Transition home society welcomes NDP motion

The NDP wants to make it easier for victims of domestic violence to flee abusive situations and access safe, stable housing.

By Sidney Cohen on April 25, 2016.  Whitehorse Daily Star.

The NDP wants to make it easier for victims of domestic violence to flee abusive situations and access safe, stable housing.

Kate White, the party’s housing critic, tabled a motion in the legislature last Wednesday.

It urges the government to change the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act so that a victim of domestic violence can end her lease early without having to pay, and give her the power to remove an abuser’s name from a lease.

The legislative assembly unanimously agreed to consult with stakeholders, such as women’s groups and advocacy groups, on whether the act should be altered, and what those changes should be.

White’s proposed changes are based on a bill passed in Alberta in December 2015. It allows a tenant to break a lease without financial penalty if she or he provides a statement from a doctor, nurse, social worker, peace officer or other certified professional.

Right now, a tenant must provide three months’ notice to terminate a yearly lease in the Yukon.

“I don’t want the landlords to suffer, but under special circumstances, I don’t think a person should have to give the full three months because that could put them in a position of financial hardship or risk,” White told the Star today.

There are currently safety measures in place for victims of domestic violence through the Family Violence Protection Act.

White, however, said these are short-term solutions to what can be enduring problems.

Under the Family Violence Protection Act, a person can seek an emergency intervention order or victim assistance order to remove an abuser from the home.

This order can include a provision that makes it so the victim or victims, and any children, are the only ones permitted to live at the residence.

An emergency intervention order is meant to address an immediate need while the victim explores her options for the future.

“When I was speaking to Kaushee’s (a shelter for women and children in Whitehorse), they actually mentioned the emergency intervention order and they said that this it was a good emergency step; it just didn’t take it far enough into the future,” White told the house last Wednesday.

In 2013-14, 288 women and 171 children spent time at Kaushee’s Place.

“One thing that we know is that a woman fleeing violence – it typically takes multiple times of being abused before she goes and she will leave more than one time,” White said.

“What I want to make sure of is that when a woman gets to that point – when she’s done; when she is ready to move on – that we remove all the barriers in her way and we make it as easy as possible for her to take the next steps in her life.”

She hopes her motion makes it easier for victims of domestic violence to keep their homes or find alternative stable, long-term housing.

The Yukon Housing Corp. has a policy to give “priority consideration” to people who can show they are at risk of abuse at their current home and therefore in immediate need of housing because they are at risk of abuse.

“From my perspective, and the perspective of many, is that we’re still in affordable housing crisis,” she said.

The prevalence of police-reported family violence is higher in the territories than in the rest of Canada.

Though the Yukon’s rate of violence against women is the lowest in the territories, it’s still four times the national average, according to the most recent Statistics Canada data.

The rate of intimate partner violence in the Yukon is significantly lower than in the rest of the territories, but almost twice as high as Saskatchewan, the province with the next-highest rate of intimate partner violence.

Intimate partner violence refers to police-reported violence committed against a current or former spouse (married or common law), a dating partner and/or sexual partner.

It is important to note that a significant number of sexual assaults and incidences of domestic violence go unreported.

The Statistics Canada data exclude victims under the age of 15, over the age of 89, and victims for whom the age or sex is unknown.

“If there was a bill that could help a woman get out of a lease and not pay an exorbitant amount to flee to safety, that is always a good thing, said Barbara McInerney, the executive director of the Yukon Women’s Transition Home Society, which operates Kaushee’s Place.

“It’s a good thing for everyone: the women, the children and the abuser.”