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Interview with the Honorable Lynn Stephens,
Minister of State for Women’s Equality
Province of British Columbia
Anti-violence service providers are currently concerned about
the BC Government’s announced intention to cut 30% to 40%
from the budgets of Ministries in the next three years. The
Minister of State for Women’s Equality recently responded
to our questions regarding the impact of these cuts on services
for those who experience family violence.
Institute Against Family Violence: What do you see
as priority issues you will be most concerned with during
your term in office?
Lynn Stephens: Over the long-term, I want to work
to advance women’s concerns in three priority areas – Poverty/Economic;
Women Centre Health Care; Safety and Security.
- I have been instructed by the Premier to concentrate on
the following priorities in the short-term:
- Review and make recommendations on the provincial inventory
of transition houses and emergency shelters.
- Develop a safer community strategy for women in provincial
emergency shelters and transition houses.
- Review and make recommendations on the feasibility of
development of a province-wide perspective for delivery
of women’s services.
IFV: Your ministry funds a number of services that
are essential to preventing family violence or assisting women
and their children to deal with the impact of violence. However,
these services have long waiting lists for women and children
urgently needing assistance. What can you tell us about the
impact proposed funding cuts may have on services for women
and their children who experience violence? And what are your
short and long-term goals for Children Who Witness Abuse and
Stopping the Violence programs?
LS: No decisions have been made on changes to services
for women and families. The Core Services Review includes
a careful, cross ministry consideration of services currently
IFV: In the coming year, what is your Ministry’s plan
for addressing the serious under-funding of programs for women
and children in transition houses across the province?
LS: I am reviewing and will make recommendations on
the provincial inventory of transition houses, but the key
to finding solutions is to work with community partners and
IFV: If funding is cut to women’s centres, how will
small communities effectively deal with violence against women
and children? In particular, in rural communities dominated
by industries facing layoffs (i.e., mills, mines, CP Rail,
etc.), the frustration, anger and hardship resulting from
economic loss is expected to increase risk for violence and
other problems in BC families. To whom will victims of violence
turn should services in their communities also be threatened?
LS: Again, I have to reiterate that no decisions on
services have been made.
IFV: In reviewing services for women who experience
violence, how is your ministry working with other ministries,
such as the Ministries of Attorney General and Public Safety
and Solicitor General, to improve the enforcement of protection
orders for women and their children?
LS: We are working very closely with all ministries
to ensure that issues that affect women in the province are
being considered during the review and budget process. We
are working with the Attorney General on justice initiatives
related to women, including developing legislation related
to domestic violence as well as providing input to the federal
custody and access legislation.
IFV: Also, what is your ministry doing to ensure that
women who require the protection of criminal orders have access
to adequate Crown counsel and Crown victim services, and that
women who require civil protection orders or enforcement of
orders have access to adequate legal aid? Is your ministry
advocating for dedicated criminal Domestic Violence Courts,
e.g., as exist in Ontario and Manitoba, to improve the quality
of prosecutions and enforcement of protection orders?
LS: My ministry is working closely with Ministry of
Attorney General on all significant programs and services
that affect women and their families.
IFV: Is your ministry advocating amendments to the
Family Relations Act to ensure that family violence is a factor
that judges must consider in determining custody or access?
LS: Members of my staff are involved with the interministry
group led by the Ministry of Attorney General, known as the
Family Justice Services Initiatives Steering Committee. This
group advises the Ministry of Attorney General with respect
to any proposed amendments to the federal Divorce Act, the
BC Family Relations Act, and any associated services.
IFV: Is your ministry advocating for adequate training
and resources for those providing court ordered custody assessment
reports to ensure that they address the impact of exposure
to family violence on children?
LS: I believe the system of services associated with
custody and access decisions, including court-ordered custody
assessment reports, must be appropriate and adequate and must
address the impacts of exposure to family violence on children.
IFV: Is your ministry advocating for more supervised
access programs in BC to ensure the safety of children and
their mothers during access visits with abusive fathers?
LS: Again, we are working with the Attorney General
on all aspects of legal impacts on women.
IFV: We at the Institute would like to extend an offer
to you to assist the provincial government in understanding
family violence issues. In which ways might we best assist
in this aim? Would you be willing to meet with some of our
Board members, for instance, who have differing interests
and expertise on women’s issues?
LS: Thank you for your offer of assistance. I have
been meeting and consulting with women across the province
to listen to their concerns. I have met with (IFV Executive
Director) Penny Bain on a number of occasions and look forward
to our discussions in my new role as Minister of State For
Women’s Equality. Please contact my office to arrange a time
convenient for both of us.