Feds admit more needs to be done to help domestic violence victims; Tories vote down national plan

Niki Ashton, NDP MP for Churchill, addresses the media at a national caucus strategy session on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 in Saskatoon. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards

OTTAWA – Heath Canada admits it needs to do more to help women and children who have been abused, including better training for doctors and “improved evidence” on what works to prevent domestic violence, newly released documents show.

Despite the admission, the Conservatives voted against NDP MP Niki Ashton’s motion Wednesday night to create a coordinated national action plan to address violence against women, a problem that costs Canadian society more than $7 billion a year.

All but one Conservative, Yukon MP Ryan Leef, opposed the plan. The NDP and Liberals voted for the motion, but it was still defeated.

Documents tabled in the House of Commons earlier this month include an acknowledgment from the federal government “that more work is needed to improve the public health response to victims of violence.”

“In particular, health professionals need better information and training to help identify and support women and children who have been abused,” the document, signed by Health Minister Rona Ambrose, says.

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“The government also acknowledges the need for improved evidence on what works to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls from a health perspective.”

It also points to a website initiative called “Stop Family Violence” that doesn’t track how information on the site is used; although the government says it will consider doing so in 2017-18. It received more than 26,000 hits between December 2014 and April 2015.

Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan, who requested the information from Parliament, said the government’s admission is an “understatement” and only underscores the need for a national plan to bring together provinces, territories, indigenous organizations and women’s groups to ensure progress is made.

READ MORE: ‘He beat me to a pulp’: B.C. faces ‘epidemic’ of domestic violence

“I was surprised that that was being acknowledged,” Duncan said in an interview.

“For the government to admit it, I think it’s an endorsement of the need for a national action plan.”

A health department spokesman said Ambrose has held “several roundtable discussions” with health professionals over the past year for guidance on how to respond to family violence.

In February, the government announced a $100-million investment over 10 years to support victims of violence, including a $4.1 million project over three years to develop guidance and education materials for health professionals.

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Ashton says a national plan is critical for improving services across the country. Australia, the United States and England all have one.

“We have a patchwork quilt of different parts of the country doing different things, in some places there’s great things happening, in other places it could be better,” Ashton said.

“What is clear is that the federal government is nowhere to be found in terms of taking leadership and wanting to work with the provinces and communities to end violence against women, including the important piece of addressing violence against indigenous women.”

Her motion would have created benchmarks for measuring progress on violence against women, independent research on emerging issues, as well as a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

A spokesman for Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch pointed to two initiatives already brought forward by the government – an action plan to address family violence and violent crimes against aboriginal women and girls, as well as a family violent prevention program. He said these programs offer shelter support, skills training and will establish a DNA database for missing persons.

Spokesman Andrew McGrath also criticized the opposition for voting against Conservative tough-on-crime measures.

Lise Martin, executive director of the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters & Transition Houses, said the Conservatives’ initiatives amounts to an announcement of projects that were funded in the past.

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Martin said the most important part of a national action plan would be to ensure women across the country are getting the same services, whether they live in a big city or on a fly-in reserve.

“We feel that women in all areas should have access of the country, across the country, should have access to comparable levels of services, and that’s why we need a national action plan for violence against women,” she said.

Below is the network’s blueprint for a national action plan on violence against women:

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