Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

B.C. budget cuts nix domestic-violence programs

Budget cuts have ended British Columbia's only position for a Crown prosecutor specializing in domestic violence.

And a pilot project in Langley that was held up as the province's model for preventing domestic homicides is now dormant.

Both programs were highlighted during a coroner's inquest last year as examples of how the province is improving the way the criminal justice system responds to domestic violence.

Story continues below advertisement

Now, as Premier Gordon Campbell prepares to sit down in the next few weeks with the government's watchdog for children, he faces some tough questions about these and other cuts to the programs designed to protect at-risk women and children.

Last week, the province's Representative for Children and Youth released a report on the death of six-year-old Christian Lee, who was murdered, along with his mother and grandparents, by his father in September, 2007. Peter Lee had been under a restraining order and his estranged wife, Sunny Park, had told lawyers, police and social workers of her fears that he would kill her or harm her son.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who serves as the province's watchdog for children and families, concluded in her report the province failed to protect the little boy because of a fractured and incoherent system of support.

Her report came in the middle of a week where cuts to various groups providing front-line services to victims of domestic violence have been in the headlines.

Mr. Campbell said Friday his government has increased funding for domestic-violence programs this year by $2.4-million. "We felt the best thing to do was to work with families, work with an integrated response, to do everything we can not just to deal with it but eliminate [domestic violence]from our society."

But service providers say they are shouldering cuts of $1.2-million that will result in fewer services and longer waitlists.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond said in an interview the latest cuts run contrary to the changes her report says are desperately needed.

Story continues below advertisement

"The Langley pilot project is exactly what I've recommended," she said. "It is essential and it is needed, it must be province-wide."

The project gave police training in investigating and assessing risk in domestic-violence cases. It was led by Jocelyn Coupal, a respected Crown prosecutor who has served since 2007 as the province's Domestic-Violence Resource Counsel.

"This is the type of expertise we need to develop across British Columbia," Ms. Turpel-Lafond said.

Ms. Coupal's specialized position ended this month when she was told to return to her previous general court duties. The results of the pilot project, which quietly wrapped up last May, are still "under review," according to a ministry official.

"The decision to realign Crown counsel on secondment to special projects was due in part to accommodating budget pressures," said Neil McKenzie, a spokesman for the criminal justice branch. He said the pilot project ended as scheduled after six months and no decision has been taken on future training programs. Langley RCMP Inspector Richard Konarski said the preliminary results show the pilot project was a success. Conviction rates increased and victims were less likely to recant their testimony because they were offered strong advocacy services and court proceedings were fast-tracked.

"We began with the commitment to do it for six months. In my fantasy world, we'd keep going, but I appreciate the attorney-general's branch has a bunch of things they have to do," Insp. Konarski said in an interview.

Story continues below advertisement

"I think we are all in agreement, there is a huge upside to working in a very collaborative, supportive fashion around the victim."

Next week, the province's record on domestic violence will be in the spotlight again as the Kamloops trial of Allan Dwayne Schoenborn gets under way.

Mr. Schoenborn faces three first-degree murder charges in the deaths of his young children. He had already violated a protection order in place for the children's mother and, like Mr. Lee, was out on bail when the children were killed.

Report an error
About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.