‘WE HAVE THE DATA. THIS IS HAPPENING’
B.C. Premier John Horgan tells Starmetro the Prime Minister is right to weigh the social and gender impacts on rural communities where work camps are established
Link between rural work camps and violence against women is real: Experts thestar.com/vancouver
“WE HAVE DOCUMENTED INCREASES IN THE RATES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT, THE RATES OF SEXUALIZED VIOLENCE, THE RATES OF PROSTITUTION, THE RATES OF SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS.”
Ginger Gibson, director of the Firelight Group
Remote work camps are linked to increased violence against women and it’s a problem we need to address, experts say.
Conservative leaders slammed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the weekend for comments he made to a gender equality panel at the G20 summit in Argentina, in which he talked about “gender impacts” that accompany large infrastructure projects.
“There are gender impacts when you bring construction workers into a rural area. There are social impacts because they’re mostly male construction workers. How are you adjusting and adapting to those?” he said in a minute-long clip circulated on social media.
Alberta’s United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney and federal Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer both slammed Trudeau, characterizing the comment as an attack on male workers.
But several researchers say that while it’s not all workers, there is a link between camps and violence against women.
“When there’s a large-scale industrial development, when there’s construction camps that are co-located, we have documented increases in the rates of sexual assault, the rates of sexualized violence, the rates of prostitution, the rates of sexually transmitted infections,” said Ginger Gibson, director of the Firelight Group, which does research in Indigenous and local communities in Canada.
Firelight’s 2017 report cites a 38 per cent increase in sexual assaults reported to RCMP during the first year of construction on an industrial project in Fort St. James, B.C.
It also notes a “sharp increase” in sex trafficking in Fort Mcmurray and Grande Prairie, attributed to the rise in “increased income of young men, social isolation from families and relationships, and the hypermasculine context of camps.”
Tracy Porteous, executive director of the Ending Violence Association of B.C., also studies communities where resource extraction happens.
She said it’s true that most men don’t commit violence, but a large enough percentage do that communities need strategies to prepare when a predominantly male working camp is about to move in.
“Let’s say you have 1,000 new guys brought into a camp. The vast majority of those guys don’t commit violence, but you do have a population of men who are predisposed to committing violence ... all brought into that town at the same time,” she said.
A 2014 study by the Ending Violence Association noted services to address violence against women and girls in Fort St. John, B.C. were “non-existent or operating beyond capacity” when an influx of workers arrived. In 2012-13, the community’s sole anti-violence counsellor had 130 women referred to her.
Porteous said working men being under stress, away from their family, subjected to peer pressure and using alcohol and drugs can contribute to the likelihood they will abuse women in the neighbouring community.
Meanwhile, a glut of workers with high incomes for longerterm projects can result in an “accommodation squeeze” that pushes out the poorest residents as they can’t keep pace with community-wide inflation, disproportionately affecting women and girls.
B.C. Premier John Horgan said Tuesday that the PM is right to weigh the social and gender impacts on rural communities where work camps are established.
The conversation is relevant to his province, where a $40-billion LNG Canada project promises to bring up to 10,000 to the small rural community of Kitimat, many of whom will be housed in work camps.
Syncrude’s Mildred Lake facility north of Fort Mcmurray, Alta. A 2017 Firelight Group study noted a spike in sex trafficking in Fort Mcmurray and Grande Prairie, attributed to “social isolation from families and relationships, and the hyper-masculine context of camps.”