The federal government will provide $162-million to Ontario under the national action plan on gender-based violence, as the province also works to implement recommendations from a coroner’s inquest into a triple femicide.
The funding, announced Wednesday, marks the latest federal-provincial agreement since Ottawa released its 10-year national action plan last November after years of lobbying from survivors, front-line workers and women’s organizations.
The issue has taken on particular prominence in Ontario, where the government has rejected calls to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic as recommended by the inquest into a triple murder in a rural county in 2015. The Ontario and federal governments did not release details of the new agreement on Wednesday but said more information, including accountability measures, would be available in the coming weeks.
Marci Ien, federal Minister of Women and Gender Equality, said the money would go to three federal priorities: prevention efforts; reaching underserved and at-risk populations; and stabilizing the long-struggling gender-based-violence sector.
“This means that the government of Ontario will be able to strengthen existing programs, or create new ones helping vulnerable people out of dangerous situations,” she said.
Michael Parsa, Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, said only that the funding will go to 400 “transfer payment recipients” – companies or organizations that receive funding for contracts.
Anti-violence advocates welcomed the money but criticized the lack of detail and the temporary nature of the funding.
Previous agreements have been struck with Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. None of those announcements included specific details, either.
On average, a woman or girl is killed in Canada every two days. Advocates have argued that access to victim services such as counselling, transitional housing and emergency funding must be standardized across the country, and should not depend on your postal code.
Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada – an organization that supports shelters across the country and led to the creation of a “roadmap” for a plan in 2021 – said Wednesday that she welcomes any new funding, but stressed that this amount will not go far enough.
“The issues are just so huge that, like we said in the roadmap process, we need billions not millions,” she said.
While she appreciated the politicians’ acknowledgement of the hard work of the sector at Wednesday’s announcement, and their stated commitment to addressing staffing issues within it, she said she would have liked to see them specifically name shelters and sexual assault centres that will benefit from these funds.
Ms. Martin stressed the need for consultation with the anti-violence sector, which as far as she knows has not occurred so far.
“So how is the sector reflected? Or is that consultation going to happen now that the agreement is signed? There’s just so many unanswered questions,” she said. “It all goes back to transparency.”
Sami Pritchard, director of advocacy and communications for YWCA Toronto, agrees.
“We’ve been waiting to see it happen, and we’re thrilled to see it come to fruition,” she said of the announcement. But moving forward, she is keen to see what accountability measures will be put in place “to ensure that this plan can be as meaningful as it intends to be, and to ensure that the province acts responsibly and are listening to the needs of communities throughout its entire implementation.”
She said there will be “annual check-ins” to ensure that the agreed-upon priorities are adhered to. But she also said it is important for provinces and territories to retain autonomy in this process, given the unique needs across the country.
Like Ms. Martin, Ms. Pritchard said she was “especially pleased to see the prioritization to stabilize and strengthen the gender-based violence sector … that’s one piece that ourselves and I know our sector partners have long been calling for.”
But a four-year commitment does not equal permanent core funding.
“We really need to see a lifetime commitment to ensure the sustainability and stability of the sector,” Ms. Pritchard said.
In Ontario, anti-violence experts and advocates have expressed disappointment with Premier Doug Ford’s government in recent months, after it refused to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic in the province, which was the first recommendation from the jury at a high-profile inquest last year into a 2015 triple femicide in Renfrew County.
There were similar calls after a woman and three children were murdered in what police described as a case of intimate-partner violence in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., last month.
Sault Ste. Marie has since joined more than 70 other municipalities across Ontario in making such a declaration at the local level.
YWCA Toronto has launched an online campaign specifically urging the provincial government to reverse course and make that declaration.
“We are very much hopeful that the province will reconsider their stance on not declaring intimate-partner violence and gender-based violence an epidemic,” Ms. Pritchard said.