bc politics

31 Steps to End Violence Against Women in BC

by Jarrah Hodge

With a provincial election coming up, the Jane Doe Legal Network has come out with a list of “31 Things British Columbia Can Do Right Now to End Violence Against Women”.  Starting in March to coincide with International Women’s Day, the group released one recommendation a day for 31 days. As the network stated in its release:

Women in British Columbia have waited too long already. That is why we are offering 31 things that BC’s new Provincial Office of Domestic Violence (PODV) can push for right now to increase safety for women and to bring us closer than we have ever been to ending violence against women once and for all.   We are calling for 31 social, economic and legal changes, none of which are unachievable in this province. Some would require very little financial investment, and each of them will save resources in the long term given the high costs of violence against women.

These have all been shared at the Jane Doe site and Battered Women’s Support Services’ Ending Violence Blog, with more detail on each recommendation, but I wanted to share the list and summaries of each point for those of you who are looking for what policies to support and advocate for when contacting your local candidates. Many of the recommendations are also applicable to other jurisdictions and might help focus work for activists outside BC.

  1. Call violence against women what it is. We  need to shift our language away from euphemism and legalese in  law, in policy, the courts and  everyday life in order to make systemic problems visible.
  2. Audit for compliance with BC’s Violence Against Women in Relationship policy. There needs to be monitoring for compliance and consistency with the VAWIR policy guidelines for professionals, including police, Crown, probation officers and child protection workers.
  3. Meet the immediate financial and housing needs of women fleeing violence, including making sure women fleeing violence can access short-term income assistance, child care, and transitional housing.
  4. Enhance access to justice for women – invest in family, immigration and poverty law legal aid services. BC needs to support funding for legal aid so abused women don’t have to compromise their rights in order to avoid self-representing or accruing unmanageable legal costs.
  5. Make addressing women’s inequality a core learning objective for all BC students. My personal favourite. We need to start at least in secondary school to educate kids about gender inequality and teach them that women have equal value. It’s part of making violence less acceptable.
  6. Add sexual violence by police to the mandate of the Independent Investigations Office. The IIO was established to investigate cases of death or serious harm at the hands of police, but it has no mandate to ensure the safety of women who have been sexually assaulted by police, or to protect police officers’ intimate partners when fleeing abuse.
  7. Address the feminization of poverty with a provincial anti-poverty plan. BC needs a comprehensive anti-poverty plan that includes a gender lens to help marginalized groups of women who are particularly susceptible to poverty.
  8. Push to add gender and sex to the hate crime provisions of Canada’s Criminal Code. BC should lobby the federal government to add sex and gender to legal hate crime provisions to send the message that misogyny is real and as devastating as any other kind of hate.
  9. Bring back regional coordination committees for women’s safety. In the 1990s the government supported regional committees of government agencies and non-profits working on issues around violence against women. These committees collaborated on policy issues and collaborated on some specific cases.
  10. Join the call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. Hundreds of Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada and the provincial government needs to join the many individuals and organizations who have called for a national inquiry.
  11. Do not let immigration status stand in the way of women’s safety. Women fleeing violence should not have their immigration status called into question or be reported to Border Services, as some women advocates report happens currently.
  12. Value the expertise of women’s organizations by investing in their work. Financially supporting experienced women’s organizations will yield optimal return on investment as women fleeing violence would be more able to swiftly access counselling, legal services, and “Stopping the Violence” programs. Read more
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Are Canadian Women Politicians “Having a Moment”?


New Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne

By Megan Stanley

A brief scan of the headlines of various news stories over the past month suggests Canadian women are having quite a moment in politics. Largely prompted by the recent election of Kathleen Wynne in January as leader of the Ontario Liberal party, almost every national media outlet has produced a piece contributing to the growing public discussion on the representation of women in Canadian politics.

Even former Prime Minister Kim Campbell chimed in with an op-ed in the Globe & Mail calling for the establishment of gender parity in Parliament. According to the narrative created by these media stories, women politicians represent a new wave of game-changers on the Canadian political scene and their recent successes may signify shifts in our society’s attitudes toward gender and politics. Not too shabby.

With each story, the current state of the nation’s political affairs is reiterated: Canada currently boasts six female Premiers, some of whom govern provinces that are seen as key “have” regions in the Canadian economy. The recent Ontario Liberal leadership race, a critical election for the province, was dominated by two women candidates. The current federal Liberal leadership race features four accomplished women out of the total nine candidates seeking to change the face and direction of the party.

However, even considering these recent accomplishments, women remain vastly underrepresented in Parliament and provincial/territorial legislatures. Women comprise only 25% of MPs in Canada’s Parliament as of 2011, falling short of the critical mass (defined by the UN as 30%) needed to have a visible influence on legislation and political culture.

These facts and figures are consistently cited in both public and academic discussions, highlighting the dismal state of affairs for women in politics and calling for gender parity in all levels of government.

So, what’s the problem? Isn’t it a positive step forward for the Canadian public to recognize and respond to the need for a national discussion on women’s political underrepresentation? If gender parity in legislative bodies is the ultimate goal, doesn’t recognition and discussion of the problem help to reach it? Read more

Posted on by Megan Stanley in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics Leave a comment

BC Budget Fails to Act on Violence Against Women

legby 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)

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My Reality: I Was a Teen Politician, Part II

Another newspaper article, this time from the Vancouver Courier.

Another newspaper article, this time from the Vancouver Courier.

by Jarrah Hodge

Thanks to everyone who stuck with me from Part I. Here’s the second and final part of my teen political saga.

So after I lost the Quadra nomination I got a phone call. Glen Sanford was in Vancouver setting up Libby Davies’ campaign and he wanted me to come run the phone side of what’s called “voter contact” (mostly knocking on doors and cold-calling to talk to voters and find out who they’re planning to support).

You couldn’t ask for a better first campaign. Glen was a patient campaign manager and the rest of the campaign team was fun and hard-working. There was a steady stream of loyal, local volunteers, including an older couple of European women who drove in every day from their home in the Fraser Valley with home-cooked meals for us campaign staff, just because they supported Libby so much.

Our campaign office was right next door to an Italian bakery and down the street from Belgian Fries. I ate cake and poutine every day and still lost weight because I was so stressed and high from the campaign adrenalin. Not something you’d want to do long-term but it was awesome for a month.

And of course, working for Libby was fabulous. I admired how she trusted and valued the campaign team and volunteers, how she seemed to effortlessly remember so many names. Even though she would (expectedly) go on to win the seat by one of the highest margins in the country, she had time to really listen to community members on the doorstep and in the campaign office.

Lest I have to write a third part to this article, I’ll skip ahead to Spring 2005, when I was asked to run for another nomination, this time in Vancouver-Quilchena. Quilchena is an area made up of some pretty ritzy neighbourhoods, including Shaughnessy, Kerrisdale, Southwest Marine Drive, and the slightly more middle-class Dunbar area. It was ranked the second-worst riding for the NDP. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, My Reality, Politics 2 Comments

My Reality: I Was a Teen Politician, Part I


Story about young candidates from the Vancouver Province during the 2005 election, with me pictured.

by Jarrah Hodge

Here in BC we’re getting ready for a provincial election in a couple of months and as I see building excitement around me I can’t help but think about how the various new candidates are doing.

See when I was 19 I ran in the 2005 provincial election for the BC NDP against then Finance Minister Colin Hansen. And even though I never had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, it was a truly unforgettable experience, at times fun, enlightening, exhausting, and surreal.

I should go back just a bit, to my Grade 10 Social Studies class in Courtenay, taught by none other than Don McRae, who would go on to become the BC Liberal government’s Education Minister under Christy Clark.

Even though our politics don’t align and I didn’t give him enough credit at the time, McRae was a one-of-a-kind, inspiring teacher. He used totally unique, fun, and creative lessons to teach Canadian history and politics. And the highlight of every class – at least for budding political nerds like me – was current events.

I feel like pretty much every day I’d bring in a news story to share with the class and more and more around that time (2000-2001), the stories were about the cuts and changes the new BC Liberal government was making.

I may have been a bit annoying.

But I just couldn’t get over this feeling I had that what they were doing was unjust. I was incensed when they refused to recognize the 2-member NDP caucus as the Official Opposition and when they declared BC teachers an “essential service”. I felt emotionally crushed when they cut funding to women’s centres and lowered BC’s child labour standards to allow younger kids to work tougher jobs.

I was an angsty teen but my angst came out in my politics as I lay awake in bed, wondering how Gordon Campbell and his Cabinet Ministers could sleep at night with the way they were hurting ordinary British Columbians.

So anyway, after one particular day of me bringing in a new list of cuts (much of this info came from my Dad’s copies of CCPA and Council of Canadians newsletters, as well as mainstream media), Mr. McRae suggested that I should look at joining the NDP.

He was teasing but it was the perfect thing to say. But I wasn’t ready to pick a party just based on them not being the BC Liberals. I went online and mailed away for copies of 2000 federal election platforms for the NDP, federal Liberals, and Greens.

I took them downstairs to my basement room and read through each one carefully. The Liberal party’s platform looked okay but I felt it lacked a strong connection to progressive values.  I thought I would probably end up joining the Green Party because I’d been involved with my parents protesting logging on Denman Island during elementary school, but the platform felt so limited to me. Again, the policies didn’t seem to come from any particular set of values except value for the environment.

Reading the NDP platform, it was like things fell into place. The next day I tracked down a membership form and sent it in. Then I waited.

And waited. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, My Reality, Politics 3 Comments

Missing Women’s Report Release Pokes at Unhealed Wounds

Cover of yesterday's report. Click to download the full, 1458-page document

Cover of yesterday’s report. Click to download the full, 1458-page document

by Jarrah Hodge

Yesterday’s release of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report was an emotional event that did little to guarantee justice for victims.

I haven’t yet been able to do an in-depth reading of the over 1400-page report produced by Commissioner Wally Oppal after over a year of hearings and deliberations, but I can talk about the problems with the process and about what I saw watching the livestream of Oppal’s news conference.

Over the hour, Oppal was interrupted over and over by victims’ families and Indigenous women, shouting down his claim that everyone had had their voice heard during the inquiry, and at one point breaking into a “Women’s Warrior” song and drumming. It was a powerful moment to see Oppal be silenced, even briefly, by the women who had been silenced during this whole process.

In the Spring of this year, several community and advocacy organizations joined in a coalition to boycott the inquiry, calling it a “deeply flawed and illegitimate process” after funding was denied to the 13 groups granted any standing in the inquiry. The groups spoke out over and over again on other major issues with the Inquiry, including the failure to provide lawyers for community groups when lawyers were provided to protect police and government interests, arbitrary timelines, delayed and incomplete disclosure, unwillingness to give enough time to Aboriginal witnesses, marginalization of vulnerable witnesses and lack of witness protection for them. Read more

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BC Federation of Labour Women’s Rights Forum

Linda McQuaig, Veronica Strong-Boag and Me

by Jarrah Hodge

On Monday night I was honoured to be part of a panel at the BC Federation of Labour’s women’s rights forum during their biennial convention. The panel included Kelly Megyesi, Women’s Coordinator for the Public Service Alliance of Canada; UBC Historian Veronica Strong-Boag; and journalist/author Linda McQuaig. The topic was how women have fared economically under our current federal and provincial governments, as well as what the decline in union density means for women.

In addition to being on stage with these amazing women in front of a packed room, earlier in the day during the Women’s Rights Committee report (part of regular convention business), I’d seen so many women come forward to the microphone to share heartfelt and often heartbreaking personal stories on how they, their families, and friends have been affected by BC Liberal policies in particular. I was so moved by their honesty and courage so I went into the panel feeling excited and of course a bit nervous.

I took some notes on the panel, and I’ve also posted the text of the speech I delivered if you wanted to read that entire part.

So we started off with Veronica Strong-Boag, who gave some historical perspective to the situation we’re in today, using some of her own information and others’ research from a site called Women Suffrage and Beyond.

Strong-Boag said that she wanted to address the despair she often sees among feminist activist by telling stories of past women who have reached across boundaries and across difference to form coalitions:

“There are histories of resistance and partnerships and coalitions which I think are needed, in very dark days, to inspire us.”

She highlighted several remarkable Canadian women who have forged those histories, including Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a black woman born free in the United States who came to Canada to support the underground railroad. She also highlighted Agnes Maule Machar, a Christian socialist who wrote novels like “Roland Graeme: Knight” that tackled pressing social and political issues of the 1890s. Pauline Johnson, Flora Macdonald denison, and labour leader Grace Hartman also made Strong-Boag’s list of women reaching across boundaries. Finally, Strong-Boag cited Judy Rebick as an example of a contemporary feminist working “in this strong tradition of collaboration.”

Next, Kelly Megyesi talked about how federal government cuts are hurting women, drawing on her own experience working at an unemployment office. Megyesi pointed out that more than half of the federal government workers are women, mostly working in admin. With huge layoffs already starting, Megyesi said: “Women are losing good jobs, women are losing pensions and benefits.”

“They have decided to relocate thousands of other jobs – jobs they promised wouldn’t be affected.”

Sadly, Megyesi is one of the workers who’s been hit by that move, told that she could relocate or lose her job, even though most of her work is virtual. She said she doesn’t buy for a minute that the relocations will really save money. Megyesi made the difficult choice to refuse:

“It would have meant breaking up my family and leaving my elderly mother without any support.”

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 1 Comment