Domestic violence discussion met with laughter in House

Josh Pennell
Published on May 31, 2014

An incident in the House of Assembly Thursday raised the ire of some people over how the government responded to NDP MHA Gerry Rogers’ presentation of a petition.

Rogers asked the government to reinstate Family Violence Intervention Court, which was eliminated with the 2013-14 provincial budget.

“I called out to the premier and I pleaded with him, on behalf of the women of the province and the families of the province, to reinstate the family violence court and to do this as an act before he stepped down as premier,” Rogers told The Telegram Thursday evening.

Heckling ensued — not exactly uncommon in the House. But what sparked debate among some people was that Rogers was discussing domestic violence. Comments on Twitter noted how inappropriate it was for heckling and boisterous laughter to be going on while the serious issue of domestic violence was being discussed.

After Rogers sat down and another speaker took the floor, she could be heard continuing to respond to comments being made to her from other government members.

In an email response to The Telegram, Premier Tom Marshall addressed the question of whether he thought the government’s interruptive response to Rogers’ presentation was appropriate.

“From time to time members on all sides engage in side discussions during House proceedings and, sometimes, in the emotion of debate, decorum can be forgotten. We all must strive to do better in this respect,” Marshall said.

“However, this lapse in decorum should not be equated with disregard for the importance of an issue. All members care about preventing and dealing with violence in our society.”

Rogers told The Telegram Thursday evening that what was being said after she sat down was an exchange between her and Marshall, during which he accused her of not caring about people elsewhere in the province because Family Violence Intervention Court had been based in St. John’s.

“I was surprised, actually, by the premier’s response,” Rogers said. “He said that I don’t care about the people of Labrador and Corner Brook.”

The Telegram asked the premier if he truly thought Rogers felt this way.

“This particular pilot project was experiencing a decline in numbers (just 21 people completed the program in 2012-13, down from 39 in the previous year) and was not offered provincewide,” Marshall said of that particular court.

“This year, government is funding a provincewide, preventative program and has committed to a new courthouse in Stephenville.”

Rogers said the family violence intervention program has been praised by law enforcement, lawyers and anti-violence groups and should be implemented provincewide.

Marshall said the government has provided provincewide programs other than domestic violence intervention court.

 “In 2012, 21 people completed the program, a significant decline from the 39 who had completed it in the previous year. This year, government made the decision to implement a provincewide measure addressing (domestic violence), with the joint RNC-RCMP unit focused on identifying and helping high-risk women and families.”

Despite those other measures, the special court was the most effective, Rogers contends.

“It was one of the most effective tools that dealt with the root causes of domestic violence,” she said.

Rogers has been advocating for the return of the program, which had a bail supervisor keeping in contact with offenders and provided counselling for victims since it was eliminated. One of her biggest issues is that the government has given different answers as to why it was eliminated at different times — saying it wasn’t being used, it wasn’t effective and that the budget wouldn’t allow for the $500,000-a-year cost.

Rogers said she has been ridiculed in the House before for fighting for the court’s return, but the mood on all sides was more intense that day.

“I think it was heightened, because I was heightened today in the House, as well,” she said Thursday.