B.C. moves to combat domestic violence

The B.C. government has announced reforms aimed at tackling domestic violence in the wake of a coroner's inquest into a murder-suicide that took the lives of five members of a family, including a six-year-old boy.
B.C. Solicitor General Kash Heed has announced changes to the justice and social support system aimed at tackling domestic violence across the province but has committed virtually no new funds to implementing the changes. ((CBC))

The B.C. government has announced reforms aimed at tackling domestic violence in the wake of a coroner's inquest into a murder-suicide that took the lives of five members of a family, including a six-year-old boy.

The jury at the coroner's inquest into the stabbing deaths of the Lee family in Victoria made 14 recommendations when it completed deliberations in December 2009.

The five-member jury called on the government to create a single domestic violence unit and fund provincial campaigns to increase awareness of domestic violence. And despite a warning from a top bureaucrat that funding is tight, the jury also specifically recommended the government provide the funding to accommodate the cost of the recommendations.

The changes will help the courts, support workers, first responders and communities deal with domestic violence through better training, standardized policy and more co-ordination and prevention, Solicitor General Kash Heed said Monday.

"These are huge, system-wide preventative measures," he said.

"Some that are being implemented right now, others that will be clearly examined and actionable points looked at that will be reporting back to me within 60 days."

Victoria area to get funding

Effective immediately, the government will establish a domestic violence unit in the Greater Victoria area and form a B.C. Coroner's Service death review panel that will work to prevent domestic violence, Heed said.

He said the government is looking at creating a province-wide domestic violence unit, but a time frame for that decision has not been set.

The government will also establish standard bail conditions for accused identified as high-risk abusers.

But the announcement did not include a funding outline, as recommended by the inquest jury, other than $25,000 for Victoria-area victim support workers.

The lack of a definite funding strategy drew criticism from the Opposition New Democrats, who said it appears the government is proposing public policy without the money to back it up.

"When you look at all they are saying, and there's only $25,000 to make it happen, it makes me very skeptical," said NDP justice critic Mike Farnworth. "I have a lot of concerns, and particularly with [the approach of], 'We're going to study something and come back in 60 days'."

By the time the 60 days to study the recommendations are up, the government will be past the time when it can introduce its budget to fund initiatives like domestic violence reform, Farnworth said.

Heed said his ministry already spends more than $43 million for services for victims of violence.

"We will look at areas where we may need to shift dollars," said Heed. "We will look at areas where it in fact may require more resources."

Victoria lawyer Diane Turner, who represented the End Violence Association at the Lee inquest, said she's pleased with the government's plan to reform bail conditions for suspected high-risk abusers. The quicker those changes are implemented, the better, Turner said.

"They've absolutely been pushed into this by the jury recommendations because people aren't going to ignore the deaths of five people in this province and not just stand by and do things in the same old way," she said.

Lee case prompted changes

A report late last year by B.C.'s Independent Representative for Children and Youth highlighting the Lee tragedy called for more provincial co-ordination across provincial agencies to fight domestic violence.

Peter Lee killed his son, his wife and her parents before taking his own life. ((CBC))

The report said there have been 70 domestic-violence linked murders in the past five years in British Columbia.

On Sept. 4, 2007, Peter Lee, 38, fatally stabbed his six-year-old son, Christian, his wife, Sunny Park, 33, and her mother, Kum Lea Chun, 59, and father, Moon Kyu Park, 66, before killing himself.

At the time of the murders, Lee was under court orders to stay away from the family home after he was charged for allegedly staging a car crash that injured his wife.