British Columbia has a growing problem with domestic violence, highlighted by recent horrific incidents of women’s deaths and thousands of cases where abuse arises in child welfare reports, says the province’s independent children’s representative.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been demanding for years that the Liberal government tackle an issue that has swelled to crisis proportions.
Attorney General Suzanne Anton said Thursday the government spends $70 million annually on anti-violence measures, including initiating court reforms and police domestic-violence units, in its effort “towards a violence-free British Columbia.”
But within the past six weeks there have been several tragic incidents involving domestic violence.
Earlier this month, a Richmond woman died. Her husband Jian Hua Wu is charged with second-degree murder.
Last month in Langley, a man was accused of setting a home on fire with his former wife and children inside. Andre Richard faces three charges of attempted murder.
A Vancouver man is charged in the death of his mother and the attempted murder of her granddaughter. Neighbours reported seeing blood on the hallways.
In Clearwater, Iain Drummond Scott is charged with first-degree murder following the death of his wife. Three children were removed from the home following a standoff with police.
In Saanich, a woman was found dead in her home. Police later found the submerged body of her husband in the waters about two kilometres from their home.
“The last six weeks, we’ve had (some) domestic violence homicides where children are present or involved in some way,” said Turpel-Lafond. “Horrific cases.”
She said her files reveal 5,000 incidents in the past 18 months where domestic violence was a factor in a child welfare report.
“Why don’t we have domestic violence courts? Why don’t we have the electronic monitoring of the perpetrators on release? Why are we not giving good safety to women?”
Anti-violence women’s groups said earlier this month their work was being ignored.
“We are working very hard because this is a very serious problem and we want to have the best response we can have in B.C.,” said Anton.
Anton said the government provides 160 victims-services programs across the province, including funding 100 transition houses and numerous counselling programs.
She said the province is examining the potential of offering dedicated court services for victims of domestic violence beyond the services already operating in Kamloops, Kelowna and Duncan.
“Domestic violence courts are being studied around B.C.,” Anton said. “We’re having a look at all of those to decide what is the best kind of specialized court. We haven’t landed on what the best format for that is.”
Turpel-Lafond has been calling on the government to create a system of domestic violence courts under the Ministry of the Attorney General since 2009.
The call for domestic violence courts were major themes in two Turpel-Lafond reports reviewing the homicides involving the Schoenborn and Lee families.
In 2007, six-year-old Christian Lee was stabbed to death by his father, Peter Lee, who also murdered his wife Sunny, and her parents in a fit over the family’s breakup.
Peter Lee, who weeks earlier tried to kill his wife in a staged car accident, was on bail and under court order to stay away from the family home, when he climbed through a basement window and committed the murders before killing himself.
Turpel-Lafond’s report into the April 2008 murders of three children in Merritt, B.C. by their mentally ill father, Allan Schoenborn, concluded the children could have been saved if the province’s social safety net was working properly.
Anton said the formation of police domestic-violence units is one of the legacies of the Lee and Schoenborn reports.
“They are a model I have great confidence in,” she said. “They really do help people. You phone 911 with a domestic violence call in Vancouver, the domestic violence unit will respond.”
Anton conceded Victoria’s domestic violence unit has been reduced due to cost cutting.