Righteous rage

A year ago yesterday, the jury in the CKW inquest returned its verdict, which included 86 recommendations for change to address the issue of intimate partner violence, especially femicide, in rural communities. Most of the recommendations – 68 of them — were directed at the provincial government.

In February, the province provided its response to some of the recommendations. As I wrote here at that time:

“The response by the province, perhaps not surprisingly given its (lack of a) track record on gender-based violence generally, is, at best, underwhelming. . . The response overall lacks in passion, vision and commitment.”

On the eve of the first anniversary of the verdict, the province provided its response to the remaining recommendations, which included many of the most substantive items.

I struggle to find respectful words to describe my reaction to this response. At best, it is dismissive of the reality of gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence. There is nothing to feel good about in this response.

Dazzlingly disappointing

In general terms, as in the province’s first response, there’s a lot of language about exploring, examining and considering. Again, as in the first response, there are a lot of recommendations which the government says it agrees with in full or in part, but then simply lists work already being done rather than anything new.

For example, its stated acceptance of recommendation 33, which calls for a significant investment in and overhaul of the province’s programming for perpetrators, includes a re-announcement of one-time funding provided in December of last year. It does not include a commitment to overhauling the Partner Assault Response program, despite the fact that expert witnesses at the inquest provided substantial evidence for the need to do just that.

Perhaps my favourite response in terms of government double-speak is to recommendation 58, which proposed a much-needed comprehensive, independent and evidence-based review of mandatory charging. The province says it accepts this recommendation in part, and then says: “At this time, the Ministry of the Solicitor General (SOLGEN) does not have plans to commission an independent review of the mandatory charging framework.”

The rejects

Then there are the recommendations that the government has rejected outright. While I certainly wasn’t expecting it to implement every recommendation, I was not anticipating that I would see the word “rejected” so many times in the first few pages of its 53-page response.

Recommendation 1, to declare intimate partner violence to be an epidemic: REJECTED, because the word epidemic refers to the “spread of disease.” Surely, in a province where shelters routinely turn away women and their children because they have no bed space and where 26 women have been killed by men since last November, we could consider IPV to be a spreading disease.

Recommendation 2, to establish an independent intimate partner violence commission: REJECTED, because it would be duplicative of existing services and programs. Untrue. There is nothing remotely like an independent commission in Ontario

Recommendation 3, to work with community-based experts and survivors in creating the commission: REJECTED, for allegedly being duplicative. Untrue again.

Recommendation 4, to create a survivor advocate position. REJECTED, because, according to the government, this already exists. It does not.

Recommendation 5, to establish an independent committee to oversee consideration of the inquest recommendations. REJECTED, because “existing stakeholder engagement committees/tables” already fulfill this function. Perhaps the government needs to be reminded that it disbanded the violence against women roundtable, which used to fulfill this function, soon after it was first elected, and did not replace it with anything.

What now?

In a moving and powerful public meeting held in Renfrew County yesterday afternoon to mark the first anniversary of the jury’s verdict, women’s advocates from across the province, members of the coroner’s office, Malcolm Warmerdam — Nathalie Warmerdam’s son and a party to the inquest — inquest jurors, members of the public and the media, responded to the government’s response with frustration, outrage and despair.

We’ll find our hope again, as we always do, because we care too much about the lives of women not to.

I’m  reminding myself of the power of hope, as I reflect on the words of others:

“Hope breaks into a heart that’s broken, blowing all the doors wide open.” (Lydia Polgreen)

“Hope is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door.” (Rebecca Solnit)

“Hope often defies logic and gives us the strength to continue when all the “facts” tell us things are hopeless. Hope helps us to put one foot in front of the other when despair would tell us not to move. . . Wise hope embraces the possibility of transformation and the understanding that what we do matters.” (Maude Barlow)

But I’m not ready for hope yet. For now, I’m sticking with anger. The province’s response is deplorable. It oozes arrogance, disrespect and ignorance in every line. The Government of Ontario should be ashamed of itself.

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