VANCOUVER — British Columbia has announced a new three-year action plan that it says aims to end stigma around gender-based violence and ensure access to supports.
The plan includes building more housing for women and children leaving violence, expanding cell service to make travel safer, and adding 75 new sexual assault support programs -- 22 of which are specifically for Indigenous women.
It also includes establishing new free virtual counselling as well as new 24/7 crisis lines, new policing standards and stronger victim support services.
Finance Minister Katrine Conroy told a news conference Sunday that the federal government had also pledged $61.9 million over four years for the plan under a new Canada-British Columbia bilateral agreement, which was struck Friday.
"Gender-based violence is an urgent concern," she said. "This is a systemic and deeply rooted issue that disproportionately impacts Indigenous women, racialized women, newcomers and gender diverse people."
The plan highlights the needs of Indigenous women and girls that it says "are most impacted by gender-based violence."
More than half of the new federal funding will be invested in Indigenous-led initiatives that will soon be announced, the province said in a news release Sunday.
Kelli Paddon, parliamentary secretary for gender equity, told the news conference that the province began consultations for the action plan in 2022, identified gaps and is now committed to filling them.
"This is a fundamentally important step in our government's work to eliminate violence against women, girls and gender diverse people in British Columbia," Paddon said of the plan.
"We will keep working to ensure that services and support for survivors are adequate, and we will continue to collaborate with Indigenous leadership and partners to move critical work forward."
Paddon said the new federal funding will also contribute to initiatives already started in the province. That, she said, includes the $1.2-billion commitment over 10 years to build 3,000 new homes for children and women leaving violence — more than 1,000 of which are already complete.
In a roundtable that followed Sunday's news conference, Amy FitzGerald, executive director of the BC Society of Transition Houses, said the organization welcomes the investments, but stressed several times that "it's not enough."
She said 80,000 women and children access the society's services every year, and 50 per cent of that population are children and youth.
"Our research shows that of the women who come into our shelters with their families, only four per cent of them move on to long-term, safe and affordable housing."
FitzGerald said it is essential that the province ensure those fleeing domestic violence have a safe place to go when they make the decision to leave.
"That's the hardest choice and when they make it, there should be accessible housing because no one should have to choose between homelessness and violence," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2023.