Ontario’s Liberal government took another step in its work to address violence against women with the announcement of a Gender Based Violence Strategy on March 1.
A week before International Women’s Day and just over three months before the next provincial election on June 7th, the strategy sets out an ambitious plan. It is focused on supporting survivors of gender-based violence as well as addressing the root causes of that violence.
Attention to Ontario’s diverse population is the name of the game, with a number of initiatives directed at rural and remote parts of the province, Indigenous women and children, newcomers and LGBTQI2S communities.
The Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) has committed to expanding community-based counselling to be able to respond in a timely way to 2,000 more women and children. It will also enhance emergency shelters, Indigenous shelters and healing lodges so up to 1,000 more women and children can have a safe bed when fleeing abuse.
Other initiatives focus on increasing diverse and culturally appropriate programming across MCSS-funded services.
Sexual assault centres will receive a 35% increase in base funding from the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG). The present sexual assault independent legal advice pilot project, which runs in just three cities, will be expanded across the province.
There will be new money for supervised access centres as well as for the desperately needed and under-resourced Family Court Support Program.
MAG will also fund a new legal clinic specifically for LGBTQI2S communities. The clinic will provide direct services in Toronto as well as training and other support to legal clinics across the province.
The Partner Assault Response Program will receive additional dollars to reduce wait times and provide a more robust criminal law response to intimate partner abuse.
And, the government will be exploring “innovative and alternative justice approaches to enhance the choices available to survivors of sexual violence.”
The devil is in the details
Those of us who work with survivors of male violence are excited by this strategy and the opportunities it offers. We are also realistic and know that the real work lies ahead. The strategy is thin on details, and those details matter in terms of whether the many exciting-sounding initiatives develop into meaningful change for the women and children who need them.
With the bulk of the money set to roll out in the second and third years of the strategy, we need to be realistic about the implications of a possible change in government after the June election.
Where from here?
Frontline workers, the VAW Roundtable, politicians and government staff have worked long and hard to create this GBV Strategy, and that work should be celebrated.
But it is also our job to hold the government accountable to this strategy. And, with an election around the corner, we need to get commitments from the other political parties in Ontario to implement the strategy if they should form the next government.
This means asking hard questions of all candidates, regardless of their party affiliation, and then making the responses to those questions public. Women’s issues are typically relegated to the bottom of the list at election time, but this year, let’s change that. We need to know where candidates stand on their commitment to women’s equality just as much as we need to know their positions on other important topics such as the economy, health care, education and the environment.