An opposition critic and other advocates for women say they are waiting for federal Status of Women minister Patty Hajdu to send a clearer message to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump condemning his record of disparaging comments and disrespectful treatment of women.
Status of Women Canada recently led a major campaign — The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence — that ran until Dec. 10 and coincided with the annual Dec. 6 commemorations of the 14 women who died in the 1989 Montreal Massacre.
Hajdu has yet to forcefully call out Trump for his sexist remarks on women, such as when he rated contestants on the reality TV show The Apprentice by their breast sizes and said which ones he would like to have sex with.
In October, in the final weeks of the U.S. presidential election campaign, Trump’s attitude towards women became a major issue in the race after a 2005 video emerged in which Trump recounted trying to seduce a married woman and bragged that as a celebrity he was routinely allowed by women to kiss and touch them and “grab ‘em by the pussy” — remarks for which he later apologized.
In an interview with CBC Power & Politics in the midst of that controversy, Hajdu said only that such comments were “not acceptable.” She did not immediately respond to an interview request.
NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson, the party’s critic for Status of Women, said it’s time for women and vulnerable people to see strong leadership from the top.
“Those of us in positions of power have a special responsibility to give voice where others may not have the same platform that we’ve been given by the voters,” said Malcolmson. “If I’m the Status of Women minister, I’ll be using the voice I’m given.”
That view was echoed by Kim Dubé of the Women’s Events Network, an Ottawa-based coalition of women’s organizations that hosts the annual Dec. 6 Vigil at Minto Park along Elgin Street to honour the 14 female engineering students from École Polytechnique in Montreal who were killed by a gunman in 1989 just because they were women.
“Canadian politicians should speak up, because silence is not an action,” said Dubé. “The 16 days of activism is all about action.”
The 16 days campaign began on Nov. 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day. The campaign encourages people to share the hashtag #ActionsMatter via social media to spread awareness.
“Whether if it’s missing and murdered aboriginal women, rape culture or verbal violence against women, everybody in politics should address this issue,” said Dubé.
Malcolmson said she appreciates that international diplomacy is complicated given Trump’s impending inauguration as U.S. president. But as an opposition member of Parliament, she added, she and other MPs are free to speak strongly and set the tone in calling out sexism in all of its forms.
Trump’s comments “are horrifying,” said Malcolmson. “He’s a dinosaur! I can’t imagine anybody thinking that way about women, believing it’s acceptable to say such sexist, hateful and vulgar things in front of the microphone.”
Valerie Collicott, spokesperson for Women’s Initiatives For Safer Environments, said the responsibility of ending violence against women should not entirely fall on politicians.
WISE is an Ottawa-based initiative promoting women’s safety. WISE also tries to engage men in helping to end the violence, said Collicott.
“I’m sure (the Liberals) are in a delicate and difficult position. They have to work with this guy, right? That’s the reality of the situation,” said Collicott. “But I hope at some point, (Hajdu) will be able to make some kind of comment.”
Malcolmson said she’ll wait until Trump is in office before she comments more about the Status of Women minister’s stance toward the next U.S. president.
“If (Trump) repeats the disgusting comments that he made on the campaign trail and (Canadian) cabinet ministers are choosing to remain silent, that will be telling,” said Malcolmson. “It’s not acceptable for any allies to stay silent when we see vulnerable people disparaged publicly.”