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Gender equality report card finds some progress in B.C. but other areas of ‘serious concern’

VANCOUVER —
A new report card on gender equality and human rights in British Columbia finds the province has made some progress but still shows areas of “serious concern.”

The report was released by West Coast LEAF, or Legal Education and Action Fund, a non-profit that advocates for gender equality through law and education. It examined access to justice, economic security, freedom from gender-based violence, health, justice for people who are criminalized and the rights of parents, children and youth.

“While recognizing that B.C. has taken some steps in the right direction between December 2018 and early April 2020, the B.C. Gender Equality Report Card also finds that many of these steps have left marginalized women and gender-diverse people behind,” the report says.

The highest grade earned by the province in this year’s report card was just a C+, which was in the area of health care. While the province eliminated MSP premiums and made gender-affirming lower surgery accessible under MSP, the report says more needs to be done to make health care more affordable and comprehensive.

“Further action is needed to ensure universal access to gender-specific and sex-specific health-care, as well as contraception, dental care and other health services,” the report’s summary says. “B.C. needs to be proactive in tackling the stigma and discrimination that create barriers to health care for marginalized communities.”

B.C.’s move to introduce a safe drug supply during COVID-19 was “critically important” but must be maintained after the pandemic has passed, the report says.

The province received its lowest mark, a D-, in the area of justice for people who are criminalized.

“The B.C. government has still not adequately addressed major human rights concerns surrounding criminalization,” the report says. “Indigenous people continue to be incarcerated at appallingly disproportionate rates, and transgender people in prisons continue to face dangerous conditions.”

B.C.’s move to reform solitary confinement practices was described as “encouraging and long overdue,” but concerns were expressed over two recent pieces of legislation that could potentially exacerbate the criminalization of marginalized groups: the Community Safety Amendment Act and the Civil Forfeiture Amendment Act.

The report found B.C. had only taken “very limited steps” to address violence against members of gender minority communities and that the province’s temporary funding top-up for services for survivors of domestic violence fell far short of what is needed. Overall, the province was given a D+ for its approach to eliminating gender-based violence, noting that there had been very limited action.

The province was given a C in the area of the rights of parents, children and youth and was recognized for moving towards universal child care, but the report noted “inaction” in other areas.

“The child welfare system is riddled with systemic problems that disproportionately harm Indigenous families,” the summary says. “While B.C.’s move to end birth alerts is a positive and hard-won change, questions remain about what will happen to children previously apprehended as a result of birth alerts, and what new supports (if any) the government will provide so that infants and new parents can thrive together.”

The province announced in 2019 that it was ending a practice that allowed hospitals to inform child welfare agencies of possible safety risks to infants at birth without the consent of parents. The minister of children and family development said at the time the alerts were primarily used in cases involving marginalized women and disproportionately in births for Indigenous women.

When it comes to access to justice and economic security, the province was given a C- in both areas, with concerns raised about access to legal help and low rates for income assistance and disability benefits.

“More targeted housing, social supports and employment programs are needed for marginalized people to attain economic security in the context of systemic sexism, transphobia, racism, ableism and other inequalities,” the report says.

The report also urges the government to ensure that new legislation implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its recognition of transgender and non-binary identities as “more than just symbolic.”

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