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2024: Actions, Not Words

2023 saw 62 confirmed femicides in the province of Ontario, in addition to 5 unconfirmed lives lost to gender-based violence. There has been a 59% increase in femicides within Ontario in the most recent 5 years. Ontario is not alone, in Canada, every 48 hours a women or child is killed by an act of violence.


2023 also showed growth in a different way. The increase in municipalities taking action upon themselves and declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic rapidly increased to 93 municipalities. This is a huge accomplishment for our province and the municipalities involved, but one declaration, one minute of silence, one day of remembering, even sixteen days of acting is not enough, its not even the beginning of what is needed. These actions matter and we need to continue to hold vigils, speak at public events and give media interviews in addition to taking further action to make real change.


This years femicide list saw two very alarming patterns with the 62 victims. Of those 62 victims, 6 were killings of women by their adult sons, and one more was the killing of a woman by her adult grandson. The number of women killed by their sons and grandson makes you start to wonder how many of these sons grew up watching their father abuse their mother. The same can be said of the accused men in the 19 victims of intimate partner homicides.


The second disturbing pattern within the 62 victims, is the number of accused individuals with prior violent criminal records and/or breaching of release conditions at the time of the homicides. 19 individuals were currently out on release conditions and/or had violent prior criminal records. The enactment of Bill C-75 (An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and the consequential amendments to other Acts) on June 21, 2019, made a number of changes aimed at reducing judicial delays, modernizing the bail system and reducing the overrepresentation of racialized people in jails. The Bill resulted in an overly lenient bail system in Canada and a rapid increase in violent criminal incidents. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General in Canada, proposed changes to the bail reform making it harder for those accused of certain offences to be released on bail. Bill C-48 would amend Bill C-75 and the Criminal Code so that those charged with a serious violent offence face a reverse onus to get bail.


"Reverse onus" means the accused would have to show why they should be released instead of the prosecution having to prove that they should remain behind bars. The law would also expand the use of reverse onus for firearm and intimate partner violence offences, and allow the courts to take into consideration community safety and an accused history of violence when making a bail decision. This would also expand the reverse onus to include those who have been discharged on charges of previous intimate partner violence. This Bill amending Canada's bail reform system was put into effect on January 4, 2024, with the requirement to review the bills effectiveness within 5 years.


The expanded scope of the reverse onus bail provisions for intimate partner violence is a change being welcomed by advocates of ending violence against women and children across Canada. Some individuals have questioned the reforms on both sides including the federal opposition government. Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre, voiced that Bill C-48 is not enough, proposing a complete reverse of Bill C-75 and introducing new laws that require repeat violent offenders who are newly arrested for violence to stay behind bars, with jail, not bail, until their trial is done and their sentence is complete. Poilievre stated he wants to see a bail system which would guarantee repeat violent offenders are kept behind bars.


Next Steps


In addition to the necessarily and welcomed changes federally within the justice system, there is further work still to be done.


Through all the previous inquests, including the CKW inquest, we have been provided with numerous recommendations. Report after report has provided realistic and creative approaches to the necessary system change. Unfortunately, these recommendations have no legal authority and if not implemented by those with the power to do so, they continue to be disregarded while the number of victims increases year after year.


The CKW inquest released 86 recommendations to prevent intimate partner violence, 68 of those recommendations were directed at the provincial government. The government has yet to address 29 of those 68 recommendations and has rejected recommendation number 1. The other recommendations not addressed include: safe houses for IPV survivors fleeing abusers, safe rooms inside survivors homes, implementation of Clare's Law as seen in other provinces, creating a record of past IPV abuses and charges accessible to all police services, reviewing the practice of mandatory charging, where police are required to charge someone with assault if they feel they have reasonable grounds to do so, and studying judges decisions in IPV related cases.


The Provincial Government continues to reject recommendation number 1 of the CKW inquest (declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic), but that has not put an end to the recommended action. On December 7, 2022, the first municipality made a ground breaking movement unanimously approving the motion to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic in Lanark County. From Erin Lee, the executive director of Lanark County Interval House calling on her council to make that first declaration to now 93 municipalities large and small making their own declaration. These actions big and small are the start to bigger change.


Communities can and should continue to call on the decision makers of Ontario and Canada to implement changes, provide funding, support and leadership but as we all know that takes time. The desire for change and commitment to do so in addition to stepping outside of our comfort zone is the only requirement to continue this push. Ending the negative stigma and taboo topic behind intimate partner violence is required. Community individuals can all take part by seeing it (not turning a blind eye or ignoring the signs), naming it (call it what it is without making any excuse) and changing it. Taking the time to further educate, self-reflect and strive for change. Engage in open community REAL (Recognize, Empathize, Ask and Listen) talk conversations. Ending victim blaming and revictimization by ensuring victims are heard and supported. Individuals and communities can work together to do so by believing victims, asking what you can do to support them and empowering them to continue their fight. Community services working together to form strong collaborative relationships to increase communication and information sharing. These steps will continue to move us forward working together today to reduce the number of further predictable and preventable deaths.

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