Yes, we C.A.N.

Recommendation 19 from the CKW inquest calls for the establishment of an emergency fund to support women living with intimate partner violence (IPV) who are taking steps to seek safety. The proposed name of the fund — in honour of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam, the three femicide victims whose 2015 deaths were the focus of the inquest – is the “She C.A.N. Fund.”

The phrase, “Yes, we C.A.N.” has become something of a rallying cry for those working for implementation of the recommendations generally and, last week, that’s exactly what happened in Lanark County, which borders on Renfrew County where the women were killed.

At the inaugural meeting of the Lanark County Council’s community services committee meeting on December 7th, Erin Lee, the Executive Director of Lanark County Interval House and Community Support (LCIHSC), made a presentation about the role of her organization – the county’s only anti-violence agency. Noting that LCIHCS, like many other organizations serving survivors of  gender-based violence, had seen an unprecedented jump in demand for services during the pandemic, she urged the councillors to consider the inquest’s 86 recommendations. She reminded them that some of them are already in place locally: among others, the victim advocate partnership between the shelter and the OPP and the inclusion of IPV in the county’s community safety and well-being plan. She then suggested that the council consider the first inquest recommendation: that IPV be declared an epidemic.

Normally, such a request could take several meetings to move through the various steps to making it a motion, but the councillors were not interested in waiting. They were also not interested in limiting themselves to a motion to declare IPV an epidemic in Lanark County. The final motion, which was passed unanimously at last week’s meeting and which received final approval earlier this week at the full council meeting, also called on other Ontario municipalities to follow suit. Lanark County officials will be sending the resolution to all municipalities in the province as well as to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Rural Ontario Municipal Association.

Yes, we C.A.N.

What Now, Lanark County?

Lanark County has been a hotbed of activism to end gender-based violence for decades. Since the inquest, activities of LCIHCS and an anti-violence organization called What Now, Lanark County (WNLC) have included a major outreach to media, which have responded with enthusiasm. The Perth-based radio station Lake 88.1 has committed a weekly spot in its programming for 86 weeks to discuss the recommendations. The Sam Laprade Show on Ottawa’s CityNews devoted half an hour in each of six episodes in the fall to discussions with inquest participants.

On December 9th, WNLC acknowledged the 16 Days of Activism with a community vigil and forum to discuss the inquest. The Almonte Town Hall was filled with more than 100 people, who listened to a number of speakers and then shared their thoughts. I was honoured to be one of those speakers, and I talked about what I had learned during the community consultations I led in Renfrew County in the weeks leading up to the inquest, something I have written about here before. In my remarks, I shared one comment I had heard at those consultations, which seemed especially relevant in the wake of the Lanark County Council’s vote earlier in the week.

Doing it ourselves

During a discussion about what needs to happen to keep women safe, one participant acknowledged the need for better laws and improved system responses to IPV as well as the importance of professionals doing their jobs better. But, she said, at the end of the day:

“For a woman to survive, she has to live in a community that takes responsibility for her safety.”

She was absolutely right. Especially in rural communities, where services may be far away, police response time may be slow because of long distances, guns are close at hand and cell service is erratic, a woman’s safety really does rest in the hands of her community.

I’ve heard this theme repeatedly over the past couple of months, as I have participated in community meetings about the inquest recommendations. In Thunder Bay, the Soo, Sudbury, North Bay, Clinton, (virtually) Chatham Kent and the other rural communities I have visited this fall, people aren’t waiting for someone else — in particular, they aren’t waiting for politicians — to fix this problem of gender-based violence. As in Lanark County, people in rural communities are finding ways to make the inquest recommendations work for them.

Democracy has, for too long and too many people, become a rote exercise of turning out to vote every four or so years and not much more. As Toronto-based community organizer and activist Dave Meslin, author of the book Teardown: Rebuilding democracy from the ground up, has said:

“Our democracy is failing. We can sit back and watch in disgust, or we can take the reins.”

We sure C.A.N.

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