Ontario’s rape crisis centres are waiting for a boost in funding promised by the previous Liberal government — news that came in the same week the province disbanded a roundtable looking at ways to prevent violence against women.
New Democrat MPP Suze Morrison, her party’s women’s issues critic, called the 33 per cent increase announced earlier this year “much-needed funding (that) would have enhanced services at existing centres and expanded programs to underserviced communities,” amid a huge increase in demand.
Morrison, who told the legislature she is a sexual assault survivor, questioned the government’s commitment to violence against women given the question around funding and the end of the roundtable.
“This roundtable was a vital component in the fight to end violence against women,” added Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers, and it created dozens of recommendations that were the basis of her party’s $242 million gender-based violence strategy.
Des Rosiers said the government’s move “is the first toward dismantling this incredibly important strategy. There is no excuse for dismantling an advisory group designed to reduce violence against women.”
But Progressive Conservative MPP Sylvia Jones, who took questions on the issue at Queen’s Park, said “our government is 100 per cent committed to make sure that the women in this province who have been abused in the workplace, in their homes, in their schools will get the help they need.”
She said “I don’t think that there is a member in this chamber who would ever suggest that workplace violence in our schools, in our classrooms, in our homes is appropriate.
“We all need to work together on this issue. It is non-partisan and we need to get past the throwing of knives back and forth and actually work together.”
Earlier last week, co-chairs Farrah Khan and Pamela Cross resigned from the roundtable saying they had reached out to the new government but were ignored.
Meanwhile, Nicole Pietsch, co-ordinator of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, said the network of 30 centres has unsuccessfully attempted to reach Ontario’s Attorney General Caroline Mulroney to ask about the additional funding under her ministry’s control, and had only recently heard back from her chief of staff.
The promised funding would be enough for each centre to hire one full-time, front-line staffer, Pietsch said.
“It would make a significant difference — particularly for agencies that are seeing increases in demand” and have waitlists, she said.
Right now, they can’t plan, and “will just continue to operate with the modest resources they have” for an issue that takes a “huge toll on our communities.”
Mulroney — who years ago founded the Shoebox Project, a charity that provides homeless women with gift boxes — told the legislature when asked about the funding for rape crisis centres that “our government believes that all Ontarians should live free from violence and the threat of violence. That is why we take the programs that our ministries offer to keep Ontarians free and to help them through the justice system very seriously.
“We’re looking at them because we want to make sure that they are delivering the services in an effective and efficient way, so that they can actually provide the real help and services that the women need,” she said.
“And so, I am committed to looking at all those programs across our government. We are all doing that. We will have more to say on that in the future.”
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy