Laughing in the Face of Domestic Violence

(This column of Readily a Parent originally appeared in The Western Star on June 04, 2014)

On Thursday, May 29, our province’s MHAs proved once again what obnoxious, uncaring, asses they can all be. Yeah, I’m not mincing words on this one. I, for one, am sick of the antics of these supposed adults and the ongoing ridiculousness of the name-calling, bullying, verbal grandstanding, and general lack of concern that is often shown by our elected representatives when discussing important provincial matters in the House of Assembly.

Seriously, you could gather a cartload of monkeys and witness more decorum than we often do in our House of Assembly.

Other observers and writers have commented on what happened when Gerry Rogers, MHA, stood to present a petition to bring back the Family Violence Intervention Court. There were some interruptions and interjections from the nut gallery during her speaking time – pretty typical for the House. But it all ended badly, disgusting in fact, when she stated that bringing back the court would not cost much. The assembled ministers chose that point to start laughing. Not tittering and ripples of giggles, hard belly laughter, the mocking kind you typically hear from a schoolyard of children intent upon an embarrassed target.

Actually, no, children don’t often do that anymore. They’ve learned to respect others and schools rarely tolerate such ridicule of other children.

What we can’t tell from reading the Hansard or watching thewebcast of the day’s Assembly is whether that laughter is directed at Rogers and her statements or at something else entirely. Evidence points to them laughing at Rogers as once she sits and her fellow NDP MHA George Murphy stands to discuss the oh-so important matter of vehicle insurance you can hear her in the background answering to comments from the nut gallery.

And yet, when Murphy stands to plea the fact that the people in this province who can afford cars, gas, registration, licenses but not insurance are not people who don’t know how to prioritise but indeed victims of too high insurance , he also has a big grin on his face and stands mid laugh.

So, is her own fellow NDP MHA laughing at her? Is he laughing at some response made to those laughing (the timeframe doesn’t suit that explanation)? Or is the laughter about something else entirely? (I asked on Twitter but he didn't respond)

Well, we could discuss that for more days than the House meets and never get an answer. Unless someone who was actually there tells the truth about what happened, exactly.

What happened, observationally, is that Rogers was discussing a socially and economically important matter and during that discussion her fellow MHAs started laughing disruptively.

What really doesn’t matter is why they were laughing. If they were laughing at her it’s more disgusting, but if they were laughing at some other, distracting event it’s just as bad. Even my kids know better than to laugh about anything during a serious discussion.  It would be interesting to speak to the parents of our MHAs to see if they were actually proud of their children on that day. Their actions were not something I would hold up to my children as evidence of adult behaviour and a proud position to strive for. The fact is, during meetings of the House, their actions rarely are something to show my children as an example of what I want to see from them. In this case, in particular though, their behaviour was abhorrent and they should apologise to the people of this province.

All of this discussion serves – perhaps intentionally? – to distract both our MHAs and our media away from the point of Rogers’ petition. A point that was ridiculed either directly or through distraction by that laughter.

Reinstating the Family Violence Intervention Court is no laughing matter and should be seriously discussed. Instead it has, once again, been swept away distractedly under a sea of other provincial concerns. And the matter still hangs in the air. The PCs may see it as a fait accompli that it has been closed and the project ended, but until our province’s women and families receive a response as to why, exactly, it was chosen for the chopping block, the discussion will continue to arise.

It seems every time the Family Violence Intervention Court discussion comes up, it is quickly ended again. Back in 2009, when then Justice Minister Tom Marshall introduced the court to the House of Assembly and the media he said I look forward to watching the court grow and seeing the positive impact it has upon our community.” He explained that it was a pilot project and that depending on the evaluation of its impact, it would grow – one suspects to other parts of the province.

According to Rogers, Premier Marshall now says that the court was ended not because it was too costly or didn’t work but that because it was favouritism for St. John’s to have the court and not other parts of the province. And yet, the project was started by Marshall himself as a pilot project for possible expansion. The budget for the first year was almost $300,000. A couple of years later it was running at close to $500,000 and maintaining. Simple math would have one surmise that to spread this court system to Central, Western, and Labrador would mean an annual running budget of $2 million. Not a lot, really, in our provincial justice budget.

Of course, simple math doesn’t work in this province. As someone who has lived many years “beyond the overpass,” I can tell you that the services aren’t already in place to simply plunk a family violence court in those areas and expect it to work. Such courts require accountability and input from several areas of justice and community services. They require a commitment to counselling for offenders and victims. And they require that those services be available on an ongoing basis.

Perhaps the reason our government doesn’t want to discuss spreading the Family Violence Intervention Court to other parts of the province is because it doesn’t want to discuss why the budget would grow exponentially as they struggled to put services in place that should already be there.

Maybe that’s not it. Maybe there’s a perfectly valid reason why they’ve decided not to expand the original pilot project. But until someone actually opens their mouth to talk and not laugh, we’ll never know.

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