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Women's advocates call for end to provincial discrimination

Provincial cuts to legal aid and high poverty rates discriminate against low-income women and must be quickly reversed, said community advocates and opposition politicians at a press conference in Vancouver yesterday.

“It’s something that we should all be ashamed of,” said Jenny Kwan, New Democratic Party MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant.

All levels of government in Canada are bound by international obligations on these issues, said UBC law professor Margot Young, and recent reports have specifically singled out the province of B.C. for discrimination against women.

Canada is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and must participate in an international review of compliance every four years. The most recent reports in 2003 and 2008 show B.C. is failing women and children, particularly in the areas of access to justice and poverty reduction, said Young, adding the situation has only worsened since those reports.

“What we’ve seen since the fall of 2008 report is a further cut to legal aid and a further deepening and extending of the poverty rates for vulnerable groups of women,” she said.

Kwan and Young were joined at yesterday’s press conference by NDP MLA from Vancouver-Fairview Jenn McGinn, Pivot Legal Society lawyer Lobat Sadrehashemi and Loren Breland from Helping Spirit Lodge Society.

The closing of the publicly-funded Family Law Clinic at the end of this month will represent an incredible hardship for some of B.C.’s most marginalized in accessing legal services, said Sadrehashemi.

“In order for these groups of people to have effective legal representation they need to have access to lawyers that can spend the time with them to work through the issues of their case that are quite complex,” she said.

“Without the Family Law Clinic it is quite unimaginable what is going to happen to these women and their families.”

Homelessness, inadequate social housing and high rates of child poverty were just some of the other areas highlighted yesterday with an expressed concern of making these key issues in the upcoming provincial election campaign.

“I think all political parties in B.C. need to have their feet put to the fire on what they’re going to do to the members of our society in the province who are most marginalized and disadvantaged,” said Young.

The NDP platform released yesterday shows where her party stands on these issues, said Kwan.

“We’re very committed to addressing these issues – it is a key priority within the NDP.”

Some of these promises include:

Establish a Ministry of Women’s Equality

Raise the minimum wage to $10

Create provincial women’s centres

Introduce firm targets for social housing, including a commitment of 2,400 units in the first year

But whether the issues facing the province's most marginalized people will receive adequate attention in the election is in doubt, said Young.

“I don’t think they ever get the play they deserve.”

Garrett Zehr reports for The Hook.

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