Nfld. & Labrador

This domestic abuse survivor wants status of women minister present at COVID-19 briefings

A woman who survived domestic abuse says Carol Anne Haley needs to be visible during the provincial government's daily COVID-19 briefings.

Jermaine Manning says minister has public platform to address a serious issue

Jermaine Manning wants to see Carol Anne Haley, the minister responsible for the status of women, present at the provincial government's daily COVID-19 briefings. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

A woman who survived domestic abuse says Carol Anne Haley, the minister responsible for the status of women, needs to be visible during the provincial government's daily COVID-19 briefings. 

Jermaine Manning told CBC News on Thursday that it needs to be clear what women need to when they're faced with abusive situations.

"Right now we're not seeing that from our minister, and I think our minister for the status of women is in a good position to be very public about this serious issue."

On Wednesday, Haley told CBC News she didn't think the public needed to see a different minister every day.

"That's not what this is all about, really," Haley said.

Haley says the province's daily COVID-19 briefings are not about seeing a different minister every day. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Education Minister Brian Warr joined the panel in early April to discuss rising concerns over the unknown future of the remainder of the K-12 school year.

Provincial seniors advocate Suzanne Brake joined the live briefing in mid-April to discuss how the pandemic is affecting seniors in Newfoundland and Labrador and outline services available to them.

A representative of the Consumers' Health Awareness Network of NL, a provincial organization that offers help to individuals who live with mental health issues, also made an appearance in early May.  

Manning, originally from Makkovik, is a political science student at Memorial University. She lives in St. John's with a new partner and two kids.

She said it's evident that the provincial government's daily COVID-19 briefings have helped the public understand how to flatten the curve of the highly contagious virus in the province. She said if Haley had been more vocal about what women in vulnerable positions can do amid the pandemic, there would be a decrease in domestic violence cases.

"We know nationally this is an issue. We see in Toronto … cases have gone up by 30 per cent or something like that. We know that in our own province cases have gone up drastically as well," Manning said.

"So if we know this, why aren't we doing anything about this?"

Opposition wants House to reopen

MHA Helen Conway Ottenheimer, Opposition critic for the status of women, called for the provincial government to reconvene the legislature to debate issues regarding the safety and protection of women, and all members of society, during the ongoing pandemic.

"I am calling on the minister to demonstrate to the public that women's issues are being addressed and support the reopening of the legislature to debate these issues in public," she said in a news release Thursday.

"If the legislature is reopened, appropriate ministers can also be questioned as to their department's role in the protection of vulnerable individuals and other serious issues as they arise."

Conway Ottenheimer is also calling for Haley to have a presence at the COVID-19 briefings, prior to the legislature reopening, so updates can be provided and questions by members of the media can be answered.

"Women's issues, such as addressing the prevalence of domestic violence, need to be prioritized. As COVID-19 endures, women experiencing domestic violence will find it even more difficult to protect themselves in a dangerous or life-threatening situation," she said.

MHA Helen Conway Ottenheimer called on the provincial government to reopen the House of Assembly to debate issues women may be facing in Newfoundland and Labrador as the COVID-19 pandemic presses on. (CBC)

The PC party said in its statement recent reports by the federal minister for women and gender equality show an increase of 20 to 30 per cent in gender-based violence from data collected from women's organizations.

In April, Violence Prevention Avalon East — a group of community and government agencies dedicated to ending violence in homes and communities — told CBC News it has received six or seven inquiries a day since the pandemic began, when in a typical day it would receive one or two.

Premier Dwight Ball was pressed by a reporter during Thursday's COVID-19 briefing about Haley's absence from the panel. Ball said all ministers and MHAs are available for interviews with the media outside of the briefings.

"I've answered quite a few questions on violence and women's issues and the office of the status of women in our province. There's been quite a few messages that I've put out there, just like I would have on education, tourism, every single day," Ball said.

"This office is a stand-alone office, as you know. It's the only one in the country that has a minister that is responsible for the status of women. They're fully engaged with groups within our province, that's what I've been told, as they are working with their federal colleagues."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Anthony Germain and Ariana Kelland