Action not prayers

When news broke earlier this week about an intimate partner violence mass shooting in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario Premier Doug Ford commented that the story was “gut wrenching,” and said “You are all in my prayers.”

Really? This from the Premier who, along with his government, has steadfastly shown a complete lack of interest in the safety and well-being of women and children in this province for the past five and a half years. This disregard – or perhaps disdain would be a more accurate word – began early in Ford’s tenure, with the disbanding of the Violence Against Women Roundtable, of which I was a member and which, for a time, I  co-chaired alongside Farrah Khan.

The Roundtable brought together community experts from a wide range of sectors to work side by side with senior policy makers and elected politicians, including Cabinet ministers and the Premier. It was a good combination, and the community expertise helped direct and shape many important policies related to violence against women.

Lest you think that the government shut the table down to save money, let me assure you that was not the case. Members were not compensated for our time. Those of us who travelled into Toronto for the monthly day-long meetings had our economy train fare covered, and we were provided with a light lunch while we worked. The VAW Roundtable was not breaking the bank by any means.

Fast forward to the government’s non-response to 2022’s CKW inquest, which examined the 2015 femicides of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam in Renfrew County. The jury made 86 recommendations for change, 68 of which were directed at the provincial government. While that government likes to claim it has already addressed or is in the process of addressing many of those recommendations, this is simply not true.

In particular, it has not implemented any of the recommendations intended to increase government accountability in the area of intimate partner violence. And, when commenting on this week’s tragedy — and despite the fact that more than 60 municipalities have declared IPV to be an epidemic — Solicitor General Michael Kerzner declined to commit to reconsidering the province’s decision not to do so.

Rising numbers

When it rejected this recommendation in June, the province claimed that IPV could not be called an epidemic because “it is not an infectious or communicable disease.” Victims and survivors of IPV and those of us who work with them beg to differ.

So do the facts. Last year, 52 women in Ontario were killed simply for being women. This year, that number was 46 at the end of September, which means the annual total is likely to surpass last year’s. Of those 46 femicides, 25 were family violence homicides and, of those, 14 were IPV killings.

As this week’s story reminds us, it’s not just adults who are killed in IPV homicides. In fact, 10 – 15% of the time, children are killed, and 5% of these killings include the whole family: the primary IPV victim, the children and the perpetrator. If four or more people, excluding the shooter, are killed, it’s officially a mass killing.

What’s not an epidemic about these numbers?

See it, name it, change it

While many details of what happened in those two houses in Sault Ste Marie earlier this week have not yet been released to the public, we have enough information to know what needs to happen.

We know that two adults, including the shooter, and three children are dead and a third adult was shot and injured. The police immediately identified the shootings as an incident of intimate partner violence. We know that the shooter was a man and that, a day or two before the shootings, police got a domestic violence call from one of the homes where the killings took place. The police have also said that the shooter had past involvements in IPV investigations.

Police chief Hugh Stevenson said:

“[W]e have to look at what are the antecedents of this behaviour. Are we doing enough as a society? We have to get to these situations earlier in life and teach respect for people. . . . If we avoid it, this will continue.”

Talk of an inquest is already underway. The police chief says he would “welcome” an inquest into IPV:

“I think all governments have to look at this situation and, in light of what’s happened here, treat it a little more seriously.”

Time to act

It’s not just governments that have to take IPV more seriously – we all do. We need a society-wide response if we are to bring an end to intimate partner violence.

Here’s the thing. While friends and family members of those injured and killed earlier this week need and want to know the details about what happened, the rest of us don’t need any more information. We already know what to do: both the CKW inquest recommendations and the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Final Report provide a detailed roadmap. What’s needed is the political and public will to get started.

Doug Ford, pay attention. We need action, not prayers. Declare IPV to be an epidemic. Re-instate the VAW Roundtable.

No more deaths.

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