Toronto Star

June 8, 1999

Feminists heckle six ministers on Hill

NAC passes out funny money as sign of inaction

By Tonda MacCharles
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA - About 100 women representing the largest feminist lobby in the country heckled six federal cabinet ministers and passed phony bucks to show their anger at what they called a lack of action on justice and poverty issues affecting women.

In its annual lobby day on Parliament Hill, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women greeted 16 members of the federal Liberal caucus with a song, based on a My Fair Lady melody.

``All we want is our fair share. We'll stay out of Hedy's hair. With one enormous cheque. Oh, wouldn't it be lovely. Lovely. Hedy'' - a reference to NAC's ongoing battle for funding with Hedy Fry, secretary of state for the status of women.

Other than singing to the MPs at the start and end of the hour-long session, the women did not press their funding concerns directly. They will be taken up at a future meeting with the federal finance minister, said NAC president Joan Grant-Cummings.

New Democrat and Bloc Québécois MPs met with the group but Conservative and Reform MPs did not show up for the annual session.

The delegates pressed government ministers and parliamentary secretaries for answers on questions ranging from health care for aboriginal women, to affordable housing, to student debt loads, to the Liberal lack of action on day care, pay equity and racism.

On most issues, tensions ran high. Questioners demanded ``yes'' or ``no'' answers, and hissed or passed the fake dollars in protest when they were not forthcoming.

Responding to demands for access to programs and services for the disabled, Justice Minister Anne McLellan said a review of the human rights act was under way and would be presented next year.

That elicited boos and an emotional response from a hearing-impaired delegate, who said ``accessibility has to come now.''

Asked if the government supports pay equity, yes or no, McLellan said:

``If you want yes or no, you're not going to get an answer. It's before the Federal Court.''

One woman yelled: ``It shouldn't be before the court.''

Questioned on what delegates called discriminatory immigration provisions, a couple of ministers tried vainly to argue the government was targeting criminals, not people of colour.

Finally, Jim Peterson, secretary of state for international financial institutions, contradicted his cabinet colleagues and won applause by saying: ``As ideal as we think our country may be, we know there's a great deal of discrimination that takes place. That's why I applaud NAC.''

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