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BEYOND LOCAL: Orillia calls on province to declare gender-based violence an epidemic

'When we label it as an epidemic, I do believe it draws more attention to the issue,' said Coun. Jay Fallis as Orillia became 95th municipality to join 'wave of change'
Green Haven Shelter for Women’s Deb James thanked city council for drawing attention to intimate partner and gender-based violence, as the city supported the Town or Bracebridge in calling on the province to declare these crimes an epidemic.

The City of Orillia has joined a growing number of municipalities in calling on the provincial government to declare gender-based violence and intimate partner violence an epidemic.

With the exponential rise in gender-based and intimate partner violence through the COVID-19 pandemic, among other incidences of these crimes, city politicians lent their support to a motion originally passed by the Town of Bracebridge at Monday’s council meeting.

In its call to the province, the Bracebridge motion highlights the Culleton, Kuzyk & Warmerdam Inquest, held to investigate the deaths of three women who were each killed by the same perpetrator on Sept. 22, 2015.

That case resulted in a jury bringing forth 86 recommendations — including the first call on the provincial government to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic.

The motion also highlights that gender-based and intimate partner violence has not decreased since climbing through the pandemic, and that funding to provide services for victims of these crimes has not kept pace with the rise in crime.

As a result of these factors, among others, the Town of Bracebridge has declared these crimes an epidemic and called on the province to do the same, joining 94 additional Ontario municipalities, and now the City of Orillia.

“I hope this leads to greater legislative responses at both the provincial and federal levels,” said Coun. Jay Fallis. “Starting with the city of Sault Ste. Marie in the wake of a brutal shooting last October, many municipalities have been quick to put forward similar motions.”

Fallis said labelling the issue as an epidemic can help underscore how serious it has become.

“When we label it as an epidemic, I do believe it draws more attention to the issue,” he said. “In my own research, there were many devastating facts that I came across, which I had previously been unaware of, and one of the first things to mention … was despite all these facts, 70 per cent of these types of incidents go unreported.”

Coun. Janet-Lynne Durnford said the growing number of calls from Ontario municipalities will help hold the province accountable in addressing gender-based and intimate partner violence.

“Ninety-five municipalities have declared intimate partner violence as an epidemic and we are growing, joining a growing wave of change across the province and across the country, and that pressure is working,” she said. 

In April, Bill 173 — the Intimate Partner Violence Epidemic Act — passed its second reading at Queen’s Park.

“I believe that this will hold the province to account to take further action to ensure that perpetrators are held to account through the justice system,” Durnford said. 

During Monday’s open public forum, Deb James, community development manager at the Green Haven Shelter for Women, thanked city council for bringing its attention to this issue.

“People ask about domestic abuse, if it's still happening. Why is it still happening and 2024? Why haven't we eradicated that problem?” James said. “Since the start of the pandemic, incidents of domestic violence rose dramatically, and since that time the numbers just keep increasing, and we don't understand why.”

James said Green Haven assisted 1,100 women and children in 2023, through outreach, crisis lines, and various programs.

“In March, the World Health Organization declared intimate partner violence an epidemic, and many municipalities are doing the same — Bracebridge, City of Orillia, Muskoka, Guelph and Barrie — they've taken that step in advocacy and we just can't say thank you enough.”

A copy of Monday’s resolution will be sent to Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Michael Parsa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, and numerous additional federal and provincial officials.

Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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