Advocates for Ontario’s 42 sexual assault centres say the provincial government will not renew a $1-million funding boost next year, even though demand for services is rising.
The Progressive Conservative government gave the centres an additional “one-time” $1-million in funding last spring, but the groups had hoped the extra money would be renewed. It expires on March 31.
With the rise of the #MeToo movement, which encourages victims of sexual assault to speak about their experiences, the centres say they have seen an increase in demand for services, such as individual counselling and crisis lines. But waiting times for free services in Ontario can stretch on for months or even years. Without additional government funding, the centres say their waiting lists will grow.
Deb Singh, a counsellor and advocate with the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre (TRCC), said Attorney-General Doug Downey personally informed the centres about the decision late last week.
“Our services are under attack,” Ms. Singh said. “What we were able to do with that [money] was remarkable.”
Ms. Singh said the TRCC’s share of the money – about $76,000 – helped to reduce the centre’s waiting list from 18 months to six months, by allowing the centre to hire three people on part-time contracts. Now, she said, “we cannot serve as many survivors.”
In total, the province’s rape crisis centres receive $14.8-million in funding each year. But the previous Liberal government had promised a 30-per-cent increase – almost $4-million a year – which never materialized after the Liberals lost the 2018 election.
Jenessa Crognali, Mr. Downey’s spokeswoman, said Wednesday the $1-million in one-time funding was added to the $14.8-million annual budget ″to support sexual assault centres in the wake of unfunded promises made by the Liberals.” She said the government will maintain the same base funding for the ministry’s $60-million victims services program next year, which includes the province’s sexual assault centres.
Nicole Pietsch, co-ordinator with the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, said Mr. Downey didn’t explain why he wasn’t extending the funding, but said his government is undertaking a review of victims services across the province.
She said many centres created programs as a result of the money, such as a walk-in program in York region, a drop-in group in Muskoka and part-time counselling positions to decrease waiting lists.
“All of those will come to an end at the end of March, with the end of this funding,” she said.
Ms. Pietsch said the demand for service has been increasing steadily for several years, as the public has become more aware of the stigma surrounding sexual violence.
“We think it’s a timely investment, and the government is just not on the same page," she said.
Jill Andrew, the Ontario NDP’s women’s issues critic, criticized both the previous Liberal government and the Progressive Conservatives for failing to properly fund rape crisis centres.
“The Liberals waited until they were on the cusp of an election to react to #MeToo and the surge in survivors seeking support, and now Doug Ford’s Conservatives are taking things from bad to worse for survivors of rape and sexual violence,” she said. “I am urging the government to reverse this cut right away.”
Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the funding loss will mean fewer counsellors and support groups.
“This was a very modest sum that 42 rape crisis centres were stretching very far to support victims,” he said.
“It’s a very callous place to pinch pennies.”
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