Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Murdered women are not 'domestic' issue

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Does anyone remember the Lavoie Commission and the Pedlar report?

Many years ago, I was the only man in a 20-woman delegation to the attorney general of Manitoba, Roland Penner. Led by Kathy Hiller, then executive director of Osborne House, and Toni Nelson, the delegation demanded the government identify the act of men beating up and murdering women as a crime not a "domestic."

Supported by child and family services minister Len Evans, Manitoba went on to be a leader, not just in Canada, but in North America in dealing with male assaults on their partners.

On Wednesday, Winnipeggers were stunned by an apparent murder-suicide after a mother was found in her garage with throat cut.

In 1997 a woman, Rhonda Lavoie, was murdered by her husband Roy Lavoie who then committed suicide. Sound familiar?

Vic Toews, then Manitoba justice minister, ordered an inquiry and the Lavoie Commission became a template for what needed to be done to deal with the epidemic of cowardly men who beat and murdered women.

I was very proud that my daughter, at that time a probation officer in northern Manitoba, was appointed as northern representative of the implementation group for the Lavoie report, chaired by highly respected Prof. Jane Ursell. Both the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats endorsed the report and pledged to implement its recommendations.

The recommendations were rational, reasonable and effective to protect women from beatings and death.

Prior to the Lavoie report, in 1991, then minister of justice James McCrae ordered a domestic violence review headed by Dorothy Pedlar.

These two reports demonstrated that domestic violence was not a political issue; it was an issue on which all parties shared concern and willingness to act.

Men who beat up women were prosecuted, men were involved in the Phoenix project where groups of 12 beaters discussed their behaviour guided by trained group workers. Police were instructed to arrest, charge and prosecute only the primary aggressor.

In 1998, Jane Ursell issued the final report of the Lavoie inquiry implementation committee in which she proudly stated. "The majority of the recommendations have been implemented."

However, 14 years later many of the recommendations have been ignored or fallen by the wayside as inconvenient or too expensive. Recommendations that police should routinely take photographs of the scene and the victim? Not happening. Tapes and statements from other witnesses should be obtained? Never implemented. A maximum of three months should elapse before trial of the aggressor takes place? It could be a year -- or two. The women's advocacy program should be available evenings and weekends and be in the community, not in an office highrise? The women's advocacy program works daily, 8:30 to 4:30, behind a lexan glass shield on the 13th floor of the Woodsworth Building. Few poor women or working women are able to access their services.

The Lavoie commission spent considerable time on the need for a domestic violence public awareness campaign. It goes into detail about the need to involve men's organizations, recruiting sports and arts figures to do public service announcements, to encourage employers to develop safety plans for their employees who are threatened. Does anyone remember anything that deters men from beating women?

The number of men appearing in provincial judges court every Tuesday is overwhelming the corrections system.

Most of the recommendations of two reports, ordered by Conservative justice ministers and endorsed by NDP governments, have been eliminated and forgotten.

Many of us who have struggled with the cowardice of men in their attitude and treatment of women rejoiced when the NDP elected a record number of women MLAs. We saw that our legislature had the most women MLAs in history. Surely the issue of women being beaten and murdered by men would be a high priority.

No, the Lavoie report and the Pedlar report have disappeared. Several of the women MLAs have never read the reports and are totally unaware of the horrors their sisters live with.

I have attempted to discuss this issue with Justice Minister Andrew Swan on two occasions and he and his deputy minister dismissed concerns.

Last week, I was proud of the men in our neighbourhood as five big guys intervened when a man had hit and was threatening again to hit his girlfriend. The police arrived. No, there were no photos taken, no witnesses interviewed. The guy was arrested and was back the next morning.

What has happened? Manitoba went from being the model of how to deal with men who beat and murder women to where we are back to calling it a "domestic." Monday and Tuesday provincial judges courts even have a sign saying "Domestic Court."

Why have the NDP women allowed Andrew Swan to ignore the gravity of the violence against women. Why have the Progressive Conservatives, who ordered the Pedlar report and the Lavoie commission, allowed this serious criminal issue to be marginalized?

I respectfully ask Premier Greg Selinger, a PhD social worker who is familiar with this issue, to invite the Conservatives to form an all-party commission to review the state of the abuse of women and report back to the legislature with an action plan that updates the two reports.

Men and women should not stand still for more and more women to be beaten and killed by men.


Sel Burrows is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2012 A16

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