Fact-checking the BC Liberals’ ‘accomplishments’ on gender equity

As the May 9 election approaches, we looked at what the province’s ruling party has actually done for women.

The 2017 BC Liberal platform cites a long list of “accomplishments” related to gender and gender-based violence. We fact-checked 10 of them, and found that most are best described as true-ish. To help us navigate the grey area, we turned to Vicky Law, founder of Equitas Law Group in Vancouver. She works in family, immigration and refugee law, and supports women who are fleeing violence.

We asked her to interpret the politispeak, and to tell us what the Liberals’ “accomplishments” mean for real women who need help. First, let’s look at the big picture: Does Law think the Liberals have gotten closer to ending gender-based violence during their time in leadership?

“To be perfectly honest and frank, I don’t think [the Liberal government] has changed anything for women leaving violence,” she says. Although there have been minor improvements, Law adds, “there can be more effective ways to make changes for women.”


1. “Developed a 10-year strategy, Violence Free BC.”




It’s true that the nearly 30-page report was released on Feb. 6, 2015, but we don’t know how effective the strategy will be. The report talks about rates of violence against women in B.C., and lays out a strategy for addressing it over the next decade.


2. “Invest[ed] over $70 million per year in prevention and intervention programs and services that benefit victims of domestic violence and other crimes.”


Yes, but there are concerns that the money isn’t being distributed effectively.

We know $70 million sounds like a lot of money, but that amount isn’t trickling down to the front lines. Our recent investigation revealed that community-based anti-violence groups across B.C. are struggling to meet demand and stay open. They’re operating within increasingly complicated funding systems, patching together small pools of money from cross-sector government grants, social enterprises and private donations. Those working in the sector say they face severe understaffing and their employees are burning out.

The most shocking revelation? Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape are waiting to access counselling from two weeks to up to two years.

The BC Liberals do help support more than 160 police-based and community-based victim services programs. They also help fund around 250 programs that provide counselling and other services to women who’ve experienced relationship violence, as well as kids who’ve witnessed abuse. In an interview, Tracy Porteous, executive director of the Ending Violence Association of B.C., noted that there are far more communities than services.

“We’ve been saying for quite some time that there needs to be more of these,” says Porteous.

3. “Established specialized domestic violence court processes at certain courts in B.C.”


Yes, but it’s a stretch to call it a Liberal accomplishment.

The domestic-violence court processes have been a judge-led initiative. As of June 2016, there are only five courts in B.C. that specialize in dealing with domestic violence. The first court opened in Duncan in 2009, making B.C. one of the last provinces to approve the courts. As of 2009, Nunavut, Quebec and P.E.I. are the only others that don’t have domestic-violence courts. What’s more, the Surrey domestic-violence court, which opened in June 2016, is the only one in Metro Vancouver (and was also proposed by Surrey Crown).

There is no consistent set of frameworks for domestic violence courts in B.C., meaning that each domestic violence court develops its own practices. While nine other jurisdictions had courts specialized to handle domestic violence, B.C.’s courts never adopted a model, critics of the opening of the domestic-violence courts noted in 2014.


4. “Amended the Residential Tenancy Act to remove barriers for victims of domestic violence to leave an unsafe environment.”


Yes, but after external pressure.

Before December 2016, people who experienced domestic violence couldn’t legally end their lease. Sections 45.1 to 45.3 of the Residential Tenancy Act now allow a tenant to end a fixed-term tenancy if “the safety or security of either the tenant, or a dependent of the tenant who lives in the rental unit, is or is likely at risk from family violence carried out by a family member of the tenant.”  

Vicky Law verifies that the amendment did change, but says it took “a lot of advocacy work from women’s organizations and other front-line supporters. In April 2014, West Coast LEAF, a Vancouver-based legal organization dedicated to advancing women’s equality, recommended that the B.C. government amend the act.

Still, the legislation isn’t perfect. It presents new barriers for women who need help, Law says.  

“In order to make use of this new legislation, women still need to obtain a verification of the abuse, so what’s called a ‘third-party verification,’” she explains. “There’s authorized individuals that can be verifiers, such as doctors, nurses, court support workers, transition house workers — but yet, it still creates an additional step for women in order to leave an abusive relationship.”


5. “Changed policy to fast-track support for women who self-identify as fleeing domestic violence.”


Yes, but unclear.

We don’t know which policies the Liberal government is referring to. As of Dec. 3, 2012, if an applicant is applying for government assistance and fleeing any kind of abuse, she can skip certain requirements and get support more quickly. In addition, on Sept. 21, 2016, the government established guidelines that said applicants who are escaping abuse should be given priority on the application process.  

This application is only available online, however, a process that Vicky Law says creates more barriers for women fleeing violence: “A lot of women I’ve been supporting have told me about their abusers hacking into their electronic systems, so phones, computers. And with everything on the cloud system now, there’s additional barriers that women need to be protected.”

6. “Established that protection orders will be served by contracted process servers at no cost.”


Yes, though it may not be accessible to all women.

As of December 2016, a judge may make a family-law protection order, similar to a restraining order, if one family member is at risk of violence from another.

But for many women that’s extremely difficult. West Coast LEAF’s 2016 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) report card gave B.C. a C+ in the ‘Violence Against Women’ category. The report says that, “Although the Family Law Act requires the consideration of family violence, the application of that requirement has been challenging.” Why? The report explains that B.C.‘s legal aid coverage is inadequate and many women cannot afford a lawyer to hep them navigate the court system.

On April, 27, 2017, West Coast LEAF and the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre launched a constitutional challenge against the province and the Legal Services Society for their “failure to provide adequate family law legal aid to women fleeing violent relationships.”

7. “Protected women from being forced to wear high heels in the workplace by amending a regulation under the Occupational Health & Safety Act.”


Yes, but it’s a stretch to call it a Liberal accomplishment.

The bill to protect women from being forced to wear high heels in the workplace was proposed by Green Party leader Andrew Weaver. Weaver introduced the Worker’s Compensation Amendment Act 2017 as a private member’s bill to the B.C. Legislature on March 8, citing an article series in The Tyee.

The amendment, however, wasn’t passed before the legislature closed for the election, and it isn’t included in the most up-to-date version of the Worker’s Compensation Act. Instead, the BC Liberals put the legislation into the Occupational Health and Safety Act under Section 8.22, that came into effect on April 25.

The amendment is only one of the issues raised in The Tyee’s series. The below minimum wage rate of $9.60 an hour for liquor servers should be raised, according to Weaver. The BC Liberals originally introduced a separate minimum wage for liquor servers in 2011, which started at a difference of 25 cents below the standard minimum wage of $8.75 an hour. The difference increased to $1.25 by September 2016, with the standard minimum wage then at $10.85. The existing legislation also fails to address other ways women in the service industry are sexualized, and how to protect them on the job.


8. “Legislated a requirement for all post-secondary institutions to write and maintain policies to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct.”


Yes. While Premier Christy Clark didn’t propose the bill, she supported it, allowing it to pass.

The B.C. government enacted a Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy Act. Called Bill 23, the legislation was proposed as a private member’s bill by the Green Party’s Andrew Weaver. While it’s rare for a private member’s bill to make it this far, Clark revealed that her own sexual-assault experience reminded her to speak out about the issue and compelled her to give the bill the go-ahead. 

The act received Royal Assent on May 19, 2016, which means post-secondary schools are required to enforce policies to address sexual assault by May 19, 2017.

Bill 23 isn’t the first of its kind, though. It follows Ontario’s Bill 132, which also mandates that post-secondary institutions develop sexual assault policies.

9. “Created the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence as the permanent lead for monitoring, evaluating, and reporting on new or strengthened policies and services available for children, women and families affected by domestic violence.”


Yes, but maybe ineffective in practice.

The Provincial Office of Domestic Violence, created in March 2012, is a part of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. It’s responsible for monitoring and improving services for women and families that have experienced domestic violence. Since 2014, it’s strived to carry out  a three-year domestic violence plan across B.C.

Yes, but is it working? The number of deaths caused by intimate partner violence has almost tripled from seven deaths in 2013 to 19 in 2015. Vicky Law is skeptical of the office’s effectiveness, at least in practice.

“I think, theoretically, from a ministerial perspective, it might be very useful,” she says. “However, once it trickles down to the people who actually use services — the women who are being affected by domestic violence, for example — there is no change. It is not effective.”

“So, then we have to ask, why is there a ministerial body that was created to effect change for women when change isn’t being done?”

10. “Substantively completed work on all the major themes from B.C.’s Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry final report: compensation, improvements to policing, safety for vulnerable women, and support for missing persons.”


Potentially true, but misleading.


The Missing Women’s Commission released a number of reports and background research between 2011 and 2012. What’s more, the commission’s executive summary identifies four main themes: “equality, community engagement, collaboration and accountability,” which don’t directly mirror what’s referenced in the Liberal platform. This makes it hard to measure the quality of work in those areas.

“That claim to me is unclear,” says Vicky Law. “I’m not sure what they’re trying to say. What I do know, still, is that Aboriginal women and Aboriginal children are still overrepresented in the system. So, for example, Aboriginal women still increasingly face a higher level of violence than any other marginalized group.”

“There can be all types of policies and trainings and theoretical frameworks and ideas that are ideological,” she adds. “[But] on the ground, when people are accessing services, I don’t see a change there.” [end]



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