Vote delayed on Victoria councillor's motion to create sex abuse task force

In the wake of several high-profile sex assault allegations in Greater Victoria, a city councillor's motion to create a task force on the subject has been postponed.

The motion, brought to city council by Coun. Stephen Andrew, asks council to establish a ‘Task Force on Sexual Abuse’ to bring together survivors, advocates, and the justice system.

Andrew penned the motion earlier this week, after facing backlash from the community for tweeting that there is no “rape culture” in Victoria, despite multiple serious allegations in Victoria’s restaurant, tattoo and real estate industries.

He has since apologized for the tweet, and promised to “bring a solution to the table that is going to try to improve the situation.”

“It’s sad that people have to go to social media to share their (anonymous) stories and seek justice,” says Andrew. “We need to look for better ways to do this.” 

At Thursday morning’s Committee of the Whole meeting, councilors voted 8-1 to postpone the motion, saying they received several letters from survivors who claimed Andrew’s motion was uninformed and did not center survivors in its framework.

Andrew disputes this idea, saying his motion vowed to give survivors a public voice at the municipal level at a time its needed most.

Councillors have now directed staff to continue working on a separate June 2019 motion that is already underway, titled “Preventing Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in the City of Victoria.”

“One of the action items has been to direct staff to look at the prevention of sexualized violence, particularly in the bar and restaurant industry,” says Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

“Staff have engaged a consultant (on the 2019 motion) and are bringing a report back to council sometime within the next month.”

Helps says staff have been tasked with researching questions regarding the city’s jurisdiction on the topic of sexual assault, and how the city can better advocate for and support survivors.

Coun. Sarah Potts tells CTV News she believes the 2019 motion, which she co-authored, is much more comprehensive. That motion has been in staff’s hands for nearly 18 months.

“As someone who brought forward this motion, I want it to go forward. I don’t want it to be undermined by someone’s reputational stunt,” says Potts, referring to Andrew’s more-recent proposal.

“I don’t want to cast out the work that’s already been going on behind the scenes with staff through the 2019 motion,” Potts adds. “We have been putting pressure on staff, we have been asking why this is taking so long … because what’s happening in our community right now is outrageous.”

Nonetheless, sexual assault survivors and advocates say the postponement is disheartening.

Victoria’s Sexual Assault Center (VSAC), which is regularly funded by the city, says the numbers paint a clear picture of the urgency needed.

“Sexualized violence is prevalent in our society,” says Carissa Ropponen, the communications manager at VSAC.

“One-in-three women experience gender-based violence, one in two trans people experience gender-based violence in their lifetime, so this is a big problem.”

Local sexual assault survivor and advocate Alexandra Kierstead is also putting the pressure on city council, saying there is no time left to waste when it comes to protecting women and preventing further exploitation.

“With all of the stories that have come over the last year, especially the ones happening in the restaurant industry, if that training existed before that, could we have prevented these assaults?” Kierstead asked.

It’s a question Helps says she hears loud and clear.

“We hear them. We support them. And their voices need to be centered in whatever actions come forward,” says Helps. “This has been a really difficult (time) for many people in the community … I want them to know their voices and their courage is so important.”