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Sask. victims of domestic violence eligible for paid leave

650 CKOM with Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen 13 May 2019

The provincial government passed legislation Monday permitting five days of paid job leave for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

According to the changes made under Bill 172 of The Saskatchewan Employment (Paid Interpersonal Violence and Sexual Violence Leave) Amendment Act, starting this month, employees are now able to take five paid days and five unpaid days. Before, employees were able to take 10 days off, but it was all unpaid.

“It really speaks to the importance of removing barriers for women who are experiencing violence and making sure that they can access the services that are available,” said YWCA Regina CEO Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen. “Paying them to be able to leave work not only says ‘this is important to us,’ but also gives them some capacity to maybe choose to leave.”

She added that it’s “incredibly motivating” to see both the government and opposition working together to fight a community issue.

Those feelings were echoed by Minister Responsible for the Status of Women Office Tina Beaudry-Mellor, who acknowledged NDP MLA Nicole Sarauer along with her caucus colleagues.

“We’ve got some champions in this government — on both sides of the aisle — who are working really hard from a legislative perspective, from a policy perspective, from relationship-building and awareness perspectives just to try to work at this issue,” she said. “This is everybody’s problem and everybody’s responsibility.”

Those eligible must be an employee, an employee’s child or a caregiver to someone who is a victim.

In order to get time off work, the employee must seek medical attention or obtain services from a psychologist, victims’ services organization or other professional services. They must also seek legal or law enforcement assistance and attend court appearances. Relocating, either temporarily or permanently, is also a requirement.

Those seeking leave may be required to provide evidence of the services being received to qualify. That information is to be kept confidential by their employer.

The employee also must have worked for an employer for a minimum of 13 weeks to be eligible for the paid leave.

Local advocate sees good and bad in province’s action

In addition to passing the paid leave amendment, the provincial government released its response to the Domestic Violence Death Review (DVDR) Report on Monday.

Last May, Saskatchewan’s DVDR Panel released its final report. After looking in depth at six specific murder cases related to domestic violence, the panel came up with 19 general recommendations around education, assessment and intervention. Reviewing all deaths related to domestic violence is one of them, for example.

Jo-Anne Dusel is with the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan (PATHS). She was also on the DVDR panel.

After looking through the province’s response, Dusel said she was very pleased to see some more specific measures moving forward — like the amendments around paid leave and Clare’s Law. She was also happy to see an increased focus on men and boys.

“I think that’s a piece that’s been missing a lot over the history of the shelter movement. The past 40 years we’ve concentrated very much on providing support to victims and legislation for victims,” explained Dusel. “We haven’t really been looking at the people who are actually causing the violence, or committing the violence, in terms of how can we support them to not use violence in the relationships.”

There is a line in the report which indicates the province is going to provide the most effective services within existing funding. Dusel said she was a bit dismayed to see that no more money would be put in the issue. She said organizations on the front lines of domestic violence haven’t had any significant funding increase in a decade.

“When you think about how every day expenses — like utilities, like gas, like the price of food — have all increased so much in the last few years, that is actually translating to a real loss in funding for shelters,” she explained.

Dusel also has a few other criticisms, such as the addition of interpersonal violence and bullying in the province’s response and actions, for example. Dusel said those things may or may not have anything to do with what the panel was looking at: domestic murders.

She also noted the province’s response seemed to talk a lot about things that had already been done. For instance, in one case, the province said it had things to address some of the panel’s recommendations in existing educational curriculum.

But Beaudry-Mellor rejects the idea the report was “rehashing” older initiatives.

“There’s been a lot of movement in this area. I think the list is actually quite long; I’m very proud of that,” the minister told reporters Monday afternoon.

She noted the province passed Clare’s Law, and said work is underway on tackling other recommendations in the panel’s report, like programs planned with the North Central Family Centre and the Regina Police Service.

“Nothing by itself is going to get at this problem — we still have a major problem in this province,”  Beaudry-Mellor said.

On Monday, the province announced that in 2019-20, more than $20 million will be provided for a range of prevention and intervention services and responses.

Specifically, the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General is giving $11.9 million to programs and resources, with $427,000 of that sum expected to go towards maintaining and expanding upon commitments made in the initial response to the DVDR Report last year.