Does British Columbia care about women who’ve experienced abuse and assault? It’s an uncomfortable question — we know.
To answer it, Discourse reporters combed through Liberal, NDP and Green Party platforms, pulling out commitments to gender issues, such as ending violence against women. But we couldn’t do it on our own. Vicky Law, founder of Vancouver-based Equitas Law Group and a former legal advocacy program coordinator at Battered Women’s Support Services, helped us interpret what these commitments really mean.
“To be honest, I don’t see enough of a commitment to end violence, or to address the issues that are directly affecting women who live in violence,” Law says of all three party platforms. “For women to wait to get counselling, to wait for protection or safety, is inexcusable in my mind. Women who don’t have money, but are refused legal aid, is inexcusable in my mind.”
“The entire system, I think, is failing women,” she adds. “Sometimes I feel like, yes, little steps are made along the way. But without recognizing that the entire system needs to work together and things need to be changed — what they’ve promised, I don’t think it’s enough, unfortunately.”
The BC Liberals have promised to:
- Continue spending more than $70 million annually on “prevention and intervention” programs and services that benefit victims of violence (including domestic violence and sexual assault).
- Continue to enforce the Safe Relationships, Safe Child project.
- Participate in the National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Women, and share findings from a provincial inquiry with the federal commission.
- Expand “use of domestic violence court processes” to alleviate case-management pressure and speed up time to trial.
- Expand successful pilot projects for legal aid services, including a new Parents Legal Centre in Surrey.
- Add $2 million per year for legal aid assistance for single mothers.
Important to consider:
A 2016 report from the B.C. Coroner’s office looked at the problematic rate of deaths due to domestic violence, and concluded that over the past six years, an average of 12 people died annually from it. The report recommends next steps that B.C. should take to address intimate partner violence before it leads to death. But we don’t see plans in the Liberal platform to introduce more policies to decrease the number of intimate-partner homicides, or provide greater services to victims of domestic abuse.
For her part, Law sees the Liberals’ commitment to expand legal aid services and legal assistance for single parents as a semi-success.
“One thing [the Liberals said they] accomplished was to effect change in legal aid, and one of the things that they brought was legal support for child-protection purposes,” she tell us. “That has been an effective use for many families that I know.”
But Law is concerned that the $2 million is being used incorrectly, such as supporting families who choose mediation to resolve relationship violence. “Time and time again, we know that mediation does not work for women that are experiencing violence. How can you possibly agree, or come to an agreement, or compromise with someone who is a bully?” she explains. “It’s ineffective. So when they’re saying they’re going to spend $2 million, where is that going?”
If the $2 million is funding lawyers for women “who are able to go to court and fight for mothers’ rights,” Law says she’s on board. “I completely encourage that. But if that money is going to be used on other services that are not effective for women experiencing violence, then again, it’s an empty promise for ending violence against women.”
The BC NDP has promised to:
- Increase funding to support women who experience domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes by $8 million a year.
- “Close the digital divide” to give women, as well as Indigenous and low-income people, greater access to increase their participation in a high-technology workforce.
- Provide incentives to employers to increase the number of women in apprenticeships.
- Improve access to justice and community safety, including more funding for legal aid.
Important to consider:
The language in this platform is vague; we want to know what closing the “digital divide” would entail and what incentives employers would be given. It’s unclear which programs related to gender-based violence will receive increased funding from the NDP. It’s also unclear how much NDP program funding would differ from funding for Liberal programs. It’s important to note that as part of its campaign, the NDP specifically references the Liberals’ “years of underfunding” to support women and children who’ve experienced violence. On March 7, the NDP said in a release: “At a time in women’s lives when they need the most support, Christy Clark’s government has made it harder for women hurt by violence.”
So, what’s Law’s take on the commitment to increase funding by $8 million? “Again, this is great, but how will this money be used? Where are they putting it? Are they putting it into direct services for women that really need it, or are they going to be putting it into provincial offices, and to create policy for women?” she asks. “More often than not, I see [increased policy] as creating additional barriers for women. It’s more of a hoop for them to jump through.”
BC GREEN PARTY
The BC Green Party has promised to:
- Introduce a basic income to help people who aren’t paid for work outside the home; for example, those who are contributing to British Columbians’ quality of life through volunteering or caring for children and elderly relatives without compensation.
- The Greens say women often take on this work, and that undervaluing their contribution frequently leaves them struggling to make ends meet.
Important to consider:
The Green Party’s platform doesn’t reference a specific plan for addressing gender-based violence.
Domestic violence is mentioned once, as part of the party’s education proposal. It explicitly states, however, that the Greens don’t have a specific plan to end violence against women: “We may not be able to directly address the issues faced by those students who are traumatized by domestic violence, or troubled children in care, or those suffering from mental health issues; but we can take steps to promote healthy lives and support students to be mentally and physically prepared.”
Law’s take? “I didn’t see anything that addressed violence against women directly. I saw a lot of promises to include more women in workplaces, so that desire for inclusivity and diversity is always welcomed,” she says. “It’s great that they acknowledge that more women are needed, and I’m glad they recognized that gender should be a social determinant of health.”
But Law adds, “How is that going to play out? Do they acknowledge or recognize the uses of it? Will there be laws that are changed when this is recognized? Those are unanswered questions.”