From hope to despair

When I wrote about Woman Abuse Prevention Month last year at this time, Ontario had a Violence Against Women Roundtable. The Ontario Women’s Directorate had become a full Ministry: the Ministry for the Status of Women. The province was well on its way to announcing a Gender-Based Violence Strategy (GBVS). Elementary and secondary school students were learning about consent and much more in a new physical and sex education curriculum that offered them strategies to understand sexuality and sexual activity in ways that would help them be safer.

Things were far from perfect, but there was reason to have hope.

This November, we are facing the recent dismantling of the Roundtable, which followed closely on the heels of the resignation of Roundtable co-chairs, my colleague Farrah Khan and me. The Ministry of the Status of Women has disappeared. Instead, Lisa MacLeod’s Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, has responsibility for “women’s issues.” Almost none of the money approved by the previous government in its 2018 budget as part of the GBVS has flowed to the organizations that are counting on it to keep their doors open. In fact, there has been no mention of the GBVS at all since Doug Ford’s Conservatives were elected on June 7th. The 2015 physical and sex education curriculum has been replaced by the curriculum from 1998.

Talking to the rich and powerful

On October 26th, Lisa MacLeod spoke to a sold-out crowd at the Canadian Club of Toronto. Her talk was billed as being about violence against women. Since the Minister has so far declined to speak publicly or to respond to repeated emails and letters from many of us working on the VAW frontlines, I was interested to hear what she had to say.

However, I could not afford the nearly $100 that tickets cost, so I listened to a podcast of her remarks. While I was not surprised by what I heard, I was disappointed.

MacLeod spoke about the trafficking of women and girls which, of course, is a serious problem that warrants serious attention. However, the trafficking of women and girls is a subset of the violence and abuse – physical, sexual, psychological, financial – to which girls and women across Ontario and Canada are subjected every day. This violence warranted not even a passing mention in MacLeod’s 30-minute address.

Telling her audience that “you never know what can happen,” she said that we need to have “candid conversations with our daughters.” She saluted the police repeatedly in their efforts to thwart human traffickers. At least three times, she commended her colleague, Laurie Scott, the Minister of Labour, who is responsible for capping the minimum wage at $14 and rolling back other workplace improvements passed by the previous government, for her leadership on the issue of human trafficking, She told tabloid-like stories of “real victims” of human trafficking, while noting that many come from families living in poverty and involved with the child protection system.

But what didn’t she say?

MacLeod was enthusiastic, if short on specifics, about what her “government for the people” plans to do to end human trafficking, but she left a lot out of her emotion-laden talk.

She did not, for instance, mention that it was her government – her Ministry, in fact – that ended the basic income pilot in July; a program that was putting a guaranteed income in the hands of people, many of them women, living in poverty. As Gwen O’Reilly, coordinator of the Northwestern Ontario Women’s Centre in Thunder Bay, one of the basic income pilot sites, notes:

“It’s [basic income] tied to you. It’s not tied to your ex-spouse. It’s an independent payment and that payment makes you independent.”

She did not mention that her Ministry halved the planned increases to social assistance rates across the province.

She made no mention of whether her government intends to honour Walking Together, Ontario’s long-term strategy to end violence against Indigenous women, even though Indigenous girls and women are at high risk of becoming victims of human trafficking.

She did not mention that, by the end of August, 53 women in Ontario had been killed in acts of femicide; more than double the usual number for the entire year.

Speaking out, striking back

Let’s not let Ontario’s government set the tone for Woman Abuse Prevention Month. We can get speak out and strike back against the inaction of Doug Ford, Lisa MacLeod and their colleagues on the issue of violence against women:

From hope to despair and back to hope again: together, we can make it happen.

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