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N.W.T. considering domestic violence leave

The Northwest Territories, which has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Canada , may soon introduce domestic violence leave, a measure activists say will give victims the opportunity to leave their partners and find homes for themselves and their children without jeopardizing their employment.

The territorial government is considering a number of amendments to its Employment Standards Act, including one that would allow employees to take domestic violence leave, though it is not yet clear whether it would be paid or unpaid or how much time could be taken.

If such an amendment is passed, the Northwest Territories would join Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, which each have similar legislation in place.

Jessica Bungay, an employment and human rights lawyer at Cox and Palmer, a law firm in Atlantic Canada, told CTVs Your Morning that the introduction last year of domestic violence leave legislation in New Brunswick has been helpful.

Under changes introduced last September, employees in New Brunswick are permitted to take up to 10 days of domestic violence intermittently or in one continuous period. They may also take a separate domestic violence leave of up to 16 continuous weeks. Employers are required to pay the first five days on any leave in a calendar year.

Its the only paid leave that there exists under the Employment Standards Act in New Brunswick and when youre dealing with issues of domestic or intimate partner or sexual violence, these are very sensitive issues for employees so knowing that they have time off to deal with those situations while not putting their employment at risk is significant, Bungay said.

She added that employers have no obligation to report instances of domestic violence to law enforcement unless an employee consents to it.

Individual employers are in charge of ensuring that domestic violence leave is not being abused by employees, Bungay said.

For the most part, there is trust put in the employees, she told CTVs Your Morning.

According to Statistics Canada, one-third of all police-reported violence in Canada involves intimate partners, though it also noted that most child abuse and spousal violence is never reported to the authorities so its data may underrepresent the extent of the problem.

Last year, the federal Liberals proposed a sweeping set of amendments to the Canada Labour Code that would provide Canadas 900,000 federally-regulated workers five days paid leave if they are victims of domestic violence.

New Zealand and the Philippines are the only countries that have passed legislation granting victims of domestic violence paid leave.

Its helpful because certainly this is an issue that many people are dealing with more people than we would like to admit, Bungay said.

A passerby stops to read the names of women, part of a display with almost 500 pairs of women s shoes that cover the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery Monday Dec .6, 2004. A group responsible for the display says the shoes are a reminder of B.C. women killed by domestic violence. (CP PHOTO/Chuck Stoody)
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