear of antagonizing the federal government stands as an indictment of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's entire approach to governing, says the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).

"Senator Ruth's comments are the clearest, sharpest description of Mr. Harper's governing style that I've ever heard," says NUPGE national president James Clancy. "If you have any disagreement with the Harper government, just shut up – that's been this government's style right from the start."

NUPGE has joined with women's groups across the country in criticizing the Harper government's G8 signature initiative on maternal health because it fails to provide funding for family planning, contraception and access to legal, safe abortions, all of which are vital elements of maternal health care.

The ongoing controversy over the government's treatment of women's organizations and issues sprang back into the news recently with its abrupt decision to end federal funding for 14 women's groups, including MATCH International, a non-governmental agency that has been funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for more than 30 years.

The action follows a series of other devastating cuts made by the Conservatives since 2006, including a 43% funding cut to women's advocacy groups and initiatives, the closing of 12 of 16 Status of Women offices across Canada and the elimination of funding for legal voices for women. The latter includes the National Association of Women and the Law and the Court Challenges Program.

Ruth's advice to women occurred at a meeting of international women's groups in Ottawa where she warned specifically against criticizing the maternal health initiative that Harper plans to use as a cornerstone issue at the G8 meeting hosted by Canada in June. The initiative specifically omits abortion as a maternal health option.

"We've got five weeks or whatever left until the G8 starts," Ruth was quoted following the meeting. "Shut up on this issue," she advised.

Canada is hosting both the G20 and the G8 international groups of world leaders at Huntsville, Ont., in June.

However, far from squelching the voices of Canadian women, her outburst is now having the opposite effect as women's groups across the country speak out against the government's anti-women policies.

The opposition parties have also taken up the issue in Parliament and others, including the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women's Equality and Human Rights, are voicing their criticisms.

“By defunding those women’s groups you are effectively silencing discussion . . . on women and women’s advocacy,” said Claire Tremblay, coordinator of the coalition, which represents about 30 organizations.

“Women’s groups are saying we are not going to be intimidated anymore, and this is the group that is being told to go to the back of the bus and shut up,” said NDP critic MP Irene Mathyssen.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May added, "It’s like moving back to the Nixon era in a whole bunch of areas … it’s chilling to see Canada going backwards.”

“This is a culture of intimidation that has now been established by the Conservative Party,” added Liberal MP Bob Rae. “Canadians need to wake (up) to the fact that this is a government that has a problem with democracy..."


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE


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