by Jarrah Hodge
I could say a lot about yesterday’s BC Budget release: the whole thing was mind-boggling, with each released detail making less sense than the one before. But keeping with the scope of this blog and an issue that’s close to my heart, one area I was really looking at was funding for violence against women.
Just two months ago Attorney General Shirley Bond spoke to families of missing and murdered women in Vancouver after the release of the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry report. She asked for more time to study the report but announced that one immediate government action would be an increase in funding to WISH to hopefully meet the report’s recommendation for a 24-hour drop-in centre for sex workers in the Downtown Eastside. It really was the bare minimum they could do, and since then WISH has found the funding can’t cover being open for the full 24-hours a day.
Organizations like the Ending Violence Association of BC, an umbrella organization for BC anti-violence programs, were hoping that the 2013 budget could provide some more meaningful assistance for women who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing sexual or domestic violence.
Instead, according to a statement from EVA (.pdf):
While the budget includes an additional $5 million to address problem gambling and an additional $52 million for increased RCMP costs including costs associated with gang activity, there are no increases to ensure victims of domestic and sexual violence have access to life saving support services. Numerous Coroner’s Inquests and Death Review Panels have identified that access to such services is critical to help ensure victims do not fall through the cracks.
If you haven’t experienced violence or don’t know someone who has, these programs might not be something you’d have thought about. But if you need these services it’s hard not to notice the gaps.
In 2002 the BC Liberal government cut all funding for sexual assault/woman assault centres and women’s centres. Funding for remaining victim assistance programs was cut in 2008. There are several Stopping the Violence (STV) counselling programs to provide long-term counselling to adult women who have been sexually assaulted or otherwise victimized, but many of these programs are inadequately funded, resulting in long waiting lists. There are no STV programs for girls under 18.
That means we’re left with only 62 community-based victim assistance services in BC (keep in mind BC has over 160 municipalities). Even though report after report has identified them as crucial, these services haven’t seen a funding increase in over a decade and workers in many are facing untenable, overwhelming case loads.
“These are the programs mandated to identify risk, create safety plans and provide a plethora of other supports to keep women and kids safe,” says EVA.
The budget presented yesterday will not be passed until after the May election, so there is still an opportunity for whichever party wins the election to make changes. Relative to the entire budget, these are not expensive programs. EVA BC Executive Director Tracy Porteous points out the government collects a surcharge on motor vehicle tickets that is supposed to go to help victims of crime, but to the best of our knowledge, not all the funding is officially allocated.
“Concrete action is needed to prevent this senseless violence. The time for general statements of support and further study has passed.” said Porteous, “We need action and programs, not merely more committees, more reports, more plans and more summits”.
(photo of the Legislature via Wikimedia Commons)