Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has pulled the plug on an expert panel to end violence against women that was established under the Liberals to provide strategic advice on policies.
Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod, who is also responsible for women’s issues, immigration and poverty reduction, informed the panel, called the Roundtable on Violence Against Women, in a letter on Tuesday.
“Although we recognize the valuable advice your members have provided,” she wrote, “we will not be reconvening this particular roundtable created by the previous government. In the near future, however, I look forward to working with representatives across various sectors to advance the empowerment of women across the province and to address violence against women and human trafficking.”
Knowing the announcement was coming, co-chairs Farrah Khan and Pamela Cross had announced their resignations the same morning. They had been debating the move since September, Ms. Khan, a Toronto-based anti-violence educator, said on Wednesday – noting that the government had not returned any of their calls or e-mails since taking office in June.
Nevertheless, she was disappointed and confused by the decision to scrap the roundtable.
“It’s disappointing because the groups in this [roundtable] are nonpartisan,” she said.
She noted that other than the co-chairs, who earned a small stipend, the roundtable was comprised entirely of volunteers.
“These are largely grassroots folks who contributed a lot of their own time to assisting the previous government, and who were prepared to continue contributing that time,” said Ms. Cross, who is a lawyer. “And I think they’re pretty disappointed and angry.”
The roundtable was established in 2015, as a way for experts to provide strategic advice to the province on emerging issues related to violence against women. It is made up of representatives from close to two dozen organizations that address issues related to violence against women − but also those that have experience with specific populations, including Indigenous women, immigrants, older women, LGBTQ people and sex workers.
The roundtable provided advice on campaign language and policies relating to domestic violence. For example, when the government was considering introducing new family-court fees in custody, access or child-support cases in 2015, the roundtable pointed out that this could be prohibitive to women fleeing domestic violence. The government ultimately decided to scrap the fee increases from their proposal.
The roundtable also advocated for paid leave for people experiencing domestic or sexual violence or the threat of violence, which was included in the Liberals’ Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act last year. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said he will repeal the legislation.
Mr. Ford’s government is reviewing all programs established by the previous government and deciding whether to continue them or come up with new initiatives.
Ms. MacLeod also announced this summer that her government was rolling back social-assistance changes put in place by the former Liberal government, including reductions to planned increases in social-assistance rates and the cancellation of a pilot project to establish a basic income for recipients.
Ms. MacLeod’s spokesman, Cal MacLellan, said the minister has visited shelters across the province and reaffirmed her government’s commitment to eradicating violence against women. He said Ms. MacLeod was unavailable for an interview on Wednesday as she was attending a federal-provincial meeting for status of women ministers, where violence against women – and specifically violence against Indigenous women – was to be discussed.
“We will have more to say on this important issue in the months ahead,” Mr. MacLellan said.
Suze Morrison, NDP critic for housing and women’s issues, called the decision “absolutely outrageous.”
“This is a really heartless move,” she said. “It’s an incredibly significant lost opportunity here to address violence against women.”
Both Ms. Khan and Ms. Cross said that violence against women has reached a “crisis state” in Ontario.
“Fifty per cent of all femicides in Canada occurred in Ontario this year − 53 women from January to August, and we know there’s even more than that,” Ms. Khan said.
The death toll, Ms. Cross said, “is just absolutely astonishing and shocking and should be horrifying to every person that lives in this province. We need a gendered violence strategy like we’ve never needed one before. And now we have a government that says it doesn’t need to talk to the experts to know what it should be doing.”