Standing on a stage specially built by her brother Dan on the altar of St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Devon, Irene Jewett looks out on the crowd of country music fans sitting in the church pews. The fans and performers are there to take part in what has become a regular event at St. Anthon’s — a country and gospel benefit concert to help the families affected by family violence. Irene has just received the total of the money raised during the concert. As the crowd waits in anticipation, Irene's smile beams in the light of the church's stained glass windows. This show has raised $4,000 taking the total for the series of concerts over the $33,000 mark (the total to date has climbed to $38,000.)
It was at the 2016 Christmas Show, that Irene announces passing the $30,000 milestone, Fr. Monte Peters drops 30 inflated balloons from the church balcony onto the cheering crowd. It was a special moment for Irene, a culmination of many special moments since Irene has been the organizer and force behind this concert series.
Five years ago, a woman with four young children was leaving her abusive partner and asked Irene for help. "She had nowhere to go," says Irene. "She needed a couple nights in a hotel to get organized. She was desperate."
The plight of this young family really affected Irene. "I would see the face of her five-year-old son when I tried to sleep. I asked Fr. Peters, 'What are we going to do to help this family?' He told me, 'Irene, you'll figure it out. Let me know what you need me to do."'
Irene and the parish were able to raise enough money to help the woman and her kids. The situation made a big impact on Irene. "It felt good to help out this family but I knew that I couldn't keep doing that with individuals. I've had friends who were in bad relationships and used some of the services at Liberty Lane, so I decided to make Liberty Lane the main beneficiary of anything that I decided to organize."
Irene has a long time love of music and performing and she decided to take that love and turn it into a fundraiser for the women and children facing abuse. Since she began organizing the country and gospel concerts five years ago, she has had 91 entertainers from all over the Maritimes and the eastern United States take part.
Her love for her audience is also a factor in organizing the shows. Early in the concert series, the shows started in the evening and finished when it was dark. One night a patron hit a moose driving home from one of the shows. Irene decided that she would move future shows to the afternoon to make sure everyone could get home safely. She also insists on only using local musicians during the winter months to avoid people driving too far in snowy conditions.
"So many people give so generously to make these concerts happen," says Irene. "We have a great group of volunteers and It really is quite something that St. Anthonys lets us use the church like we do. I don't think anything like this has ever been done in a local Catholic church."
Local organizations have recognized the good works Irene has been doing. She has received the Beta SigmaPhi Woman of the Year Award, the Judy Loukes Award from Liberty Lane, and The Muriel McQueen Fergusson Foundation Award to recognize outstanding contributions toward preventing and eliminating family violence in Canada.
All of the money raised is from "free will offering." The most she has ever received in an individual offering was $200. Irene spoke to the donor after the concert to thank her. The woman had been in an abusive relationship and was motivated to give back now that she could.
Irene has set a goal of $50,000 for the concert series. They are a great deal of work but she loves the music and the audience and has an enormous sense of pride in the concert series and the good works they make possible.
"Everyone gives so generously for this cause," says Irene. "I can't wait to reach our goal. It's going to be fantastic."
Irene stands in front of the awards she has received including the Beta SigmaPhi Woman of the Year Award, the Judy Loukes Award from Liberty Lane, and The Muriel McQueen Fergusson Foundation Award to recognize outstanding contributions toward preventing and eliminating family violence in Canada.
George Street Middle School and Fredericton Hyundai come together to help the residents of Liberty Lane
Once again George Street Middle School pulled together an amazing amount of donations for Liberty Lane. Toilet Paper, Dish Soap, Juice Boxes, Cleaning Products, Coffee, Tissue Paper, and on and on!!
We couldn't have transported all the items without the help of two Hyundai trucks and six of the Hyundai employees! Thank you to our generous community, Hyundai Fredericton, and George Street Middle School!
For a victim of intimate partner violence, maintaining employment can be incredibly challenging. IPV comes with a series of added pressures and time commitments that may require victims to miss work or need direct changes to their work environment or schedule. Unfortunately, this can also place them at great risk of losing their job during what is already a stressful and dangerous time. Currently in Canada, there is no nation-wide, policy-based protection surrounding employment security for people experiencing IPV. However, in recent years, a push for change has begun across several provinces, including New Brunswick, that employers should be aware of! Here is a quick look at some of the changes happening across Canada, what is being proposed in New Brunswick, our recommendations surrounding this policy, and what you specifically can do to both support this legislation and any employees in your life who may be affected by IPV.
Existing Legislation Across Canada:
In Canada, Manitoba was the first province to propose and enact legislation that provides workplace leave for victims of domestic and intimate partner violence (Bielski, 2017). Bill 8 (2015), The Employment Standards Code Amendment Act (Leave for Victims of Domestic Violence, Leave for Serious Injury or Illness and Extension of Compassionate Care Leave) was put forward by NDP member Honourable Ms Braun, the Minister of Labour and Immigration in Manitoba, and assented to on March 15, 2016 (Allen & Hughes, 2016; Bielski, 2017). This legislation allows for employees who are victims of domestic violence to take a leave of five paid days, five unpaid days, and an additional 17 unpaid weeks (Bielski, 2017). To access this leave, an employee must be a victim of domestic violence, as defined by the Domestic Violence and Stalking Act (Allen & Hughes, 2016). This act defines domestic violence as the following:
[An] intentional, reckless or threatened act or omission that causes bodily harm or property damage; an intentional, reckless or threatened act or omission that causes a reasonable fear of bodily harm or property damage; conduct that reasonably, in all the circumstances, constitutes psychological or emotional abuse; forced confinement; sexual abuse (The Domestic Violence and Stalking Act, 2016, s. 2(1.1)(a-e)).
An employee is eligible for this leave after working for the same employer for ninety consecutive days (Bill 8, 2015). This leave can be used to seek medical attention for an employee or their child, to access victim services, to attend professional counselling, to facilitate relocation, to seek legal or law enforcement help, or for any other required services (Bill 8, 2015). Employees who wish to use this leave must give notice, as early as possible; furthermore, the leave must be continuous (Bill 8, 2015). All employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for victims of domestic violence (Allen & Hughes, 2016); however, they are also entitled to “reasonable verification” of the need for leave (Bill 8, 2015). The definition of reasonable verification has not been specified (Allen & Hughes, 2016).
Similarly, Ontario has proposed new legislation for domestic violence leave. Bill 26 (2016): An Act to amend the Employment Standards Act, 2000 in respect of leave and accommodation for victims of domestic or sexual violence and to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Respect of Information and Instruction Concerning Domestic and Sexual Violence was put forward by NDP member, and women’s issues critic, Peggy Sattler (Bielski, 2017). This legislation will be enacted on January 1, 2018 (Government of Ontario, 2017a). This legislation will allow employees to take a leave of ten paid days, with an additional 15 unpaid weeks, in a calendar year (Government of Ontario, 2017a). An employee can use this leave if they have been a victim of domestic or sexual violence, or if their child has been a victim of domestic or sexual violence (Bill 26, 2016). After being employed for thirteen consecutive weeks, an employee is eligible for this leave (Government of Ontario, 2017a). The ten days can be taken at any time, together or sporadically, including partial days; however, an employer can deduct a full day, even if only part of a day has been used (Government of Ontario, 2017b). The leave can be taken to seek medical attention for oneself or a child for physical or psychological injury related to the abuse, to access victim services, to attend psychological (or other) counselling, to facilitate relocation or to pursue legal and/or law enforcement assistance (Government of Ontario, 2017b). Similar to Manitoba, an employee must give as early as reasonable notice to take the leave, and the employer is entitled to reasonable verification of the need for the leave (Government of Ontario, 2017b).
Looking Closer to Home: NB’s Proposed Legislation:
Here in NB, the New Brunswick Union has recently been pushing for a change in our own legislation to create change and build upon the aforementioned progress made in other parts of Canada. They have proposed an amendment in the provincial Employment Standards Act with the goal of allowing survivors to be able to have the flexibility and time to seek help or tend to their needs while still maintaining their financial security. Ensuring financial security is especially important for survivors of IPV, particularly those who are in the process of leaving; due to the incurrent costs and potential loss of a partner’s income, many survivors identify financial concerns as being a major barrier from leaving an abusive partner. This legislation, by offering increased economic security to survivors, would directly lessen the impact of this barrier and provide victims with a tool to help break the cycle of abuse.
The NBU’s main proposed change in this legislation would allow victims of IPV, or whose children have experienced domestic or sexual violence, to be entitled to a leave of absence to improve their situation without being at risk of losing their job (New Brunswick Union, 2017). This leave would consist of up to ten days, five paid and five unpaid, that could be used either consecutively or intermittently depending on what is needed by the employee (New Brunswick Union, 2017). This time could be used for a variety of reasons, be it for the employee to move, access IPV-related services or aids, attend court or meetings with a lawyer, visit a doctor, tend to physical injuries, and more. Just recently, CUPE NB has announced a push for similar legislation (Canadian Union of Public Employees, 2016).
Offering a leave of absence is not the only role of this proposed legislation change, however. This legislation would additionally offer protection to victims by requiring their employers to accommodate reasonable changes while the victims are at work, as well. For example, this could include having an employer adapt an employee's hours or place of work in order to prevent undue hardship to the victim (New Brunswick Union, 2017). Having these direct supports for victims in place will assist in ensuring both their physical safety and mental health, while also offering direct suggestions of plans for action by employers so that they are able to help their employee while also helping themselves by maintaining workplace productivity.
The NBU has already made some progress with this proposed legislation, though there is still much to be done. They have begun by looking at individual contracts, ensuring that language surrounding domestic violence leave is included in the Union’s own new collective agreement, and negotiating similar language into contracts for two different nursing homes in the province (New Brunswick Union, 2017). In terms of changing legislation itself at a government level, the NBU has been meeting with representatives for various levels government and pushing to have this proposed change supported and brought forth as a motion in a legislative assembly (A. McGilligan, personal communication, 2017). However, thus far this has not occured.
In light of the fact this policy change has not yet been proposed or implemented, there is a lot that you as a reader can do. Our recommendation to readers and employers is to become more educated with the barriers faced by those who have experienced family violence and advocate for those who have been impacted by IPV by supporting the legislation change; this will give those living with IPV more workplace flexibility to allow them to seek the help and resources they need without the risk of losing employment. This legislation would also consist of five paid and five unpaid days off from work.
Another way to take action supporting individuals who have experienced IPV is to incorporate domestic violence leave into your own business contracts. If these are things that you do not have the power to change, simply sharing this blog or previous blogs, or even by sharing relevant articles such as the 2016 CBC News article by Dylan Hackett, “ New Brunswick Union wants paid leave for domestic abuse victims,” is a great first step towards creating awareness of the issue and advocating for change.
We also believe that while these suggested policy changes are wonderful, there are areas that could be strengthened to offer greater protection and support to the individuals affected. Our first recommendation for the new legislation is to be inclusive and consider all forms of DV/IPV. When thinking of DV/IPV, we often think of physical violence only, but it is important to include emotional, financial, sexual, and spiritual abuse as well when re-working the legislation. We also recommend that employees should have a full ten days, rather than five paid days off of full wage pay. Many individuals who are escaping family violence struggle financially already, so reducing their pay would be creating another barrier for the individual trying to leave an abusive partner. Finally, our last recommendation for the new legislation and for employers is to ensure that the time taken off of work for DV/IPV reasons is exact, and to not deduct a full day when one only takes a half day.
For more information on this subject, contact the New Brunswick Union or Liberty Lane!
By Lacie Hardy, Ally Loiselle, and Kathleen Chiasson
Allen, K., & Hughes, A. (2016). Manitoba Employment Standards legislation to include leave for victims of domestic violence. Lawson & Lundell Labour and Employment Law Bulletin. Retrieved from https://www.lawsonlundell.com/media/news/519_L_E%20Bulletin%20-%20Client%20Brief%20Manitoba%20Domestic%20Violence%20Law.pdf
Bielski, Z. (2017, March 24). Manitoba passes law to offer victims of domestic violence leave from work. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/manitoba-approves-bill-to-offer-victims-of-domestic-violence-leave-from-work/article29255554/
Bill 26: An Act to amend the Employment Standards Act, 2000 in respect of leave and accommodation for victims of domestic or sexual violence and to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Respect of Information and Instruction Concerning Domestic and Sexual Violence. (2016). 2nd Reading Oct. 20, 2016, 41st Legislature, 2nd Session. Retrieved from the Legislative Assembly of Ontario website: http://www.ontla.on.ca/bills/bills-files/41_Parliament/Session2/b026.pdf
Bill 8: The employment standards code amendment act (leave for victims of domestic violence, leave for injury or illness and extension of compassionate care leave. (2015). 40th Legislature, 5th session. Retrieved from the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba website: https://web2.gov.mb.ca/bills/40-5/pdf/b008.pdf
Canadian Union of Public Employees (2017). CUPE NB makes inroads to assist victims of intimate partner violence. Retrieved from https://cupe.ca/cupe-nb-makes-inroads-assist-victims-intimate-partner-violence
Government of Ontario, Ministry of Labour. (2017a). Ontario expanding worker protections for victims of domestic or sexual violence: Ontario proposes expanded job-protected leave. Retrieved from https://news.ontario.ca/mol/en/2017/10/ontario-expanding-worker-protections-for-victims-of-domestic-or-sexual-violence.html
Government of Ontario, Ministry of Labour. (2017b). Ontario’s proposed domestic or sexual violence workplace leave. Retrieved from https://news.ontario.ca/mol/en/2017/10/ontarios-proposed-domestic-or-sexual-violence-workplace-leave.html
Hackett, D. (2016). New Brunswick Union paid leave for domestic abuse victims: The New Brunswick Union wants the province to implement paid leave for those fleeing domestic abuse. CBC News. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/abuse-victims-paid-leave-nb-1.3505859
New Brunswick Union (2017). Domestic violence leave legislation: New Brunswick Union Communications 2017 [Powerpoint slides]. Provided by A. McGilligan, 2017.
The Domestic Violence and Stalking Act [2016, c.3]. Retrieved from the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba website: http://web2.gov.mb.ca/laws/statutes/ccsm/_pdf.php?cap=d93