Those gathered at Leduc’s Wingate Hotel Mar. 31 learned that many in the community are working to stop domestic violence, an often-underestimated problem in Alberta.
Riseup House, a non-profit society with the mission of, through counseling, support and education, bringing hope and healing to women impacted by domestic abuse and both educating and empowering communities to end that abuse, hosted some expert speakers about domestic violence in the Leduc region as part of their annual general meeting.
Board chair Erna Carter welcomed everyone to the meeting that featured a number of local officials in the audience. Carter stated local RCMP commander Insp. Kevin Kunetzki, Cst. Bridget Avis and Leduc Victim Services coordinator Laura Barnes were all going to describe their efforts to deal with domestic violence in the county and city of Leduc and surrounding area.
The commander said he wanted to speak about the stats and policies the RCMP have in place to address domestic violence. Kunetzki showed a chart describing domestic violence incidents in both city and county of Leduc; the city numbers had declined a bit while rural numbers hadn’t changed much over the five years shown. Kunetzki stated the massive population increase the Leduc area has experienced may have affected the city numbers. But overall, he said he was happy. “I’m optimistic… we might actually be heading in the right direction,” said Kunetzki.
He also mentioned the recent Leduc city/county police priorities survey that asked local residents seven questions. The top three responses were drugs, property crime and impaired driving, but the commander noted domestic violence was also near the top.
Kunetzki said the RCMP already treats domestic violence seriously. He noted that if RCMP get called to a domestic violence situation where there are grounds for a charge, there will be little discretion used. The charges will be laid.
Cst. Avis reviews all domestic violence files handled by the city and rural Leduc RCMP. She said if a high risk domestic situation exists she will give all available supports including risk assessments and recommendations for keeping a victim safe as well as monitoring the offender.
Avis is also a member of the family violence prevention team and she said she likes to get into the community to raise awareness around domestic violence issues.
“I love being the domestic violence coordinator,” said Avis. She noted that domestic violence files are the most arduous to handle. Avis also noted she works very closely with other agencies in the region such as FCSS departments and victim services.
Barnes spoke next, describing the work victim services does in the community when domestic violence occurs. She said the organization provides support such as helping victims attend court and navigate the court system, write victim impact statements, get restitution and make referrals to other agencies. Victim services also provides some transportation for victims.
She noted it’s important for victim services to maintain contact with victims because it increases the chances for a conviction.
Victim services is also regularly recruiting volunteers for this important work.
Barnes said she’d also like to see the court system upgraded in Leduc area. “My vision is to see family violence court here in the next few years,” she said.
Q and A
The audience had a few questions for the guest speakers. Kunetzki answered a question about laying of charges, and confirmed that police investigate and lay charges, and the Crown prosecutor handles it from there. Kunetzki said sometimes charges are dropped because the victim changes their mind. “It takes a tremendous amount of courage to see it through that process,” said the commander.
He also made a point about preventing domestic violence before it happens. He said he likes the Leduc “superhero” campaign that provides education and role models, rather than “scared straight” type methods that don’t seem to make a difference.
Avis noted that some victims of domestic violence are men, and there is no shelter in this region for them.
She also mentioned a “success story” from a recent domestic violence incident. Avis said RCMP, FCSS and other partners were working with a victim of psychological abuse, a difficult situation because there aren’t always grounds for criminal charges. After working with the victim, who has two kids, for a long time the victim got the courage up and left. “And she’s doing amazing,” said Avis. “She just needed to know she has someone who’s in her corner.”
Carter also took a few minutes to introduce Riseup House’s new executive director Jacqueline Biollo, recently hired. Pipestone Flyer readers may recognize Biollo’s name from last fall’s federal election. Biollo ran under the Liberal party of Canada banner.
Carter stated Riseup House’s board is very excited about the new executive director and the chance to stand up for a cause she strongly believes in.
Biollo said she’s looking forward to bringing more awareness to the community regarding domestic violence.