Kirstin Howell is a regular mother. After giving birth to her son, Milo, nearly nine weeks ago, she and her fiancé, Greg Moss, were expecting to go through the same normal trials and tribulations that every parent goes through when welcoming a new baby into the world. Then the government got involved.
“I was expecting [the letter] to be Milo’s birth certificate,” said Howell. “It said that Greg and I needed to swear before a Justice of the Peace that Milo was his. I was shocked.”
Shocked is an understatement. The additional paperwork to confirm her child’s parentage perpetuates the absurd, archaic assumption that a woman needs a man in order to be a sufficient parent. What’s even more absurd is that the form, which cites the term “unwed mother,” has been sent to Nova Scotia parents for at least a decade. Per the province’s Vital Statistics Act, this applies to all mothers in Nova Scotia who are either in a domestic partnership, or choose to be a single parent.
As a Nova Scotia native, I wasn’t completely shocked by the existence of this practice in a province not been known for its dynamic and progressive ways. Outdated language like the term “spinster” and “illegitimate child” were used in Nova Scotia legislation until recently, terminology that I thought had become definitively extinct around the time that William Lyon Mackenzie King was serving as prime minister. As the only province in Canada that doesn’t acknowledge common law partnerships, there are no viable civil or legal rights for women in long-term partnerships outside marriage. This patriarchal loophole denies women in domestic partnerships — and those who are raising a child on their own — the same benefits as their married counterparts.
“The Canadian government is still crawling with laws and legislation that are archaic, idiotic or a healthy combination of both.”
In 1918, Nova Scotia was one of the last provinces to introduce suffrage, and in 2018, the province proudly declared that it would offer up 16 weeks of consecutive leave to women suffering from domestic abuse (unpaid, of course). With these two examples separated by a century, it seems that although the province has taken steps in the right direction, the undercurrent in Nova Scotia’s legislature isn’t entirely supportive of women.
‘Undermining women for decades’
Of course, Nova Scotia isn’t the only province that suffers from archaic ideology in regards to women.
The abortion debate is still raging nationwide, and although it appears as though the Trudeau government isn’t interested in opening the issue on federal ballots, abortion could still be up for discussion provincially. Much like in the States, abortion laws fall under provincial jurisdiction and could be reviewed if provincial governments wish to do so. Some provincial laws can make access to abortions difficult. Ontario funds abortions inconsistently across clinics, and New Brunswick doesn’t fund them at all, meaning that protection for a woman’s right to choose remains tenuous.
The issue extends into the workforce, in terms of sexual discrimination and harassment. In 2014, nearly one in three women were reported to have experienced a form of gender-based discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Despite legislated protections, there are many cases where sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct against women isn’t reported, either due to a lack of HR resources, a lack of initiative or denial from corporate executives. And even with federal policies in place to protect victims of sexual harassment, there’s little that can be done to support the cases that go unreported.
Despite the red tape, superficial promises and calendars that claim it’s 2019, the Canadian government is still crawling with laws and legislation that are archaic, idiotic or a healthy combination of both.
Marital rape has been illegal since 1983, but courts that consider women in a state of “continuous consent” effectively decriminalize the crime. The highly dehumanizing Indian Act is still acknowledged in 2019, and effectively proclaims that Indigenous women are “second-class citizens” next to their male counterparts. Before it was scrapped, an archaic law led to the 2018 prosecution of a woman for practicing “fake” witchcraft, a charge that dates back to the 1950s. In all cases, the presence of religious or openly misogynistic overtones is apparent.
Howell said that although she and her fiancé are going through the process for the sake of their son, the government’s demand for them swearing to a child’s parentage is a stress that new mothers shouldn’t have to contend with.
“I shouldn’t have to do anything differently than any other mother,” she says. “On top of the emotional strain, it can also be a financial burden. If you’re not local, you have to hire a notary to witness. It’s an absurd step that couples, regardless of their marital status, shouldn’t have to deal with.”
I hope that Canada will look to her valued citizens and amend some of the more problematic policies that have been undermining women for decades. If the government can only see the impact that these scenarios have on women, particularly of the nefarious “unwed” variety, a change would be a welcome and vital update.
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