Days before Ontario Premier Mike Harris vowed his government would protect women from domestic violence, Iris Fabbro tore open a letter bearing the news that the province has cancelled funding to the women's centre she runs.
Ms. Fabbro was not alone. During the past few weeks, the Ontario Women's Directorate has eliminated funding for at least five women's centres across the province at a time when the Harris government is proposing legislative changes that would provide criminal penalties against abusive men who violate restraining orders.
While not all women's centres in Ontario have lost their $45,000 funding, those that did fell short of meeting new outcome-based criteria, which require centres to show that their programs will lead to women finding jobs or leaving violent relationships.
The North York Women's Centre, which runs programs intended to teach life skills to battered women and a support group for victims of violence, did not fit the bill.
Because the stated outcomes of the two programs are increased self-esteem and assertiveness, and tapping into legal services and community resources, the women's directorate turned down Ms. Fabbro's funding request.
"These outcomes do not correspond with OWD's outcomes of women obtaining jobs, or leaving a violent relationship," the letter states.
The funding accounted for a third of Ms. Fabbro's budget, and without it, she says, the centre has been forced to eliminate one of two full-time positions. Even then it can expect to cling to life for only another three months.
Jonathan Leigh, a spokesman for Helen Johns, Citizenship, Culture and Recreation Minister who's responsible for the women's directorate, said that although funding was eliminated for five women's centres, another 16 received funding for the first time.
He said money for women's centres has nearly doubled, from $855,000 last year to $1.9-million next year.
"The commitment of the Harris government to combating violence against women through the help of women's centres that offer counselling and training for better job opportunities is unquestionable in my mind," he said, "when over a two-year period we're doubling funding to women's centres."
At a press conference yesterday to demand funding be restored to women's centres, advocates for battered women said that a more businesslike directorate is not funding programs against violence.
The women's directorate also wrote to turn down a funding request from the Women's Information and Support Centre of Halton for programs in career readiness and abuse prevention, again insisting neither would result in women landing jobs or leaving abusive relationships.
Both letters were dated one week before Mr. Harris rose in the legislature to pledge that Ontario "can and must do more to protect those who live in the shadow of domestic violence."
"This is really a slap," said Nuzhath Leedham, executive director of the Riverdale Immigrant Women's Centre, which also lost its $45,000.
Violence against women leaped onto the political agenda this past summer after a number of women were murdered or maimed by abusive spouses, who in many cases had repeatedly breached restraining orders.