At least 850 women and girls in Canada were violently killed between 2018 and 2022, according to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability’s annual report.
This means a woman or girl is killed every 48 hours in Canada and those numbers continue to rise. There was a 27 per cent increase in killings of women and girls with male accused from 2019 (pre-pandemic) to 2022.
#CallItFemicide: Understanding sex/gender-related killings of women and girls in Canada, 2018-2022 (available in English and French) reflects data amassed over the five years CFOJA has been in existence. Launched in 2017, the observatory contributes to the prevention of femicide in Canada through education, awareness, knowledge and research sharing, improving the lives of women and girls in Canada so they may be valued and respected and live free of violence.
That work includes tracking cases of femicide – the killing of women and girls, mostly by men – through court documents and media reports. One main goal is to see femicide named and enshrined in legislation and/or the Criminal Code of Canada.
“We really wanted to address the issue so there would be better understanding publicly,” said Dr. Myrna Dawson, CFOJA founder, research leadership chair and professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
Twenty countries (outlined in section 2 of the report) use the term femicide to classify specific offences, some of which have legislated it so. “We’re not arguing for something that hasn’t already happened,” Dawson pointed out.
Canada remains one of three countries out of 35 which has not yet expressed its international commitment to the 1994 Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women. “This is one example of how Canada lags behind other countries in its response to male violence against women and girls,” Dawson argued.
Femicide observatory report aligns with United Nations effort
In 2022, the United Nations published a statistical framework for measuring femicide and the CFOJA’s five-year report adopted its formula to measure cases from 2018. These include a history of physical, sexual or psychological violence, use of excessive force or mutilation and hate motivated by sex or gender.
Dawson said 84 per cent of the cases can be designated as femicide, “which is an extraordinarily high number considering that we’re only using 10 UN variables and limited data sources from which to identify the presence of these factors.”
A consistent theme among the cases is repeated interactions with the criminal justice system (police, courts) or other social services (women’s shelters). The data suggests the criminal justice system still struggles to understand how femicide can be prevented, said Dawson, despite literature in the field of homicide recognizing that femicide is the most preventable kind of homicide.
“We have to listen to women when they’re expressing fear of their living situation and fear for their children,” she said. “We have to take them seriously.” A 2022 case in Toronto in which a Black woman was killed because police allegedly failed to take her case seriously underscores the ongoing failure of society to trust and believe the accounts of women’s experiences, particularly Indigenous, Black and other racialized women, Dawson added.
Femicide left nearly 900 children motherless in 5 years
One finding that concerns Dawson is the 868 Canadian children left without a mother as a result of femicide. Often, those “living victims” as they are referred to in the literature, are left without a second parent as well, should the case include suicide or incarceration of the perpetrator.
“A woman’s death should be important on its own,” Dawson said, “but understanding femicide is about recognizing the impacts these deaths also have on the people left behind. It reverberates for decades in communities and in the life outcomes of those trying to survive these losses, especially children.”
In part, she said, the lack of comprehension about the impacts of male violence against women is linked to the way women and their contributions to society have historically been, and continue to be, devalued.
“Our thinking has to change in that regard,” Dawson added.
In May, The Routledge International Handbook of Femicide and Feminicide, a transnational, multidisciplinary handbook to inform research, policy and practice globally, will be published.
Dawson co-edited the volume comprising work from more than 120 contributors from 30 countries including Afghanistan, where researchers working on a chapter lost their data when the Taliban invaded their office and seized materials after the U.S. military withdrew in August 2021.
No country is immune to sex- or gender-based violence despite the perceived influence of factors like race, culture or religion, Dawson cautioned.
“It doesn’t matter what country we’re looking at. Every country has femicide, with some countries bearing a much larger burden, but it’s all the same root cause,” she said. “It’s sex and gender inequality.”
Dr. Myrna Dawson