Open Letter to the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, St├ęphane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe

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Attention News Editors:

TORONTO, March 4, 2008 /CNW/ -

Gentlemen:

As your parties examine policy positions and determine platforms in anticipation of the next Federal election, we urge you to address a vital public safety issue affecting half the population of Canada that can no longer be ignored. We are referring to the omission in the Criminal Code provisions on Public Incitement of Hatred that result in the complete exclusion of girls and women as a group entitled to protection from such crimes. This puts the Criminal Code at odds with Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which specifically mandates that equal access to the protection of Canadian laws be granted to girls and women. Currently, the Criminal Code provisions on Public Incitement of Hatred only protect those identified by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin and sexual orientation. 

Public incitement of hatred is prohibited in the Criminal Code because it is an acknowledged contributing factor in encouraging violence and discrimination against a target group. Omitting girls and women from the list compromises their safety. There is no justification for it. It is a stark piece of "unfinished business" and one has to seriously wonder why it is taking so long to deal with it. Despite our longstanding advocacy in this area we have yet to hear a rationale, plausible or otherwise, from any political party for the reluctance to take action. 

In his book Race Against Time, Canadian humanitarian Stephen Lewis wrote, "I would argue that this is what always happens where the rights and needs of women are concerned: an inexplicable willingness to let things slide, an inescapable drift to inertia."

Will Canada continue to let this slide? The next Federal government has a unique opportunity to right an egregious wrong. Making this change to the Criminal Code sends a strong message that we as a society will no longer tolerate this failure to protect half of our citizens.

As a cross-sectoral coalition of organizations concerned with media violence including the mistreatment of girls and women in the guise of "entertainment," we urge you to make a public commitment to amend the Criminal Code so that women and girls, as a group, are included in the provisions dealing with public incitement of hatred.

We request a written response from each party leader outlining what action they will take on this issue if they form the next government of Canada.

We have identified our member groups below as well as groups that are on record as advocates for this legislative change.

Respectfully submitted

Violence in the Media Coalition

Members of the Violence in the Media Coalition:

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

Adding women to the Public Incitement of Hatred provisions of the Criminal Code has been recommended and/or supported by:

- Polish Canadian Women's Federation (2007)
- Canadian Teachers' Federation (2007)
- Ontario Federation of Labour (2007)
- Liberal MPs Yasmin Ratansi, Don Valley East (Ontario), Chair, Status of Women Committee, Judy Sgro, York West (Ontario), Past Chair, Status of Women Committee, Sue Barnes, London West (Ontario), Past Critic Public Safety, Sukh Dhaliwal, Newton-North Delta (BC), Lloyd St. Amand, Brant (Ontario), Omar Alghabra, Mississauga-Erindale (Ontario), Critic for Citizenship and Immigration (2007)
- Bloc MP Nicole Demers, Laval (Quebec) (2007)
- Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Etobicoke Centre (Ontario), introduced Private Member's Bill C-254 (2006, 2007)
- James Flaherty, Progressive Conservative, Attorney General of Ontario (2000)
- Michael Bryant, MPP, Ontario Liberal Party Attorney General Critic (2000)
- Senior Legal Counsel, B'nai Brith League for Human Rights (1994)
- Raymond Hnatyshyn, Minister of Justice (1987)
- Law Reform Commission of Canada (1986)
- Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women (1985)
- Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution (1985)
- National Action Committee on the Status of Women (1983)

For further information: Jeff Sprang, OPSBA Communications, (416) 340-2540; Larry Skory, ETFO Communications, (416) 962-3836 (office), (416) 948-0195 (cell)