Nancy Morrison grew up in a loving family in Yorkton during the 1940s and 1950s. Although grateful for that, she told a roomful of International Women's Day celebrants at St. Gerard's March 7, it did not prepare her for the stark reality of the world she would discover during her five decade law career.
In a sobering hour-long speech, the former justice of the British Columbia Supreme Court said for all the gains women have made in the past 50 years, violence against women and girls remains a serious problem.
The annual Women's Day celebration was co-sponsored by Shelwin House and the Yorkton Club of the Canadian Federation of University Women. The theme of this year's event was "Communities in Action to end violence against women and girls.
Morrison praised the work of Shelwin House saying when she was starting out there were no services like the shelter for women and children trying to escape from abusive situations.
She spent a significant part of her time discussing the problem of child prostitution and human trafficking, a subject, she said is essential for Canadians to become engaged in this year. In December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada, stuck down three provisions in the country's anti-prostitution law as unconstitutional and gave the government one year to draft new legislation. Morrison wants to see Canada follow the Nordic lead where it is not illegal to sell sexual services, but it is illegal to purchase them. Morrison said that in Sweden, which has had an "anti-John" law since 1999, the effect has been a reduction by half of street prostitution.
Aside from the prostitution issue, there were two things Morrison wanted her audience to take away from her talk.
"We need education and universal child care," she said. "The fact that a battered child, a battered boy, a battered girl, so often become a battering parent and it flows from generation to generation. We have to stop the cycle and the importance of universal child care, I think, is so profound."
Her assessment of Canada's progress? "It's a total failure, except for Quebec," she said.
Coincidentally, on Friday, the federal government's Special Committee on Violence Against Indigenous Women tabled its report, which contains 16 recommendations, but not the national inquiry sought by Aboriginal groups and the opposition parties. Morrison was disappointed an inquiry was not among the recommendations.
"You have to take the dialogue to the people and [a national inquiry] is a good way to do it," she said. "I would like to see it apply to all murdered and missing women and most of them are sex trade workers, most of them are prostitutes. As I said in my speech tonight a huge, disproportionate number are Aboriginal, but I don't think it should be just restricted to Aboriginal people because so many non-aboriginal prostitutes are being murdered and missing as well."