'Lives could be at stake': Women's groups want feds to act on Sask. STC closure

Seven people, representing provincial and national women's organizations, penned a letter to the federal government to slam the Saskatchewan government's closure of STC because they believe it disproportionately harms women.

Letter says shutdown of public transportation in north a 'looming disaster'

The women's organizations want the federal government to know they take the closure of the service very seriously. (Neil Cochrane/CBC)

Seven women's groups have penned a letter encouraging federal ministers to take action on the Saskatchewan government's closure of STC, the province's bus transportation service.

It's been just over a month since STC buses stopped running and local emergency shelters have noticed a change.

"Women can't get to shelters to access the safety," said Crystal Giesbrecht‎, director of research and communications with the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS), which represents shelters across the province. 

"Even though it's been a really short time since this change happened, we're already hearing from the shelters that this is a problem." 

The letter, addressed to federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Transport Minister Marc Garneau, said the lack of public transit in rural and remote areas will disproportionately harm women. 

Saskatchewan's domestic abuse rate is twice the national average, and the province has one of the highest rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the country, the women said in the letter.  

The women appealed to the federal government because they don't feel the province is listening, Giesbrecht said.  

"There's been all kinds of people in the community who have been taking action on the issue of the STC closure, but it didn't change anything," she said.

The closure of STC will put people — particularly Indigenous women and those who live in remote areas — in danger, said Crystal Giesbrecht, PATHS director of research and communications. (CBC)

Like the other organizations, PATHS wants to see STC reinstated in some form.

"Lives could be at stake," she said, adding women could choose to hitchhike — or worse, they could stay with an abusive person.

For many, there is no way to leave without a vehicle of their own or a person they can trust, Giesbrecht said. Without outside intervention, a situation will either stay at the same level of violence or "very likely escalate and get worse."

The letter asks the federal government to intervene "in the name of reconciliation, equality, and human rights to rectify the situation of public transportation access in Saskatchewan."

The seven women signed on behalf of their provincial and national organizations:

  • The Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan
  • Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women's Circle Corporation
  • Temiskaming Native Women's Support Group
  • Saskatchewan Federation of Labour Women's Committee 
  • Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan
  • Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women
  • The National Farmers Union Women's Advisory

The letter says 35.6 per cent of Saskatchewan's population lives in rural and remote communities, and cautions the province could be on the path to forming its own Highway of Tears.

The women added that the Saskatchewan government is "disinterested in the link between MMIW and accessibility of transportation." 

While private companies have stepped in to fill the gap between major centres, the women point out "no private companies have applied to offer public services in the north."

"The looming disaster is unconscionable in a time of public reconciliation."

"I do believe women are going to lose their lives because they no longer have access to public transportation," said Lori Johb, chair of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour Women's Committee.

"I'm afraid that we're going to see something and it's going to be too late." 

The Saskatchewan Transportation Service ended service on May 31 after it was announced alongside the budget in March that it would be wound down. (CBC)

Johb doesn't believe there was proper consultation between the government and communities prior to the closure.

She hopes the letter might prompt the federal government to put forth funding for a public transit system, or at the very least spark a new dialogue with the province. 

The letter also lobbies for attention to similar situations affecting remote communities in other provinces due to fiscal austerity, including the shutdown of the Hudson Bay railway in northern Manitoba.