Nfld. & Labrador

Ending violence against women: Is new provincial committee a first step?

A new committee looking at the issue of violence against women in this province met Friday in St. John's, amid criticism that another committee won't solve the problem.

Need action instead of meetings, says one critic who's gone through process before

Invited guests at the first meeting of the Minister's Committee on Violence Against Women and Girls held Friday at the Easter Seals building in St. John's. (CBC/Sherry Vivian)

After years of committees and recommendations on how to prevent violence against women, the Newfoundland and Labrador government is trying again, with a new committee that met for the first time Friday in St. John's. 

"Today was a first step," said Justice Minister Andrew Parsons. 

"It will help us strengthen the justice system and gain a better understanding of the role it plays." 

More than 60 people gathered for the Minister's Committee on Violence Against Women and Girls, many of whom have been at such consultations before. 

Georgina McGrath was one of them. A survivor of intimate partner violence, she now advocates for changes to protect and support women like her. 

"It was very well-organized for such a large group of people and I do believe good things will definitely come from this government in regards to domestic violence," McGrath said, adding it was "a very emotional day." 

Georgina McGrath is a survivor of intimate partner violence, and shared her experience at Friday's committee meeting on violence against women and girls. (CBC/John Pike)

The justice department said issues identified at the meeting include the need for more training for people who work in the justice system, more resources for Indigenous communities, more programming for offenders and an end to blaming victims. 

"We face tough times, and a lot of these ideas require financing, and so we're working on that," said Parsons.

"But one of the big things we get is there are people coming forward with ideas that aren't about money, it's just about the will to make it happen."

N.L. Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says violence against women and girls is a huge problem that can't be fixed in one day, but he sees this committee as a good step. (CBC/Sherry Vivian)

He can see some things happening quickly, such as a review of emergency protection orders — peace bonds — which are intended to protect victims of violence from their abusers.

"Even if it's a legislative change, you could see that very early in the new year," Parsons said. 

Seen this before, says critic

Not everyone is convinced.

"We have had committee after committee, we've had violence prevention strategy after strategy and report, and in fact violence against women is on the rise in our province," said Jenny Wright, executive director of the St. John's Status of Women Council.

We have had committee after committee, we've had violence prevention strategy after strategy and report, and in fact violence against women is on the rise in our province.- Jenny Wright

Wright, who did not attend Friday's meeting, said she is pleased to see people gather to discuss the issues, but is concerned it won't lead to real change.

She said only a high-level task force will do that. 

Wright wants to see the five ministers of Health, Education, Status of Women, Children, Seniors and Social Development and Justice work together with financial resources and the power to make policy changes. 

Jenny Wright, executive director of the St. John's Status of Women Council, says another committee on violence against women will not lead to change. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

"We are simply going to put band-aids on various different issues affecting women," she said, instead of getting curriculum in schools and focusing on the prevalence of violence against Indigenous women. 

"That takes political will and strength, and sadly we haven't seen it yet."

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