Q&A with Minister of Community Services Joanne Bernard

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Joanne Bernard

Minister of Community Services Joanne Bernard stopped in New Glasgow last week on her way back from a two-day conference in Prince Edward Island with the Atlantic ministers responsible for the Status of Women. She took the opportunity to tour Roots For Youth, Summer Street Industries and meet with local staff from her department. She also caught up with The News’ Amanda Jess for a Q&A about an upcoming project.

 

A: You’re in the process of developing a sexual violence strategy. Is that correct?

 

J: Yes … We very much want to consult with the community and we know that a lot of work has been done by both government and community over the years. We want to capture that. We also want to hear from families that have been affected by sexual violence in their lives. We want to garner that information and that will inform the work that will be done for the strategy. So that website will be launched next week. We really want to make it focused throughout Nova Scotia so that the rural perspective, different communities within rural areas, (and) different demographics. We really want to garner as much information as we can. And we’ll use that information and that will inform the strategy, which will be delivered in 2015. There’s $6 million earmarked for that strategy over the next three years.

 

A: What kind of difference do you think it makes to get perspectives from different areas?

 

J: There’s different vulnerabilities for different women depending on where they live in this province. HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality) has its own unique issues around sexual violence and the rural areas, everything from transportation to employability and whatever makes a woman vulnerable in her life, in her home, in her existence everyday, they are often very different from what’s available in HRM. Access to services is very different.

 

A: What would you like to see happen with this strategy?

 

J: What I would like to see is a concerted, committed move by government, service providers and the general public to become aware of issues such as consent, … to deconstruct rape culture within our society in Nova Scotia and to change attitudes. A lot of that is done through a really concerted public education piece that we’ve never seen in this province. We’ve seen dribs and drabs, but we’ve never seen anything that’s long term, consistent or impactful. That’s what I want to see. Also, to make sure that the services that are available for survivors of sexual assault are supported and expanded where needed.

 

A: When you say public education, in what sense (do you mean) - in the school system, outside the school system?

 

J: Both. You have to be careful in the curriculum of how you’re going to introduce a highly controversial, and quite frankly, not an age appropriate subject for some ages. But you can talk about kid’s rights to be safe, you can certainly talk about respect. And later on, as children age you talk about consent. That really is missing right now in a lot of our structures. 

Organizations: Halifax Regional Municipality

Geographic location: Nova Scotia

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