4 min

The road to the Barrier Elimination Program

An Ottawa man – perceived to be gay by a group of young men – is thrown from a bridge to his death. Although police don’t recognize the hate motivation behind the murder, the queer community is spurred to action. The “Blow the Whistle” campaign is set in motion with the distribution of safety pamphlets.

Conflict over police “inactivity” leads to the creation of the Ottawa Police Service Liaison Committee for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Communities (Liaison Committee). Its goal: “To make Ottawa-Carleton safe for individuals whose affectional orientation and gender identity is not that of the majority.”

The Ottawa Police Services Board funds an outreach project by two community-based workers – David Pepper (currently Director of Community Development for the Ottawa Police Service) and Carroll Holland – to work on an Action Plan of the Liaison Committee to reduce barriers to police services. The recommendations in their report “Moving Toward a Distant Horizon” are accepted and they are assigned space at the police station.

A lesbian focus group meets to discuss policing issues and brings concerns about lesbian partner abuse to light. According to Holland, “The meeting revealed deep distrust of the police, incidents of inappropriate police response and an almost complete lack of services and preventative measures.”

The Community Access Project, with Holland as coordinator, produces the Barrier Elimination Plan (BEP) to help organizations create welcoming environments for lesbians.

Holland and Pepper identify lesbian partner abuse as the emerging issue.

The Ottawa-Carleton Round Table Against Violence Against Women grows out of a two-day workshop – “Putting the Pieces Together” – for the Women’s Action Centre. Meeting monthly, it consists of decision-makers in the criminal justice system and associated community groups. Its mandate: to implement recommendations of the workshop.
To this day, Holland says, “It’s not funded; it survives on the goodwill of willing groups and individuals.”

Lesbians form the BEP committee, which eventually becomes a subcommittee of the Police Liaison Committee, and soon the Transgender community joins.

Holland stresses, “A big development was in 1997 when the round table asked members of key criminal justice system agencies – the crown, police, probation and parole, and regional social services – to set up the multi-sector Partner Assault Support Team (PAST) to talk about high-risk cases. It represents a really serious area and handles a lot of volume. It’s very important and effective.” Its mandate: “To work toward ending partner abuse by providing coordinated services including effective criminal prosecutions for victims of violence by same- or opposite-sex partners.”

The inclusive “partner assault” title is adopted to “reflect the reality that primary relationships can include two men or two women, as well as a woman and a man.”

Holland reports that, “Same-sex partner abuse went from a serious problem that was invisible from an organizational perspective to where the issue is an integral part of an unprecedented
(in our area) system-wide, coordinated effort to provide an effective and accountable justice system response to partner assault.”

The Round Table asks member agencies to implement the BEP, and the Liaison Committee to set up the volunteer Same-Sex Partner Abuse (SSPA) Subcommittee “to develop an action plan/funding proposal to develop treatment program services relevant for same-sex clients.”

Lesbians and gays are added into Ontario’s protocol of Probation and Parole. Holland reports, “Throughout, same-sex partner abuse is presented within the context of heterosexism and societal homophobia that are the root cause of hate-motivated crime and unsafe school environments for young lesbians and gays and bisexuals.”

Under Advocacy and Activism, Capital Xtra’s “In the Pink” directory lists the Liaison Committee and the Hate Crime Section of the Ottawa-Carleton Police. Holland sees this as a sign that “former adversaries have become partners in their efforts to achieve equity for lesbians and gays.”

The SSPA action plan, addressing
victims and perpetrators of same-sex partner abuse, is approved by the Round Table.

Holland states, “We cannot simply replicate existing services designed for heterosexuals; services must be specific to the needs of a highly marginalized and often deeply closeted segment of the population. The community development process will rely on community input to such questions as: Is the existing criminal justice system the appropriate place for victims and perpetrators of same-sex partner abuse, given the risks of being outed in the process? What alternative approaches can be developed through community-based work? What conflict resolution tools are needed to enhance the likelihood of constructive, collaborative outcomes? Heterosexism perpetuates silence. How can we work in partnership with all service providers to address this root cause of fear?”

The Round Table approves a proposal from the Liaison Committee to deliver a social context dialogue, based on BEP, and approves seeking funding to continue the work. Enter Deborah Conners – an independent consultant who does facilitation and change management with not-for-profit organizations. Writing funding proposals, providing organizational expertise and facilitating, Conners joins BEP as more work is identified. Holland uses words like “synchronicity” and “simpatico” to depict her collaboration with Conners.

Funded by the Women’s Program of Status of Women Canada and sponsored by Interval House, BEP vows “to identify the gaps, and provide the information, training and resources necessary for organizations to reduce barriers to service for women who are victims or perpetrators of lesbian partner abuse and same-sex sexual assault.”

Based on social context dialogues, BEP places particular emphasis on the needs of lesbians in the immigrant, visible minority and aboriginal women’s communities, and drafts standards.

Holland writes: “The process of ensuring accessibility by a historically marginalized client population, and meeting their identified service requirements, is a complex one. We need to recognize that to be effective, initiatives to improve client access to competent and sensitive services must be supported by internal policy directions and external advocacy for social change.”