Linda MacDonald, left, and Jeanne Sarson are pictured just before they presented to the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva recently on not having non-state torture included in the Criminal Code of Canada. Submitted photo

TRURO – Two local women are continuing their fight to have non-state torture included in the Criminal Code.

Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald recently travelled to Geneva to present at the UN Committee against Torture. They spoke to the crowd gathered at the Marigold Cultural Centre on Dec. 6 for the National Day of Remembrance and Action of Violence against Women, hosted by The Lotus Centre.

“Twenty-nine years ago, 14 beautiful women were murdered in an act of femicide,” said MacDonald. “They were murdered just because they were women and they were murdered by an angry man. We will never forget that.”
MacDonald said until she travelled to different countries, she didn’t realize this particular event was celebrated globally.

“That amazed me,” she said. “In some ways, they celebrate it more than we do.”

Four days later, on Dec. 10, it was the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

MacDonald and Sarson are grassroots activists working with victims of non-state torture – those tortured by people not in government – and have been for the past 25 years. They work with women locally, nationally, and internationally.

“There are 16 countries in the world where it is, four states in the United States, and Queensland, Australia, and yet our country still says it would be an international incident if we changed our Criminal Code,” said MacDonald.

The women started their work after talking to another woman from the local area. She was tortured by her parents, parents’ friends, and strangers. She was tortured and trafficked for torture locally and internationally.

“They knew she was a torture survivor and knew she was groomed for torture since she was a baby. This is the harsh reality of what we’re talking about,” said MacDonald.

MacDonald spoke about their time at the UN and how it was exhausting work.

“We had to negotiate with five other NGOs (non-government organizations) from Canada to understand how much time we each had. We had four minutes – you gear yourself up maybe 10, then you have to chop it down to four, so you’re always thinking on your feet,” she explained.

The Committee against Torture meets every five years for each country. Canada is evaluated by the committee every five years.

“NGOs have the right and the responsibility to submit reports into how they feel Canada is doing. That’s what we were able to do,” said MacDonald.

MacDonald said the committee had a rapporteur who was from France. Their experience this time around was different from a previous appearance.

“When we went to the committee before, the committee was very supportive of our work and told Canada ‘you must change the Criminal Code.’ This time, the special rapporteur was patriarchal, he was misogynistic, and he controlled the committee,” said MacDonald, adding he violated the convention and didn’t follow the recommendations of the 2012 convention.

“He said after our testimony that ‘what we’ve heard today, some of it is outside the scope of the convention.’ He put all of those women’s voices we represent outside the scope of the convention. That was horrible, really horrible.”

Sarson said the whole process had been silenced, which angered them. They took that anger and spoke to the panel at the presentation about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights during a question and answer period.

The women lodged a complaint inside the UN about the dismissal of the 2012 recommendation.

“They weren’t even being talked about. That was discriminatory to everyone,” she said.

Sarson said the panel had to deal with their complaint – it was transparent, and made in front of many people at an open meeting.

“So now we’re waiting to see what they’re going to do, what will happen. It’s a win-win for us, because at least we spoke up and we’ll learn what they decide to do… whether they decide to do something, or they do nothing, we’re still going to learn from the process.”