The province has axed an additional $1 million in funding for the province’s 42 rape crisis centres, which are now warning that supports for survivors will have to be cut while wait lists for services will grow.
The news is particularly galling, arriving just before International Women’s Day on Sunday, said Nicole Pietsch of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres.
The funding change “isn’t a reflection of where we are societally” nor does it “acknowledge the prevalence of sexual assault,” Pietsch told the Star.
The coalition “receives this information with concern and much frustration,” she said.
“It is our position that no survivor of violence should ever face a wait for services, including face-to-face counselling.”
Centres across the province will now have to let staff go, and end drop-in or after-hour programs for survivors, Pietsch added.
Last year’s $1-million funding announcement by the Ford government was far less than the $14 million over three years the centres had been promised by the previous Liberal government, following decades of underfunding and amid increasing demand for services in the #MeToo and #TimesUp era.
“As our work continues to find ways of directing more resources and tools to the front-lines of victims supports across the Ontario government, we will be maintaining the same funding guarantee in 2020-21,” a spokesperson for Attorney General Doug Downey said.
Last year, the province “announced the one-time funding increase of $1 million (that) was added to annual funding of $14.8 million to support sexual assault centres,” said Jenessa Crognali, who accused the Liberals of promising a spending hike before the last election that was actually “unfunded.”
“Victim service organizations across Ontario do important and valuable work in their communities. Our government will continue to engage with these important partners make it easier for victims of crime and their families to get the help they need when and where they need it,” Crognali said.
New Democrat MPP Jill Andrew, her party’s women’s issues critic, urged the government to reinstate the money, calling it a “cruel cut to funding that helps rape crisis centres support survivors with services like free counselling when we know the need is only growing.”
Andrew, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, said “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.”
Survivors, she said, “deserve better than to be left on their own, waiting month after agonizing month to access supports following unthinkable trauma.”
Jacqueline Benn John, executive director of the Women’s Support Network of York Region, said its additional money was used to expand counselling services — including a new, walk-in counselling program — as well as open up centres in the evening.
Now, she said, “we will not have the resources in order to meet the demand of survivors.”
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News of the funding cancellation came hours after the province’s financial watchdog reported that the government had underspent by $2 billion in the first three quarters of this fiscal year.
Ontario’s sexual assault centres receive more than 50,000 crisis calls a year, and help more than 17,000 survivors and run thousands of events for families and community groups.