British Columbia

Political foes call Christy Clark 'courageous' for personal story of assault

Premier Christy Clark's political foes say her decision to come forward with her personal tale of assault is a 'courageous' one but also magnifies the need for more funding and supports for victims.

Green Party MLA said Christy Clark 'took a lot of courage' to come forward about past assault

Premier Christy Clark speaks to reporters after the B.C. Liberals introduced legislation about sexual assaults on university and college campuses, April 28, 2015. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

Premier Christy Clark's political foes say her decision to come forward with her personal tale of assault is a 'courageous' one but also magnifies the need for more funding and supports for victims. 

In an open letter, Clark explained she decided to reveal details of her own assault experience after her government agreed to support legislation put forward by the B.C. Green party that will establish clear guidelines for sexual assault and misconduct at all public post-secondary institutions in B.C.

In all the years since that encounter, Clark says she never spoke of it and realized victims of sexual assault need help ending their silence.

MLA Andrew Weaver, who introduced the bill, said it "took a lot of courage" for Clark to come forward with her story.

"This is a person that has a public platform because she is the premier," said Weaver on Thursday. "It shows it is something that does not happen in the shadows. It is something that happens to people throughout our society, including our premier."

'Beyond Cynicism'

Clark has faced criticism for releasing the story now in which she describes how, as a 13-year-old girl, she was grabbed, while on her way to work at her first job, by a man and pulled "into a deep copse of shrubs."

B.C. MLA Andrew Weaver, first introduced the bill to establish clear guidelines for sexual assault at all public post-secondary institutions in B.C. (CBC)

Clark described the man slipping and releasing his grip, allowing her to get free and run for help. 

Critics say Clark is using the assault to humanize herself and to gain sympathy. But Weaver says throughout the work on his bill, he found Clark genuine and personally invested in the new law.

"This is beyond cynicism. I think we need to have more of these stories out there. This is saying that these stories happen throughout our society. If she really wanted to get media attention, she would have done this a few months ago during the legislative session when the press gallery was all here," said Weaver.

'Feeling of fear and terror'

Clark is not the only MLA that has brought a personal story to the debate around sexual violence on university and college campuses.

NDP MLA Kathy Corrigan told the legislature that when she was 17 years old she was jogging on a beach near the UBC campus.

A man charged toward her with his pants down. She says she was able to run toward a couple who came around the corner on the beach, and the assailant ran away.   

NDP MLA Kathy Corrigan said she was also attacked by a stranger when she was 17. (CBC)

"It really affected me, the feeling of fear and terror I had at that time came back to me. I didn't expect that. I just thought it was important to tell a story that has happened to many, many women," said Corrigan.

She says she appreciates Clark has also spoken out on this issue but also believes the government has not done enough to fund universities so they are able to implement new policies to deal with sexual violence.  

"I heard from many student groups and sexual assault resource centres. It is going to be very difficult to change the culture of universities without putting actual supports in place," she said.

More funding needed

NDP MLA Melanie Mark has been a long time advocate for victims of sexual assault. When she was 11 years old, she says she confided in a friend that she had been sexually assaulted.

Mark said she "commends the premier for coming forward" but has questioned why the province has not increased funding or supports within the court system for victims of sexual violence.

"We need rape kits in all communities across the province.

We need a swift criminal justice system that is going to support people that are reporting," said Mark. "We need hotlines for women to call because these assaults are happening around the clock. We need ot think about this as a provincial, Canadian issue." 

Creating a space to talk

The timing of Clark's announcement has also been questioned considering there is an election less than a year away.

But sources close to the premier say this letter has been in the works for weeks and was released now and not during the midst of the legislative session as a way to make this story as unpolitical as possible.

Equal Voice executive director Nancy Peckford, who advocates for women getting involved in politics, says she is encouraged that Clark felt she could share her story. 

"Certainly I think as a prominent politician in Canada and one of three premiers who are women, Premier Clark has obviously created an important space to talk about individual experiences of sexual violence and sexual assault." said Peckford

"You know she's, by doing this, giving permission to others in the legislature and beyond to address an issue that, quite frankly, is extremely pervasive and under-addressed in so many ways."