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Protesters march in central Montreal on April 2, 2021, to protest against a rise in femicides in Quebec.ERIC THOMAS/Getty Images

Sixteen months after the federal and provincial governments issued a joint declaration that they would work toward creating “a Canada free of gender-based violence,” there is still no timeline for when the country’s first-ever national action plan to achieve that goal will actually be implemented.

The declaration in January, 2021, cited the urgency of addressing gender-based violence. Ministers responsible for the status of women in each province and territory said the document was a key step in accelerating “concrete actions.”

And yet, when asked this month for an update on timing, Women and Gender Equality (WAGE), the federal department leading the development of the plan, could not provide an expected launch date.

There has been continued progress on developing a 10-year plan, the department told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail last week, and it intends to “begin negotiations with provinces and territories within a year.”

The lack of progress is dismaying to those who work in the sector.

“There should be urgency behind it. And I think that’s the frustration that women feel – that there doesn’t seem to be urgency on this particular matter,” said Shelagh Day, the Vancouver-based chair of the human rights committee of the Feminist Alliance for International Action. “The federal government says the right things. But what we’re missing is the action.”

Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada, an organization that supports shelters across the country, said the lack of a plan is extremely disappointing. “We cannot address this through piecemeal measures; we need the national action plan to be bold, to be robust, to be well resourced and to be intersectional … What we’re seeing doesn’t seem to be heading in that direction.”

Other countries have already made progress. The United Nations, which urges its members to adopt plans for ending violence against women and girls, said in 2019 that 68 per cent of countries had introduced or expanded national action plans in the previous five years.

A Globe and Mail project on intimate-partner violence found that Canada lags other countries in creating public-awareness campaigns, enacting legislation on coercive control, establishing a national hotline for victims and ensuring adequate victim services in rural areas and in the North.

A national action plan – a framework with provincial and federal backing – could address these issues in a coherent, coordinated way by ensuring access to services and funding are comparable throughout the country, experts say.

Across Canada, a woman or girl is killed about once every two days, according to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, a research and advocacy organization. In this country alone, 173 women were killed last year, mostly by men – a 26-per-cent increase from 2019, before the pandemic. About half of female domestic homicide victims are killed by their current or former partners.

Calls for a national strategy began decades ago. In 1993, a Canadian panel on violence against women proposed such a plan. Nearly a decade ago, a Women’s Shelters Canada report made the case for one. Without a plan, the 2013 study said, “responses to violence against women in Canada are largely fragmented, often inaccessible, and can work to impede rather than improve women’s safety.”

Nearly a year ago, more than 40 experts, led by Women’s Shelters Canada, released a 411-page roadmap for a plan. Among its 100 recommendations: ensuring safe, accessible public transportation; creating lump-sum payments for people fleeing violence so they can get re-established; expanding affordable housing and bolstering data collection. Making all of this a reality would require an all-of-government approach, the blueprint said, and independent oversight.

In last month’s budget, the federal government said more details on the national plan will come in the months ahead. In its previous budget, in 2021, it pledged $601-million over five years to “advance towards” a plan, including funding to establish a dedicated secretariat to help with implementation. WAGE would not provide a breakdown of how much funding has gone to each province and territory so far.

Shelagh Day, the Vancouver-based chair of the human rights committee for the Feminist Alliance for International Action, in her home in Vancouver on May 4.JENNIFER GAUTHIER/The Globe and Mail

Developing a plan was a Liberal campaign promise in 2019, and the pledge was mentioned in the past two mandate letters to gender-equality ministers.

Other countries have had national roadmaps in place for years. Australia has implemented an action plan. So have France, Sweden, Britain, Belgium, Mexico, Peru and Argentina.

Australia’s first national plan to reduce violence against women and children began in 2010, with the backing of federal, state, territorial and local governments.

The 12-year-plan has led to the creation of a national research organization, an agency for the prevention of violence against women, a national hotline and public-education campaigns.

Australia is set to implement a subsequent 10-year plan this year. A key focus of this renewed commitment is prevention, and the plan has a “towards zero” approach to violence, meaning its aim is to eliminate violence against women and children altogether.

“It’s vital that there’s a dedicated, coordinated and holistic national approach,” said Patty Kinnersly, chief executive officer of Our Watch, a national organization in Australia focused on prevention of violence against women. This national approach “has moved the focus beyond individual behavioural change, and calls on every government, workplace, education institution and community to make women’s safety and equality a priority,” she added.

The U.S. will institute its first national action plan on gender-based violence later this year.

In Canada, the House of Commons’ standing committee on the status of women, which has been examining intimate partner violence, recently heard from several experts who criticized the government’s lack of progress on this country’s plan.

The national action plan is “more than a tool for addressing the patchwork of services that exists for survivors,” Erin Whitmore, executive director of the Ending Violence Association of Canada, told the committee in March. “It is a framework that has the potential to tackle the root causes of gender-based violence and lessen the systemic inequalities that allow gender-based violence to happen.”

Its implementation, she added, is crucial to addressing disparities and inconsistencies in funding for services and supports across the country.

Ms. Martin, of Women’s Shelters Canada, said the levels of protection and services provided to women fleeing violence “should not depend on their postal code.”

In Vancouver, Ms. Day, who has worked on women’s equality issues for more than four decades, is tired of excuses.

“It matters because a woman is being killed every second day in Canada,” she said. “If there’s violence that we can stop, we can prevent, we should be doing it.”

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