Reason to hope

It’s easy, living in Doug Ford’s Ontario, to forget that positive change is possible. The five years since he was first elected – which seem agonizingly longer than that – have brought us one bad news story after another. The arrogance, egregious policy changes, funding cuts and just generally anti-people and anti-planet positions his government has taken can leave little room for anything other than despair.

Three recent pieces of news related to violence against women —  none of them from Queen’s Park — have reminded me that the values of Ontario’s government are not universally held and that positive change does happen, albeit slowly.

Ontario’s provincial government was slow to respond to the recommendations made by the jury in the CKW inquest and, when it did, it rejected virtually all of the recommendations calling for increased transparency and accountability, while paying bare lip service to the remainder; often trotting out work already done rather than committing to taking on the new work called for by the jury.

Good news x 1

In late July, Toronto City Council voted unanimously to support a resolution presented by new mayor Olivia Chow to declare intimate partner violence to be an epidemic. A week earlier, Chow had spoken publicly about the intimate partner violence she had witnessed her mother being subjected to by her father when she was a child.

Toronto joined more than 30 municipalities that had already made this declaration and, in the weeks since its vote, several more, including Hamilton, have been added to the list to make a total of 44 as of this writing.

It’s been collaborative work among advocates,  survivors, community organizations and municipal governments that has gotten us this far and is likely to take us even farther, while also sending a clear message to the provincial government that change will happen whether or not it gets involved.

Good news x 2

Recommendations were also directed at other bodies, including the federal government. With respect to the Criminal Code, the jury directed the feds to add femicide, consider amending the dangerous offender provisions, undertake an analysis of the criminal harassment provisions and add coercive control as either an independent offence or as a form of assault. Other recommendations called on the government to find ways to make appearing in court easier for survivors and to establish a Royal Commission to review and recommend procedural changes to make the criminal system more victim-centric and more responsive to the root causes of crime. Finally, the recommendations called for implementation of the National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence “in a timely manner.”

The federal government’s response, provided earlier this month, has come from the newly appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Arif Virani. It gets off to a good start:

“Gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence (IPV) is unacceptable and has no place in our country. The Government of Canada is committed to ending the GBV epidemic in all its forms . . . “

Whether or not Doug Ford and his cronies want to acknowledge it, the mood of much of Ontario and of the federal government, is that IPV is an epidemic. That’s a first step towards the goal of ensuring adequate resources are made available to respond to and eradicate IPV.

Much of Minister Virani’s response is focused on the possible criminalization of coercive control; a subject on which women’s advocates have varying perspectives, but he also comments on the other recommendations directed to the federal government.

Not a lot of firm promises are made; however, the response is thoughtful and shows a commitment to engaging with “academics, GBV advocates, service providers and individuals” to inform the work his government will be undertaking. It  acknowledges the importance of finding a way to identify femicide cases “in order to raise awareness and assist in developing appropriate responses,” and says that “Justice Canada officials are currently examining how the criminal justice system’s responses to femicide cases can be strengthened.”

The tone of this response, especially when compared to that of Ontario’s, invites collaboration, which is what we need to develop stronger responses to gender-based violence.

 Good news x 3

The Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission Final Report, released in March of this year, makes 130 recommendations for system change, a number of which focus on intimate partner violence. It calls for various accountability measures, including the establishment of a Progress Monitoring Committee.

In May, the founding chair of the committee – retired Justice Linda Lee Oland – was announced. In July, the committee’s terms of reference were made public, with a promise that the rest of the committee members will be selected soon.

The principles to guide its work — trust and respect, collaboration, consensus, diversity and trauma-informed and victim-centric – have been established, giving more reasons to feel hopeful.

Doug Ford – you’re being left behind in the dust on this important issue while you are busy keeping your developer friends happy and destroying Ontario’s greenbelt. It’s time to pay attention.

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