I have recently returned from Violence Against Women Sector gathering and vigil in Petawawa, Renfrew County. In 2015, Carol Cullerton, Anastasia Kuzyk, and Nathalie Warmerdam were all murdered in Renfrew County by a man with whom they had each been involved. An inquest into their deaths was held in 2022 and the CKW Inquest Jury’s final recommendation was that the parties reconvene in one-years’ time to discuss progress on the implementation of its recommendations. And so, we gathered: to remember, to reflect, and to discuss what has happened in the past year.
While we were together discussing the inquest’s recommendations, the reality of the alarming number of victims of femicide in Ontario was made very real once again; another woman was a victim of femicide, and this time, it was in our own community of Hamilton.
As the reports of the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee tell us again and again, the vast majority of domestic homicides are both predictable and preventable, and yet they continue.
At least 266 women in Ontario have been killed since the 2015 triple-femicide in Renfrew County. And according to the Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses femicide reports, the number of women killed continues to rise. As of the end of June 2023, there have been 30 femicides over the last 30 weeks in Ontario. Our numbers locally reflect this reality as well.
In our community of Hamilton, women and children are trying to escape but there are major challenges for the Violence Against Women (VAW)-serving agencies. The entire VAW shelter system in Hamilton is under tremendous, unsustainable pressure; every women’s shelter in Hamilton is over-capacity, and we are turning away women fleeing violence at staggering rates.
At Inasmuch House alone, we turned away 5,715 women looking for space between 2019-2022. And that number doesn’t include the children who are also experiencing the violence. This is truly unacceptable.
The jury and VAW-sector are concerned because, as we know from two previous inquests into intimate partner homicides – the 1998 Arlene May inquest and the Gillian Hadley inquest four years later, both of which resulted in hundreds of recommendations – governments can be slow to respond. We also know that rates of intimate partner violence and gender-based violence, including femicide, rose dramatically in the early months of the pandemic and continue to rise. According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, in the first half of 2022, 92 women and girls were killed in Canada and 92 in the same time period of 2021, up from 78 during the same period in 2020 and 60 in 2019.
This is no time to be slow.
We not only are turning away women and children in the thousands due to capacity pressures, but women and children can’t find safe affordable housing to move into so they remain in shelter system for longer. As a result, we are unable to serve the number of women and children who desperately require and deserve safety, our support, and services. Without shelter, safe and affordable housing, and specialized services, women and children’s lives are at risk. The femicide numbers are proof of that. Women and children are dying.
And the Ontario Government isn’t responding. While in Renfrew County, we were informed that the Ontario Government not only rejected many of the recommendations, but had no plans to implement the remaining ones.
Inasmuch House sees first-hand the effects of intimate partner violence and gender-based violence on the women and children we serve. They deserve better. They deserve safety and housing and support and to live their lives freely. And they deserve a government that will take these recommendations seriously.
Director of Inasmuch House & Women’s Services, Mission Services of Hamilton