With BC Budget 2021 released yesterday, the province has missed an historic opportunity to leverage the federal commitments to gender equity and rebuild crumbling provincial systems that have been gutted or allowed to languish over many decades.
Going into yesterday’s budget “lock up” well into another year of living with COVID-19, we were keen to see how the provincial government would respond to the pandemic’s impact on widening gender inequality across Canada, particularly in the areas of access to justice and gender-based violence.
We were hoping to see the provincial government build on the actions identified in ministerial mandate letters by leveraging the funding commitments made by the federal government. Instead, the province has chosen to continue a slow, siloed approach that falls far short of the systems re-build we need.
Access to justice
Access to justice remains an area of chronic underinvestment in the province. BC Budget 2021 makes no new investment in legal aid to support people fleeing family violence apart from recommitting to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms that do not meet the needs of those most at risk of violence and coercion in their relationships.
The needs of many BC residents—especially those facing violence—cannot be met through mediation or legal information services. People need legal help to navigate court processes, and that need has only increased over the course of the past year as family violence rates have skyrocketed, a phenomenon widely recognized as a “shadow pandemic.”
We have been working alongside other organizations through Women’s Shelters Canada to support the development of a National Action Plan to end Gender-Based Violence. We wanted to see leadership at the provincial level to respond to gender-based violence with funding allocations that would support the commitments made in ministerial mandate letters. However, BC’s budget is regrettably silent on providing health-based or justice-sector supports or services for survivors of gender-based violence.
The province is long overdue a coordinated approach to addressing gender-based violence, and with this budget, we’re still waiting. Nearly two years after the report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, families, advocates and community service agencies are left wondering how the province will address the Calls to Justice directed at provincial government.
Other developments to watch
There are some brighter spots in the budget. The government announced new investments in mental health and substance use supports, including for youth, that we hope will make a positive impact on the overdose crisis in BC. And we look forward to seeing more details on the $41 million in funding allocated to child welfare, including support for alternatives to care arrangements. We’re particularly keen to learn what supports and prevention services will be offered to family and kinship caregivers across the province.
At West Coast LEAF, we’ll continue to fight for access to legal aid for people fleeing family violence. We will continue to advocate for support for survivors of gender-based violence. And we’ll continue to advance child welfare advocacy through our Communities of Practice Project.