Coffin calls out Kousoulis on domestic violence supports

Former party insider and victim of domestic violence highly disappointed with new legislation offering only unpaid leave.

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Michelle Coffin speaks with reporters after Thursday's press conference. - MAGGIE RAHR
  • MAGGIE RAHR
  • Michelle Coffin speaks with reporters after Thursday's press conference.

The Liberal government has unveiled new legislation aimed at protecting the employment of victims of domestic violence.

Specifically, the amendments allow employees time off work without invoking sick leave. But there’s a hitch. The leave, up to 16 consecutive weeks, is unpaid.

Michelle Coffin, a victim of domestic violence and former Liberal insider herself, says she’s “highly disappointed” with the amendments to the labour code.

Coffin says the changes won’t do much to alleviate the burden on people who experience intimate partner violence.

“It’s attempting to pacify the loudest voices by offering the smallest crumbs,” she says. “It provides absolutely no funding for those who need it.”

Labour minister Labi Kousoulis told reporters at a press conference Thursday that the amendments are specifically “directed at low-income Nova Scotians.”

But that doesn’t sit well with Coffin.

“It’s a Liberal bill they’re counting on the federal Liberal government to fund,” she says.

Kousoulis told reporters his department reached out to Ottawa two months ago to inquire about fast-tracking EI for those taking time off work under the new bill. The federal government has not yet responded.

NDP MLA Tammy Martin says the new legislation is a good start but stops short of celebrating. Her party was pushing for five paid days of leave for victims. The employers would shoulder the cost.

“For low-wage workers who can barely feed their families now, how can they afford to take time off without pay?” Martin asks.

Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta all offer at least five days of paid leave for victims of domestic violence under their provincial legislation.

Kousoulis also maintains the unpaid leave will allow victims time to seek legal advice and medical care. But Martin says that won't likely work in practice. 

“How could they afford to see a lawyer...if they’re taking time off without pay?”

Coffin also questions why the onus should be on victims to seek legal support.

“I don’t understand why a victim of domestic violence needs a lawyer. It’s the person that hit the individual who needs a lawyer.”

Last June, The Coast reported Coffin's story and the interaction she had with Kousoulis on her doorstep in the lead up to the provincial election.

Kousoulis, who didn't know who Coffin was, told the resident that premier Stephen McNeil had consulted with “women’s groups” who had “unanimously” advised the premier to re-hire Kyley Harris—Coffin’s former partner and the man convicted of assaulting her.

Shelter Nova Scotia, Adsum House and others contacted by The Coast all denied speaking to the province. Kousoulis has refused comment on the incident ever since.

Once again, on Thursday, he deflected questions by saying interactions between himself and constituents are “confidential.”

Although Kousoulis is Coffin’s MLA, he’s never discussed the exchange with her.

The minister of Labour and Advanced Education has been under attack elsewhere this week for his response to an opinion piece first published in The Coast.

In an open letter, the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students claims Kousoulis has refused to meet with their executives because of the opinion piece, which criticized the Liberal government’s inaction legislating sexual violence policies for universities.

After its initial publication, the CFS says the province cancelled a scheduled meeting and told the group Kousoulis was “unhappy with the op-ed and that there would be consequences.”

In a statement to The Coast sent Monday afternoon, Kousoulis says he was “deeply disappointed” by the opinion piece and that there remains an open invitation for CFS leaders to discuss their concerns with the deputy minister.

The MLA told reporters Thursday he stands by his record with the province on issues including health care and budget balancing. Specifically, on domestic violence, he underlined the province’s commitment to better serving victims with the recently created domestic violence court.

Kousoulis says if anybody is unhappy with his “service,” they can express their displeasure in the voting booth during the next election.

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