Editorial: Fighting back

Published on January 27, 2017

Domestic violence

©Photo by Kelly Young/Thinkstock

The statistics on domestic violence in Canada are alarming.

One in three Canadian women over the age of 16 will be the victim of sexual assault in their lifetimes. Many cases are never reported to the police or even other family members.

In 2014, of the 516 homicides in Canada, nearly one-third were committed by a family member. More than 70 per cent of the victims were women.

Domestic violence is not confined to the home. Research finds it often follows people to work, putting safety at risk. Yet, many employees, particularly women, find little support on the job.

Increasingly, unions are playing an important role in keeping people safe with supports at work. Since March 2016, the United Steelworkers have successfully negotiated domestic violence leave provisions in seven contracts in three provinces: B.C., Alberta and Ontario.

And the momentum is building. Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before all provincial governments follow suit.

The latest contract involves care workers in Alberta. Employees who are victims of domestic violence can take paid leave for legal, medical and counselling appointments without fear of losing their jobs. The union plans similar proposals every place it bargains.

It’s gratifying that employers are receptive, especially given the disturbing statistics on domestic violence. The benefits outweigh the costs and companies are beginning to see it’s the compassionate thing to do for their employees, especially women.

Last year, Manitoba passed a law that allows workers to take leave to seek medical attention for themselves or their children, or contact police or a lawyer. Labour groups are taking up the cause, urging governments to follow Manitoba’s example.

Alberta plans to look at domestic violence leave as part of a review of its labour laws. Ontario is considering a bill on domestic and sexual violence leave. Unions deserve credit for leading the way.

There is a new urgency in dealing with the issue, given the rumblings south of the border. The rights and advances made by women over the decades are under threat, and millions of women — including tens of thousands in Canada — marched Jan. 21 to declare that those rights will not be eroded.

This is not an overreaction. Just look at Russia, where a bill has been introduced that would decriminalize domestic violence. It supports a very misguided idea that what happens in the family — even abuse — should stay in the family. In Russia, 40 per cent of all violent crimes are committed within families. That such a bill is even up for debate is mind-boggling in what is supposed to be a modern state.

We live in a progressive and compassionate country, and Canadians must protect and support victims of domestic abuse, both at home and the workplace.

This is no time to be complacent.