During the last federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to respect and promote women’s human rights.
But on Wednesday, Heritage Minister Beverly Oda announced that 12 of Status of Women Canada’s 16 offices would close by April 1st.
“What these offices don’t necessarily provide is help directly to women,” said Oda in a release.
“There was a lot of lobbying groups, there was a lot of advocacy.”
“But if Oda wants to place more emphasis on helping individual women, I don’t know how having less access to Status of Women Canada staff, representatives and services is going to be more help,” said Yukon Status of Women Council co-ordinator Charlotte Hrenchuk.
“I’m depressed,” she added.
“I don’t think women are equal yet. And don’t see how these cuts are going to help contribute to the social, economic and cultural integration of women in Canadian society, which is what Oda says her mandate is.”
This year, Hrenchuk was hoping to get funding from the BC/Yukon Status office in Vancouver to carry out recommendations made in a recent northern women and homelessness report.
But that office is closing.
Only four offices, in Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton will stay open.
“This means less representation for the north,” said Hrenchuk.
“The North was never very well represented. And now we’re mashed in with all the Prairie provinces and BC.”
The status offices help bring women together, she said.
These offices provide networking opportunities, and assistance and funding for social justice and economic issues affecting all women.
And there was a particular focus on issues of poverty and issues of violence, said Hrenchuk.
By closing these regional offices, the government is taking away one of the very few remaining resources for women, said Liberal MP Maria Minna, following Oda’s announcement.
“It’ll be hard for women’s organizations across the country,” added Hrenchuk.
The Status of Women office for Newfoundland and Labrador “has been open for 20 years, and was the eyes and ears of the community,” said former president of the Provincial Advisory Council Joyce Hancock in a release.
In Thunder Bay, Ontario, another office is closing.
“For more than 30 years, the Northern Ontario office has been our lifeline,” said Northwestern Ontario Women’s Action Group member Gwen O’Reilly in a release.
“The office provided critical support to francophone, aboriginal, rural and other women’s groups addressing poverty, violence, access to justice and economic development.”
The cuts will see Status of Women Canada lose $5 million of its $23 million annual budget over two years.
The closures will save on unnecessary rent and utility bills, said Oda in a release.
And women will be able to receive services from regional Canadian Heritage Department offices, she added.
“It’s a sad day for women in the North,” said Hrenchuk.