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Motioning for Huron County to Declare Intimate Partner Violence an Epidemic

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

"There have been 42 femicides in the last 41 weeks in Ontario - about one femicide a week. One life taken to gender-based violence in a week." According to national statistics, a women is killed in Canada every six days by an intimate partner.

On September 13, 2023, city council in Mississauga unanimously approved a motion declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic. This declaration marks 41 municipalities across the province, including the City of Toronto, that have declared intimate partner violence an epidemic in order to grab the attention of the province, which has failed to do the same. While the declaration is a measure that has been viewed as symbolistic rather than tangible action, its a first step in starting the conversation which could raise desperately needed awareness of this tragic issue.

The declaration is a result of a 2022 corner's inquest into the murders of three women in Renfrew County in 2015, which included 86 recommendations following the three week investigation (see our recent blog entry, CKW Inquest for more information). As of February 2023, the provincial government was working to address roughly half of the recommendations. Declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic is one of the top recommendations put forward and one the PC government has not acted on.

Rebecca Pacheco, the Coordinator of the Peel Committee Against Women Abuse (PCAWA) voiced, "As we grow the list of regions, towns and counties that have declared intimate partner violence and gender-based violence an epidemic, were also confirming to the provincial government that this is an issues being felt across the province that requires immediate action. We need our provincial government to listen to the municipalities and the regions across the province as we are calling out for support, leadership and funding as a provincial level."

Elevating awareness and reducing stigma is crucial to prevent further tragedies. Creating a large-scale community conversation will allow everyone to get more comfortable and okay to talk about these kinds of issues. It also allows to opportunity to actively promote existing services available and create new opportunities for support and prevention. Violence in relationships, doesn't start with physical abuse or murder. In many cases of IPV, psychological abuse is the first stage. Initial signs can include manipulation tactics such as gaslighting or coercive control, which includes patterns of yelling, humiliation or intimidation used to punish or scare victims.

Even with these motions being approved in communities across Ontario, there continues to be gaps in the system despite efforts to introduce more resources. Despite the growing awareness and the information that has increasingly being brought to the forefront, much of the responsibility still falls on the justice system as the recourse for reform.

In addition to IPV being declared an epidemic, communities such as Mississauga are approving motions in support of Bill C-233 "Kiera's Law." Bill C-233, also known as Kiera’s Law, 2023 is an Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Judges Act (violence against an intimate partner). This enactment amends the Criminal Code to require a justice, before making a release order in respect of an accused who is charged with an offence against their intimate partner, to consider whether it is desirable, in the interests of the safety and security of any person, to include as a condition of the order that the accused wear an electronic monitoring device.

The enactment also amends the Judges Act to provide for continuing education seminars for judges on matters related to intimate partner violence and coercive control in intimate partner and family relationships. Paragraph 60(2)‍(b) of the Judges Act is replaced by the following: (b) establish seminars for the continuing education of judges, including seminars on matters related to sexual assault law, intimate partner violence, coercive control in intimate partner and family relationships and social context, which includes systemic racism and systemic discrimination.

The portion of subsection 62.‍1(1) of the Act before paragraph (a) is replaced by the following: Report — seminars 62.‍1 (1) Within 60 days after the end of each calendar year, the Council should submit to the Minister a report on the seminars referred to in paragraph 60(2)‍(b) on matters related to sexual assault law, intimate partner violence, coercive control in intimate partner and family relationships and social context, which includes systemic racism and systemic discrimination, that were offered in the preceding calendar year.

This law was passed in honour of four-year-old Keira Kagan who, on February 9, 2020, while in her father’s care in a manner to be consistent with IPV related to father-child murder-suicides.

In her article titled “The challenge of judicial education” Pamela Cross states the following:

Jennifer Kagan-Viater, Kiera’s mother, raised the issue of abuse she was subjected to by her husband repeatedly throughout her family law case, as she sought to have his contact with Kiera limited out of concern for Kiera’s safety. However, Kiera’s father was again and again given extensive and unsupervised parenting time, despite considerable evidence of serious abuse, particularly coercive control. At least one judge acknowledged the abuse but said it was not relevant to parenting.

On June 8, 2023, Bill- 102 The Strengthening Safety and Modernizing Justice Act received Royal Assent in the Ontario Legislature. This Bill has been enacted as Chapter 12 of the Statutes of Ontario, 2023. Bill 102 enforced amendments to numerous current acts, including Schedule 3 of the Courts of Justice Act. The Schedule amends the Act to prohibit a person from being appointed as a provincial judge unless the person undertakes to participate in courses designated for newly appointed judges by the Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice. The Chief Justice is authorized to establish courses for newly appointed judges and for the continuing education of judges, including courses respecting the following: sexual assault law; intimate partner violence; coercive control in intimate partner and family relationships; and social context, which includes systemic racism and systemic discrimination. The Chief Justice is required to submit a report to the Attorney General respecting courses on these topics.

Kiera's Law is one of the first steps in signaling a change to the way courts approach domestic violence as the bills aims to ensure judges receive training about the impacts of domestic violence and coercive control in intimate partner and family relationships. Unfortunately, the Courts have yet to actively adopt this approach and, there continues to be gaps in the system. The Woman Abuse Working Group (VAWG) is made up of 22 community organizations that support survivors of gender based violence. During the council meeting to declare IPV an Epidemic in Hamilton on August 14, 2023, members of VAWG reported the shelters were forced to turn away 4,498 women in 2022 and this number does not account for the number of children who were also turned away.

"Where do you go when a shelter is full" - VAWG member, Jessica Bonilla-Damptey

Supporting Rural Communities:

Between 20 and 30% of Canada’s population lives in rural areas, yet public policy and community services all too often focus on the needs of those living in urban areas.

Location affects every aspect of people’s lives: education, housing, employment, health care and more.

In 2022, it was reported that women living in rural areas experience intimate partner violence at a 75 per cent higher rate than those in urban settings. Isolation and lack of funding continue to be the biggest hurdle for rural women.

Women who have been or are currently being subjected to violence are affected significantly by where they live. While the presence of violence against women and the laws – both family and criminal – that are intended to respond to it are the same regardless of where people live, the way the violence plays out and the effectiveness of policy and service responses are profoundly shaped by where people live.

Despite the increasing diversity of rural communities, there are a number of ways in which rural living is very different from urban living. These factors can have a significant impact on how women who live rurally are subjected to abuse and the options that are available to them.

Violence against women and child services often operate from a service that is based in an urban centre. Some programs allow workers to travel to meet women or offer satellite offices, but others do not have the resources for this, with the result that the women must travel to the service or do not receive assistance from the service. There is no easy access to services. The program where there’s someone who is in the community or travels to the community will typically have a tremendous waiting list.

In the country, women and children often are not aware of services that are available to them for lack of promotion and awareness as well as difficulty in finding services. Small communities do not offer the range and diversity of services that are available in urban centers.

With community and council support, Huron County and the town's within the county can join the growing number of municipalities officially declaring IPV an Epidemic. This will allow the door to open for further necessary developments. The reality is, if we don't adapt preventative measures and engage in open community conversations, the alarming trend of intimate partner violence with continue to grow. IPV and GBV, impact individuals, families and communities, but also places a costly burden on the health, social and justice systems. It has been over 10 years without a meaningful increase to funding regarding the social services available to assist with IPV and GBV. Working together communities can lead, advise, share information and request investment in the successful prevention.

The vast majority of domestic homicides are both predictable and preventable. Implementation of the recommendations would move us well along the right path to significantly reducing the number of women and children killed in this province. It is required of leadership to ensure that these recommendations, which have the potential to save many lives, will be implemented.

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