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Get to work, women’s advocates urge after partner violence bill passes 2nd reading

As the Ontario government promised earlier in the day, an NDP private member’s bill to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic passed second reading at the legislature Wednesday evening without a fight.

Some might ask why the bill is important, given nearly 100 municipalities have declared this form of violence to be an epidemic on their own initiative in the past 10 months.

There are some days when even Erin Lee, the executive director of a rural eastern Ontario shelter for abused women and children, wonders about it.

But then Lee remembers that it was the first recommendation in a recent inquest into this form of violence and that it was made by a jury of regular citizens who heard weeks of evidence.

For people still dealing with abuse, the message that the government is seeing, hearing and validating them is meaningful, Lee said.

“If we don’t see it and we don’t name it, it’s very hard for us to change it. And if we don’t start doing something to change it, we will continue to see the numbers of femicides in Ontario [go up],” Lee said in an interview outside Queen’s Park yesterday.

A close up of a women's stone monument. People can be seen lining up in the background.
People take part in a vigil at the Women’s Monument in Petawawa, Ont., following a coroner inquest jury’s recommendations in Pembroke, Ont., on June 28, 2022. On Wednesday, the Ontario government said it would support an NDP bill declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic. (Jean Delisle/CBC/Radio-Canada)

Kirsten Mercer, a Toronto lawyer and feminist advocate who took part in the 2022 inquest, calls it a move worth celebrating.

“The diagnosis [of the problem] is not going to get us where we need to go. But it is a necessary step on the journey to eliminate intimate partner violence and gender-based violence in this province,” she said.

Pamela Cross, another advocate who also took part in the inquest, wrote in an email that Premier Doug Ford and his government are to be commended and that work is needed to ensure the province’s pivot has teeth.

Charmaine Williams, Ontario’s associate minister of women’s social and economic opportunities, wrote in a statement that the Ford government is “focused on actions that deliver concrete and tangible results to prevent violence before it happens” and that “perpetrators responsible for these horrible crimes are held accountable through the justice system.”

The bill will now go to committee, the NDP said in a press release Wednesday evening.

A person in a maroon suit standing in Queen's Park.
Kristyn Wong-Tam, NDP MPP for Toronto-Centre, says despite the government support for the bill, it has not made a committment to adopt the 86 recommendations from the coroner’s inquest on gender-based violence. (Grant Linton/CBC)

When making the announcement Wednesday, House Leader Paul Calandra said Ford asked for advice from the standing committee on justice about doing an “in-depth study” on intimate partner violence, one that would examine root causes, programs that are currently available and potential improvements.

But neither Lee nor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the Toronto Centre NDP MPP who put forward the bill, believe that’s necessary, since the inquest came up with 86 recommendations on top of those made by the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee and other inquests over many years.

“It could really go into a black hole that will take months — if not years — for it to ever come back,” Wong-Tam said.

Still, if the committee process will allow civilians, experts and professionals to explain on-the-ground realities to government, “we’ll take that opportunity gladly,” said Wong-Tam.

‘We know a lot of the answers already’

Mercer said she’s also ready to support the justice committee’s work.

But committees can sometimes get bogged down in partisanship and leave community experts in the lurch, she added, and she’s hoping the province can start implementing changes at the same time as the work unfolds.

“I think what we’re going to hear is that we know a lot of the answers already,” Mercer said. “And so let’s not spend a lot of time rehashing things that we’ve already learned. Let’s put that into practice right away.”

A portrait of a woman.
Kirsten Mercer, a Toronto-based lawyer and women’s advocate, represented the group End Violence Against Women Renfrew County at the coroner’s inquest into the 2015 murders of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam. On Wednesday, she called the government’s move ‘important and worth celebrating.’ (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Lee and Mercer agree the way to start is by implementing the rest of the inquest’s top five recommendations.

Those include establishing an ombudsman-like commissioner on intimate partner violence, engaging in meaningful consultation with experts and stakeholders, and creating an implementation committee and advocate for survivors.

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