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Letter to Minister Maryam Monsef on the prevention of victimization of vulnerable persons during COVID-19

 

March 29, 2020

BY EMAIL

 

The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development
The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

 

Dear Ministers Monsef and Lametti,

As I sit at home this weekend, and think about heading into our third week of physical distancing and travel restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Canada, I am mindful of the thousands of women and children who are not safe in their homes. The pandemic means increased levels of power and control by abusers over their victims. Isolation is their tactic and this pandemic has the effect of making this abuse even more hidden.

Families are more stressed than ever due to the economic implications of this pandemic. People are out of work. The children are home 24/7 increasing stress. Do vulnerable persons know that women’s shelters are still open? Do they know that they can still call for help and support or leave, if needed?  While the Prime Minister has announced $50M in additional funding for shelters and sexual assaults centres, I question whether it is enough and if it can be provided quickly enough to address the urgent need on the ground. Shelters lacked bed space prior to the pandemic. Women and children were commonly turned away in all communities. I recommend this funding to be accessible immediately to the frontline agencies and NGOs delivering supports, so they can utilize hotels if needed, for women and children who may need to escape now and there is no shelter bed space available.

I am also mindful of northern and remote communities where escaping violence can be dangerous, as 1 in 3 people in the territories live more than 100 km from a domestic violence shelter. I recommend additional funding be directed towards creating safe houses in the North on an urgent basis, a designated safe place in a home, or a public space that is staffed when a person needs help. This option would mean many victims would not have to leave their communities either. Along with funding for designated safe places in rural, remote and northern communities, I recommend urgently establishing a permanently funded national intimate partner and family violence hotline, offering live chat and texting supports, to help Canadians from coast to coast to coast who may be experiencing abuse or violence.

I am sharing the March 27th message of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Simonovic, for your information. I believe increased federal investments are needed urgently to prevent victimization of vulnerable persons during COVID-19. I recommend the immediate development and dissemination of public messaging and campaigns to reach vulnerable persons and direct them to safety and resources, should they need it, such as women’s shelters, sexual assault centres and victim services agencies. We should also be taking this opportunity to target and reach men who may be at risk of utilizing violence, abuse and coercive control in their relationships.  

 

I am available to speak to you at any time on this urgent matter and thank you for your consideration,

 

Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime/l'Ombudsman fédérale des victimes d'actes criminels

 


Response


Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
heidi.illingworthfcombudsman.gc.ca

 

Dear Ombudsman Illingworth:

 

Thank you for your letter dated March 29, 2020, and for raising these important issues. We recognize the serious impacts that this difficult situation has on victims of intimate partner and family violence, and we appreciate the time you have taken to share your concerns.

We know from past pandemics and from the considerable evidence emerging from stakeholders, domestic and international research, and media reporting that COVID-19 is having differential impacts, particularly on women and children. Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) is committed to ensuring that GBA+ and gender equality is at the heart of the Government of Canada's COVID-19 response.

As you mentioned, the Government of Canada's COVID-19 Economic Response Plan includes $50 million in immediate emergency funding to women's shelters and sexual assault centres. This marked the first time the federal government provided dedicated funding to specifically support the operation of shelters and sexual assault centres. Of the $40 million given to WAGE, $30 million has been disbursed as follows:

  • $20.54 million to Women's Shelters Canada to distribute to over 420 violence against women shelters across the country;
  • $3 million to the Canadian Women's Foundation to distribute the funding to approximately 90 sexual assault centres across the country; and,
  • $6.46 million will flow to women's shelters and sexual assault centres in Quebec, through an agreement between Canada and Quebec.

As part of the $50 million for women's shelters and sexual assault centres, $10 million was provided to Indigenous Services Canada's (ISC) to support the existing network of 46 emergency shelters on reserve and in Yukon. This funding is providing support to Indigenous women and children fleeing violence.

Moreover, it may interest you to know that Indigenous Services Canada has made funding available to help Indigenous organizations and communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to the pandemic. This plan provided $305 million for a new distinctions-based Indigenous Community Support Fund to address immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities, and included an initial investment of $15 million to support Indigenous organizations and communities to provide services to Indigenous peoples in urban centres or First Nations living off reserve. On May 21st, 2020, a further $75 million in new funding was announced for the urban and off reserve stream of the Indigenous Community Support Fund.

The Government of Canada has also provided other supports for vulnerable Canadians and frontline service providers including: $350 million for Employment and Social Development Canada's (ESDC) Emergency Community Support Fund to help charities and non-profit organizations adapt frontline services supporting vulnerable Canadians during the pandemic; $7.5 million to Kids Help Phone; $100 million to improve access to essential food supports, including food banks; and, $9 million to United Way Canada to support seniors in the community.

While these concrete efforts are providing much needed relief, we are mindful that gaps still exist. The Government is working closely with provinces and territories, partners and stakeholders to identify further needs and areas for action.

Since mid-March, we have engaged in extensive engagements with provincial and territorial colleagues and held roundtables on GBV and vulnerable communities with over 350 individuals representing organizations from across the country. Your participation in these engagements is greatly appreciated and your advice, along with all of the advice and recommendations from our partners and stakeholders is being considered.

We also note your comments regarding the immediate development and dissemination of public messaging to reach vulnerable populations and direct them towards safety resources. As a direct response to the impacts of this pandemic on victims of family violence, the Department of Justice Canada released a series of social media messages in early April to provide information and resources to victims who are isolated at home with their abusers.

As we move forward, in addition to responding to immediate pandemic-related needs, wewill start planning for our recovery and advance our goals of gender equality and equity for all Canadians. This includes developing a National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence, in partnership with provinces and territories, partners, and stakeholders to ensure that anyone at risk of or experiencing gender-based violence has reliable and timely access to protection, services and supports by addressing the root causes and systemic barriers that perpetuate gender-based violence.

Please be assured that we will take your recommendations into consideration as we continue to work with our colleagues across the federal government, as well as in the provinces and territories, to respond to this issue.

We look forward to working with you in the near future on our common files.

Respectfully,


The Honourable Maryam Monsef, P.C., M.P.
Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development

 

The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada