Vigils are important, but not nearly enough

By Shabna Ali and Tracy Porteous

The national candlelight vigils that take place on every December 6 to remember and honour the 14 women students murdered at École Polytechnique in Montreal simply because they were women are important and moving because these vigils honour all those women and children victimized every year, everywhere.

But the day isn’t solely about remembering.  It’s called the Day of Action and Remembrance on Violence Against Women and Children.

But in BC, there has been far too little action.

Violence against women and children takes a terrible toll.  In BC, almost 100 women were killed by their spouses between 2003 and 2011.  (These numbers don’t include the murdered and missing women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, B.C.’s Highway 16 or the many communities coping with the epidemic of violence against women.)

Almost 60,000 women experience sexual and physical violence each year in BC.

Having a day to remember isn’t nearly enough.  We need committed leadership. We need people who speak up when they see women disrespected and people to step in when they see injustice.  We need to choose the kind of society we want to live in and hold leaders accountable.

In September, Victoria’s police department withdrew critical resources from a regional domestic violence unit created as a result of recommendations from an inquest into a horrific mass murder in Oak Bay in 2007.  This unit is being considered a “luxury,” the department said.

But preventing violence against women and children and providing support cannot be seen as luxuries, or discretionary spending to be cut.

In the last two years, reports by the Child and Youth Representative of BC, the Justice Institute of BC and  others found that not enough is being done in our Province to ensure women and their kids are kept safe from violence.

Programs in BC have faced budget cuts that prevented them from providing help that could keep women and children safe from violence, and help them recover.

On Nov. 11, 2011, 124 of the BC Society of Transition House’s programs participated in a one-day census.  On this one day, these anti-violence programs helped 1,110 women and children in person, and another 1,461 via phone or email.  But they turned away 658 women, youth and children.  Others anti-violence programs connected to the Ending Violence Association of BC are having the same problem.  There just isn’t enough funding in place to respond.

Community services make a huge difference every day.  And it is simply wrong when they are prevented from providing the help and support that can save lives.

In BC, high-profile tragedies bring a flurry of activity and announcements related to violence against women and children.  But what’s needed is a continuing, well-planned and adequately funded set of supports and prevention services that are shaped by community need.

British Columbians need to hear all from leaders at all levels of government about their specific plans to address violence against woman and children.  A provincial election is coming. Please make your voice heard.

We will continue to remember and honour those who have fallen to violence. But it is time for action.

Shabna Ali is executive director of the B.C. Society of Transition Houses and Tracy Porteous is executive director of the Ending Violence Association of B.C. They submitted this on behalf of the Roundtable of Provincial Service Organizations.