November 25, 2023 Speakers Series Report

November 25, 2023 Speakers Series Report

INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE:Ontario’s Unacknowledged Epidemic and Its Impact on Women and Children and the launch of IPV Is An Epidemic Toolkit.

If you were unable to attend this informative and insightful event, you can request a link to the recording by contacting communications@cfuwontcouncil.org.

A small but powerful group of impassioned women were assembled for this Speakers Series event which fell on the first day of the ‘16 days of activism against gender-based violence’, November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Mayor Andrea Horwath and Councillor Nrinder Nann of Hamilton City Council opened the event with descriptions of how Hamilton moved forward with its declaration of IPV as an Epidemic, citing high local statistics regarding calls to crisis centres and women and non-binary persons seeking shelters, not only in Hamilton but in municipalities in Ontario.  They emphasized the increasing numbers of IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) victims since the pandemic.  Both noted the failing of the provincial government to call out IPV as an Epidemic and to create and adequately fund sustainable foundations of care.  Ms. Nann recounted how her volunteerism as a teenager at a domestic abuse support centre informed her decision to take a leadership role to bring the motion to Council (seconded by Mayor Horwath) with information based on the collaborative work of a Hamilton Women’s Abuse Working Group (comprised of 20 women’s organisations working to end violence against women in Hamilton). Mayor Horwath ended her presentation with the following:

“This is the kind of collective commitment required…Please keep up your efforts to have cities speak out and stand up against this violence.  As hard as it is, as slow as it may feel, your work is making a difference.  More and more, cities will continue to sign on.  And that sign on – the louder the call will be for provincial and federal actions.  The work you are doing will change lives.”

Erin Lee, CEO of Lanark County Interval House (LCIH, a shelter located in Carleton Place for people dealing with domestic abuse), was the impetus behind municipalities declaring IPV as an Epidemic by persuading Lanark County to be the first to do so.  She described the work that LCIH does to support women, children and gender diverse people.  The services provided by Interval House and like agencies were outlined by Erin, along with new programs dictated by the everchanging needs of the community.  COVID brought about the requirement for second stage housing for victims, the recognition that food insecurity needed to be taken care of, and that women need connections and need to be shown that they can persevere.

Erin’s advocacy for declaring IPV an Epidemic, stems from her role in the inquest into the deaths of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk & Natalie Warmerdam, murdered by the same male perpetrator who had been an intimate partner of all three women.  The inquest made 86 recommendations for change, the first of which was for the Government of Ontario to declare IPV an Epidemic in the province.  Erin wrote a resolution and took it to the Lanark County Council where it was immediately adopted (to see the Resolution, go to Appendix 1 of the Ontario Council IPV is an Epidemic Toolkit (located on the Ontario Council Website under Advocacy)).

In terms of describing what advocacy action comes after a municipality declares IPV an Epidemic, Ms. Lee described Building a Bigger Wave (the Provincial Network for VAW Coordinating Committees) which helps organisations move beyond Recommendation Number 1 from the CKW Inquiry to institute other recommendations.  What Now, Lanark County is a community group of ordinary citizens who have said that something more needs to be done.  They meet and discuss what roles individuals can play in the community to eradicate IPV.  Erin praised the United Way for taking up the issue of IPV especially with respect to how and to what groups they allocate their funds.  She mentioned educating ourselves about the 5 ‘Ds’ of bystander intervention (Hollaback’s Direct, Distract, Delay, Delegate, Document) to empower community members when they know or feel a woman or family is in a dangerous place.

Pam Cross, Advocacy Chair for Luke’s Place spoke last.  Pam is a feminist lawyer and is a respected expert on family violence and the law.  Pam immediately noted that work in this area is being undertaken by women who are not being paid and the support of organisations like CFUW Ontario Council is critical to providing the critical mass to effect change.

One notable story from Pam spotlighted the lack of cohesion across social services regarding abused individuals which is essential to help women who are victims of IPV.  The last thing a woman needs is to be coordinating services on her own when she is dealing with fear, protecting her children and searching for respite and healing from a violent situation.  This is also addressed in the recommendations of the CKW Inquest.

Pam described the origin and services of Luke’s Place (for a full history, please go to https://lukesplace.ca/) and then concentrated on the legal issues and the laws surrounding IPV.  Legal issues for women suffering abuse, trying to get out of the situation and move forward are numerous, intertwined and unique to the individual.  Commonalities, of course, exist.  Family law takes a front and centre position – arrangements for children, financial support, property divisions and safety fall under this purview.  Keira’s Law is changing the face of family violence law and impacts judges in this arena.  Arrangements for children are often most difficult and contentious and often drive women to return to the abusive relationship due to insufficient legal protection.  Women will jeopardise their own safety in order to protect their children when it should be up to the law to protect both.

CAS involvement can be fraught with inappropriate or wrong decisions made too and often takes a woman’s control of herself and her children out of her hands.  Frequently the mother is held responsible for protecting her children from violence which leads to further challenges.

Pam outlined that as difficult as IPV is to tackle, changes have been made and are continuing to be made that help.  They are often a long time coming but through continued advocacy, not giving up even in the face of extended time and barriers, women can make a difference in the lives of other women.  She urged action now while media interest is high following the CKW Inquest, the publication of the Mass Casualty Report, the inclusion of coercive control in criminal law at the federal level, and Clare’s Law.

Importantly, the question of what to do after a municipality declares IPV an Epidemic was addressed by Pam, too.  She recommended reading Volume 3 of the Mass Casualty Report which she described as powerful, smart and reflective of the principles those who fight in the arena of IPV have.  Reading the volume on the Recommendations is critical, too.

Final words from Pam:

“It’s easy when we do this work to get lost in the hopelessness of it, in the rage, the sorrow, the grief … We tell you the bad stories because you need to know the context of the work.  We tell you about the systems that don’t work because we need to know what doesn’t work so we can figure out how to make it work … Hope and inspiration come from the courage of survivors.”

Following questions, Advocacy Chair Sandra Shaw outlined the Ontario Council ‘IPV is an Epidemic’ Toolkit and called for all Ontario Council Clubs to be active in calling out IPV as an Epidemic and to continue the work of Erin and Pam in fighting for the eradication of IPV.

The Toolkit can be found on the Ontario Council website here.  Sandra is available to any and all Clubs which would like a presentation of the rationale for the Toolkit and how to use it. Contact Sandra at advocacy@cfuwontcouncil.org.

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