Monday, January 04, 2010

Domestic violence victims not a B.C. priority

Based on Solicitor General Kash Heed's response, don't expect any real action as a result of the inquest into a murder-suicide that claimed five lives in the capital.

Domestic violence isn't a government priority.

The jury at the coroner's inquest did their job. They sat through terrible testimony in a process that dragged on for almost two years as government lawyers fought to suppress evidence. And they delivered thoughtful recommendations.

But Heed, the government's chosen spokesman, wouldn't commit to act on even one of the 14 recommendations from the coroner's jury. The former West Vancouver police chief, who had been promoted as a star candidate and touted as a future premier, just waffled. Even when the jury's recommendations were identical to similar proposals made by police more than two years ago, after the tragedy, Heed would not commit to any timeline for action.

The case is horrible. In September 2007, Peter Lee killed his six-year-old son, his wife, her parents and then himself. He was out on bail after crashing his car in what Sunny Park, his wife, said it was an attempt to kill or injure her. He had a history of violence. Park also told police about past abuse. Lee would kill her and son, she warned.

Police who interviewed after the car crash were alarmed enough to take the unusual step of meeting with the Crown prosecutor to urge Lee remain in custody.

But he was released and remained free despite reports he had violated bail conditions. Park, a Korean immigrant with limited English, received little help, support or information on her options or how to keep herself safe.

It was a horrible, preventable mess. But they all died. A lot could have been done to help the family. But the basic supports weren't there.

Park had to report the abuse to three separate police departments in the capital region - one RCMP detachment covered the hospital; another police force her home in Oak Bay; and the Victoria department had jurisdiction over the car crash. All three locations are within 10 kilometres.

Back in 2003, then solicitor general Rich Coleman promised to bring the 13 police departments in the region together to reduce crime. Politics sunk the good idea.

None of three departments had domestic violence units, despite research showing their effectiveness.

In 2002, the government fired the 35 people in prosecutors' offices across the province who worked with crime victims. The cost - less than 90 cents a year for each British Columbian - was too much. The core review concluded this wasn't a role for government.

Victim services officers helped families through the ordeal of a trial when their son or daughter was killed. They told rape victims what to expect. They made sure family violence victims knew how to stay safe and their legal rights. If victims were in danger, the workers were experienced advocates who understood the system. And they were considered a luxury to be discarded to pay for a two-cent-a-week tax cut.

The defining witness at the inquest was Robert Gillen, an assistant deputy minister in the Attorney General's Ministry. His directness was refreshing.

Yes, he said, government could be doing more to keep people safe from domestic violence. Better risk assessments could be required, for example, before people like Peter Lee got bail.

But that would cost money, he said, and domestic violence is not really a government priority. "There's no sense pretending we can afford a Cadillac when we're lucky to get a used Ford," he told the jury.

Yet domestic violence is the second largest caseload for Crown prosecutors, after impaired driving. Just in the capital, police respond to more than 3,000 cases a year. Many more go unreported.

Heed could have accepted the recommendation for risk assessments in domestic violence cases before suspects are released on bail. He didn't. He could have accepted the jury's call for services for alleged victims and abusers as soon as offences are reported. He didn't.

It all raises a basic issue. Are things like the supports to keep Sunny Park and her little boy safe a legitimate role for government, or should they people like them be left on their own?

The government has made its choice. Heed made that clear.


Anonymous said...

90 cents per British Columbian is too much money for counselling and other victims' support. A bad investment.

But how about $15 from every man, woman, and child in the province for a retrofitted stadium roof in Vancouver, that will never be used by 90% of the population who paid for it? That makes good sense - if you're a Campbell Liberal.

Campbell and his cohorts learned long ago that they can continue getting away with their outrageous policy-making, thanks to the state of disarray and the obvious inability of those who are victimized by it, to organize and mobilize a resistance. Meanwhile the pressure continues to build. When will enough be enough?


DPL said...

The CHildren and Families Advocate had a article in the T/C today, Thursday. She can and does explain who is not doing the right thing , far better than anything I could write.

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