Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lots of words, little action on family violence

The government's lame response to domestic violence this week offered two lessons.

First, despite all the rhetoric about considering the issue of critical importance, it's not a priority.

Second, the spending constraints are so tight right now that even supposedly important issues can't win anything beyond a token funding commitment.

Solicitor General Kash Heed promised action on domestic violence last year, after a coroner's inquiry heard evidence of stumbles, miscommunication and policy shortcomings that led to five deaths in Oak Bay. Peter Lee killed his son, spouse and her parents before taking his own life.

The press release this week said Heed was "taking immediate action to protect victims of domestic violence." It was headlined "Domestic violence action plan launched."

But there wasn't much action. The government will provide some $25,000 and push for the creation of a domestic violence unit in the capital region. That's useful, but Victoria police urged the measure in 2007, in the weeks after the deaths. That's hardly "immediate action."

Heed promised to "establish a uniform policy" for domestic violence investigations. It's surprising that was not already in place and more surprising that work is only starting now.

And he said the government will "take steps" to ensure domestic violence cases are reported properly in police databases so service providers with access to the files will have the information. Again, surely that should have been done years ago.

As well, Heed promised studies.

The coroner's service will review all the domestic violence deaths since 1994 - likely about 150 - to see what can be learned.

The Solicitor General's Ministry will work on a checklist of factors that might indicate a domestic violence suspect is at high risk of causing harm. It will also come up with a standard set of bail conditions for high-risk offenders.

And a committee with representatives from several ministries will "develop cross-agency domestic violence policies" that set out roles of everyone involved.

All very nice.

But five people, including a little boy, died in September 2007. Peter Lee killed them.

Within weeks, it was clear that the tragedy might have been prevented. The system for dealing with domestic violence was inadequate in a number of fundamental ways.

By last September, Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond had completed her review and made "urgent" recommendations for action. (Four months later, the Ministry of Children and Families has not even responded to the report.)

And in December the inquest jury made 14 recommendations aimed at preventing similar cases and improving support and protection for victims.

The government's response - including this week's announcements by Heed - failed to address at least half of the recommendations.

No government is going to prevent every case of family violence. People do bad things.

But that's not what this is about.

These deaths were preventable. And the failures and breakdowns weren't the result of human error or a one-off series of unfortunate events. The system for dealing with domestic violence is deeply flawed.

Lee's wife, Sunny Park, had warned police that he would kill her and her son after he crashed their car into a tree in what she said was an effort to hurt or kill her. She described past abuse. Lee had a history of violence; police had urged that he not be released on bail. But he was.

Park, a Korean immigrant with limited English skills, received no effective help or support. Measures to help keep her safe weren't in place.

And they all died.

Concerns about the province's inadequate programs to deal with domestic violence have been expressed for years.

And while the government has expressed great sympathy for victims, when faced with the opportunity to make changes, it failed to act.

Five deaths, two reports and Heed came up with $25,000, promises of future policy changes and studies.

It's not much of a legacy for Christian Lee, just six years old when he was stabbed to death.

Footnote: Why the inaction? At the inquest, Robert Gillen, an assistant deputy minister in the Attorney General's Ministry, testified the government could do a better job of keeping people safe. But domestic violence is not a funding priority, he said. "There's no sense pretending we can afford a Cadillac when we're lucky to get a used Ford," he told the jury.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Willcocks is right: A spit in the bucket, $25,000 for domestic violence program. Yet somehow the BC National Book Award, $40,000 was not noticed for elimination, and was awarded to an Ontario writer this past week. How ever did Premier manage to keep that grin as he shook the winner's hand knowing all the other cuts in BC: autistic children programs, high school scholarships, ....add your choice from the huge list of cuts. Then again, Premier likes being in the spotlight.

Anonymous said...

Kash Heed is seen as a threat by the establishment; he wants the soon-to-be-vacant Premier's chair.

The Rich, Colin and Kevins will do Kash no favours around the cabinet table to bolster his stock with future voters. Heed will be able to sign up HUGE numbers of new members in his ethnic community for the BC Liberals - no reason for the entrenched to do him any good by tossing a few dollars his way.

Sorry ladies... your safety is being ground down under the hard wheels of politics.

DPL said...

25,000 for a massive problem yet the government is now paying to haul snow up to Cyprus mountain and no doubt have a few voodoo experts trying to bring snow. The people with big problems are of no concern to this gang supposedly running the province