Women in Conflict with the Law

Violations of women’s human rights happen in many different areas, from penitentiaries to national security policy to the application of the Canadian Human Rights Act itself.

"Women have served their sentences in harsher conditions than men because of their small numbers. They have suffered greater family dislocation than men, because there are so few options for the imprisonment of women... They have had no significant vocational training opportunities… Most significantly, women offenders as a group have a unique history of physical and sexual abuse. Considerably more attention has been devoted to efforts to rehabilitate male sexual offenders than to assist women offenders whose own sexual abuse has never been addressed.”

- Commission of Inquiry into Certain Events at: The Prison for Women in Kingston, Ottawa, 1996, by Justice Louise Arbour

Reports have consistently found disturbing violations of women’s human rights in federal penitentiaries (imprisonment for two years or more). Canada has both international and domestic obligations to respect the rights and dignity of women serving federal sentences. It also has a special fiduciary duty to women prisoners, particularly to the Aboriginal women who make up 27% of women serving federal sentences.

In 2003, NAWL submitted a brief asking the Canadian Human Rights Commission to intervene to end discrimination against women in penitentiaries.


We issued a Press Release to call attention to Canada’s dismal record with respect to women prisoners.

May 13, 2003
Canada’s Unfair Treatment of Women Prisoners