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B.C. communities urged to take action against gender-based violence

The B.C. government announced Monday it’s going to make changes to how sexual assault cases are investigated, so survivors get justice and can access victim supports whether they report their assault to police or not. Sarah Chew reports.

An anti-violence organization is pushing B.C. communities to “immediately develop municipal action plans” to address gender-based violence.

According to Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), there are no local governments in the province that have “developed or implemented a concerted plan to end gender-based violence,” raising serious concerns.

“Since March 2022, we’ve seen an absolute, unequivocal explosion in reports of intimate partner and sexualized violence,” Angela Marie MacDougall, the executive director of BWSS, explained.

She says last year, 184 women and girls were violently killed solely because of their gender. That amounts to about one life lost every two days.

“The federal government has been working on a national action plan for several years,” MacDougall told CityNews. “Recently, the provinces and territories endorsed the national call and the federal action plan and right now the provinces are in negotiations for their bilateral agreements … to develop provincial action plans.”

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She notes in Ontario, communities like Toronto and Ottawa have come out and declared gender-based violence is an epidemic.

Many have also called for a recognition of this on a larger scale.

MacDougall would like to see communities in B.C. follow suit, and “take more overt action, recognizing that people are living in these municipalities.”

“Where is the violence happening? It’s happening in the cities and the towns throughout the country, and certainly here in British Columbia,” she explained.

The number of gender-based violence deaths reported in 2022 amounts to a 27 per cent increase compared to figures in 2019, the organization says.

It adds rates of family violence and intimate partner violence have also been rising over the past five years.

“We think that this is a really important time, that all of our communities across the province recognize that gender-based violence is an absolute state of emergency in every community,” MacDougall said.

Funding for supports and services critical

MacDougall says local governments have a major role to play in ending gender-based violence, noting it’s a public safety issue — something these jurisdictions are responsible for.

Services make up one important part of the solution, she notes. MacDougall adds funding is crucial to keep programs and support going at the community level.

“We would certainly hope that municipalities would want to look at their budgets and factor in how they could build a very specific municipal action plan to end gender-based violence,” she said.

These municipal plans would work in tandem with the provincial and national plans, MacDougall says.

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