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


March 29, 2020



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