PC MHA calls for plan to address domestic violence in N.L.
Women and gender equality minister says government taking steps to address violence
The Progressive Conservative critic for Women and Gender Equality says she's concerned the provincial government does not have a strategy to address domestic violence in Newfoundland and Labrador.
While speaking with reporters on Tuesday, PC MHA Helen Conway Ottenheimer said initiatives such as the domestic violence help line are positive, but she would like to see a multi-faceted plan to address gender-based violence.
"If we're going to really address the issue of domestic violence in our province, we have to look at preventative measures, and that's the importance of having a violence-prevention plan," she said.
The provincial government's most recent violence prevention action plan lasted from 2015 until 2019.
According to 2016 data, Newfoundland and Labrador has slightly-higher police-reported domestic violence rates than the national average, though that rate is much higher in Labrador. Domestic violence is disproportionately high among women. Early in the pandemic, non-profit organizations reported a significant increase in domestic violence calls.
Women and Gender Equality Minister Pam Parsons said her office is taking steps to prevent gender-based violence, but said the plan is "a living document" rather than a physical report.
"Violence prevention, especially gender-based violence, is not something that we can simply tick in a box and put on a report and put on a shelf and it goes away," she said.
Government taking action: Parsons
Parsons said her office has taken concrete actions to address gender-based violence, including the amendment to the Landlord Tenancies act which allows victims of domestic violence to end their lease without being penalized.
However, Parsons would not commit to introducing pay equity legislation in the immediate future, a change she said is ultimately up to the Treasury Board Secretariat. She said her office is working with other departments on pay equity.
"Conversations are ongoing," she said. "There's always work to be done and there's always ways to improve."
Parsons also would not commit to creating a new action plan to address gender-based violence in Newfoundland and Labrador, but pointed to the Premier's Roundtable on Gender Equity, which has had two meetings since it began in 2020, as an example of one ongoing initiative. She said her office is also meeting with community organizations and people with lived experiences.
Conway Ottenheimer said she isn't satisfied with Parsons' answer.
"I don't want to be critical because, you know, I know we all are trying to do our best … in supporting, you know, these issues. But the minister has not done anything with respect to implementing a violence prevention plan."
No plan to fund Blue Door program
Earlier this year, St. John's-based program Blue Door, which helped sexual exploitation survivors, was forced to shut down after federal funding dried up.
Conway Ottenheimer called the Blue Door program, which is run by St. John's-based non-profit Thrive, "invaluable."
"It really did provide a very important role for women, you know, who are trying to exit out of the sex industry," she said. "There's a gap there now."
Last year, Thrive executive director Angela Crockwell told CBC News she sent a letter to Premier Andrew Furey's office and several government departments in addition to the office for Women and Gender Equality, but did not receive a funding commitment from any of them. The program ended on Feb. 28.
Parsons said her office doesn't have the resources to supply the $417,000 that Thrive needs to run the program.
"[They've] met with my office and, of course, we're committed to working with them on ways … they can apply for new funding should they wish to continue this program," she said.
Parsons noted that the government already provides Thrive with $750,000 for other programs. She also pointed to the Safe Harbour Outreach Program, which advocates for women and non-binary people engaged in sex work in Newfoundland and Labrador, as one initiative that continues the work of the Blue Door program.
The province's domestic violence help line is 1-888-709-7090, and can be reached by call or text, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.