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March 7, 2008

Ms Johanne Senécal, Chief of Staff
Ms Katie Telford, Deputy Chief of Staff 
Ms Paddy Torsney, Deputy Principal Secretary
Ms Leslie Swartman, Communications Director
Ms Dahlia Stein, Senior Policy Advisor
Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition
House of Commons 
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Dear Ms Senécal, Ms Telford, Ms Torsney, Ms Swartman and Ms Stein:

Re: Refusal by politicians to include women/girls under Criminal Code hate propaganda law

I have been working with Borys Wrzesnewskyj for the past year trying to get his Private Member's Bill C-254 passed. This Bill would extend the protection of the Criminal Code hate propaganda law to include women and girls. Changing this law is fundamental to the human rights and safety of the female half of the population, and, for that reason, I have spent over 16 years lobbying to have the law amended. You can find more information about this issue on my web site, www.thefreeradical.ca, in the Hate Propaganda section.

While Mr. Wrzesnewskyj's commitment and perseverance have impressed me, I have been greatly disappointed by Mr. Dion's failure to make this issue a Liberal priority. I have yet to hear him make even one public statement in support of Bill C-254, although six of his MPs appeared at a press conference on Parliament Hill last April, along with Shannon Hogan and David Clegg from the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) Violence in the Media Coalition, and Joy Lang from the University of Western Ontario's Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children. Mr. Dion's lack of action on this critical issue stands in sharp contrast to his frequent, public statements alleging his commitment to women's equality.

I am therefore writing to all of you to request that you use your considerable influence to impress upon Mr. Dion the importance of both speaking out on this issue and aggressively pursuing legislation to remedy this harmful, not to mention, unconstitutional, injustice.

This week, the OPSBA Violence in the Media Coalition released an open letter addressed to the leaders of the four major political parties criticizing their inaction in amending the Criminal Code hate propaganda law to protect girls and women. The Coalition includes the following groups:

Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness - Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario - Ontario Public School Boards' Association - Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association - Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association - Ontario Federation of Home & School Associations - Ontario Principals' Council - Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation - Ontario Student Trustees' Association - Ontario Teachers' Federation

I enclose their letter along with coverage from the Toronto Star, and a follow up news release issued by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO). The ETFO headline minces no words - Criminal Code Omission Endangers Girls and Women - and is entirely accurate. It is completely inexcusable that politicians have allowed this situation to continue for so long.

Enclosed, as well, is a Hansard transcript from March 5 indicating the defeat, once again, of Bill C-254. Mr. Wrzesnewskyj is doing everything he can to see this law changed. It is now time for Mr. Dion to step up to the plate and make this a Liberal party priority.

There are a number of actions the Liberals can take to promote this legislative change:

1. Include amending the law in Liberal party policy. Last April, the OPSBA Violence in the Media Coalition met with Martha Hall Findlay in her capacity as chair of Liberal policy outreach and updated her on the situation.

2. Request that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights initiate a study of the Criminal Code hate propaganda laws to determine why only select "identified groups" are offered protection, since this is in blatant contravention of Section 15 of the Charter

3. Request that the Standing Committee on the Status of Women call the Justice Minister and Minister of Public Safety to appear before the Committee to explain why the Conservatives keep blocking efforts to have Bill C-254 passed since, as ETFO quite correctly states, this Criminal Code omission endangers girls and women.

4. Use a Liberal Opposition Day to move this legislation forward

Those are a few suggestions from an ordinary citizen -- I'm sure policy advisors can come up with a few more. As one MP told me some time ago, "If the Liberals want this to happen, it will happen." So far it hasn't, and this voter is more than disappointed.

Sincerely,

Valerie Smith
P.O. Box 90598
Markham Eglinton Post Office
Toronto, Ontario M1J 3N7

cc: Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness
- Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario
- Ontario Public School Boards' Association
- Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association
- Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association
- Ontario Federation of Home & School Associations
- Ontario Principals' Council
- Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation
- Ontario Student Trustees' Association
- Ontario Teachers' Federation
- Canadian Teachers' Federation
- University of Western Ontario, Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children