By Michelle Squires
Twenty five years ago on Dec. 6, 1989, 14 women were murdered by an armed man in the name of “fighting feminism.” And every year, to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women, Women’s College Hospital staff and community partners place a rose in a vase in the memory of each of the murdered women. A fifteenth rose is placed to remember the lives of the women and children murdered as a result of domestic violence this past year.
As the lead for Legal Aid Ontario’s (LAO’s) Domestic Violence Strategy, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to work with and learn from members of the Violence against Women community.
If recent current events are any indicator, much remains to be done to address domestic violence and violence against women.
At Women’s College Hospital’s commemoration, Premier Kathleen Wynne asked, “What is it about this culture we have created that has not created safety for people coming forward?”
She addressed the need to “explore alternatives to the criminal justice system that will allow more people to bring complaints forward – because we know we can do better.”
Dr. Janice Du Mont, an applied psychologist and scientist at the Violence and Health Research Program at Women’s College Research Institute – and also, the keynote speaker at the commemoration – echoed the premier’s words.
“Taking stock is important because it allows us to take action more strategically,” she said. “If women and children are to lead violence-free lives, then we need to take urgent action.”
As a researcher focused on making the world a better place for women and girls, Dr. Du Mont says there’s a need for the international community to frame violence against women as both a human rights issue and a public health issue.
In her keynote speech, she said, “States have an obligation to prevent and investigate and punish violence against women.”
Citing Statistics Canada’s 1993 Violence Against Women Survey, Dr. Du Mont pointed out that half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16 – but only 6 per cent of these assaults are reported.
“We’ve learned that violence against women is as serious a cause of death as cancer,” she told a packed audience.
LAO places a priority on helping vulnerable clients such as people who are experiencing domestic violence – but we also recognize the need to enhance our services to provide more holistic, integrated services that are based on client need.
If you know someone affected by domestic violence who is in need of legal help – whether it’s to get a restraining order or to proceed with a separation or to deal with an immigration sponsorship breakdown – please have them call LAO toll-free at 1-800-668-8258.
Michelle Squires is leading LAO’s Domestic Violence Strategy.