A plan to end partner violence

Posted on April 11, 2023 in Child & Family Policy Context

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TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
April 10, 2023.   By Star Editorial Board

Research shows that survivors of intimate partner violence benefit from receiving adequate social services and mental health support.

The names change, but the stories remain sadly and strikingly similar:

A woman is subject to abuse at the hands of her intimate partner. The police and other criminal justice system personnel are notified, but fail to take appropriate action. The abuse escalates. In the worst cases, the woman, or other innocent people, lose their lives. The names change, and the story repeats.

It happened to Daniella Mallia, who was murdered 72 hours after notifying Toronto police last year of the threat her ex-boyfriend posed to her safetyIt happened to Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton, all of whom were murdered in Renfrew County, Ontario in 2015 by a man who had ignored a probation order.

And it nearly happened to Lisa Banfield, who survived a two decade abusive relationship with Gabriel Wortman, the man responsible for killing 22 people in Nova Scotia in 2020. The recently completed Mass Casualty Commission heard that police were for years aware of Wortman’s escalating violence, yet failed to protect Banfield or other innocent individuals.

All of these cases reveal critical failures within the criminal justice system. But more than that, they reveal that far from protecting women and other innocent individuals, our over reliance on criminal justice might actually be increasing the risks for survivors of intimate partner violence.

Many women certainly think so, as they worry that calling police will only result in an escalation of violence. Others fear that they might be the ones to end up in handcuffs — much as Lisa Banfield was when she was arrested for supplying Wortman with ammunition.

Despite the popularity of the criminal justice approach, though, research has long demonstrated that survivors of intimate partner violence benefit more from receiving adequate social services and mental health support.

Now, two recent, comprehensive investigations — the Mass Casualty Commission into Wortman’s rampage and the coroner’s inquest into the Renfrew County murders — agree.

Indeed, the commission and the inquest heard strikingly similar stories, and they delivered remarkably similar recommendations. Both advocated for a preventive, whole-of-society approach to addressing intimate partner violence, with a particular focus on marginalized women.

Prevention programs can, in fact, be incorporated into both primary and secondary school curricula, and one Ontario-based measure — the Fourth R program — has been shown to reduce dating violence years into the future.

Furthermore, since non-criminal controlling behaviours — “coercive control” — often precedes full blown violence, early intervention programs are essential. One such program, currently being evaluated in Peel, pairs police officers with social workers to attend non-criminal domestic situations.

Given the control often exerted over survivors, the reports emphasize the need for economic security, housing, safe spaces and social and mental health services for survivors. And that in turn means ensuring consistent, stable funding for organizations that provide such assistance.

Prevention also involves attending to the mental health of perpetrators and potential perpetrators of violence, and the inquest therefore recommends implementing a 24-hour hotline for those at risk of engaging in abuse.

Finally, both reports take a less than supportive view of mandatory charging policies, which require police to lay charges in domestic violence cases if the evidence warrants it. In fact, the Commission specifically recommends replacing the practice with a woman-centred, preventative approach.

Both the provincial and federal governments have responded positively to the reports, though the extent of their commitment remains unclear. For example, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “there’s no question there need to be changes,” he also stressed that “we will take the time to get those right.”

And the province’s February response to the inquest failed to address 29 of the 86 recommendations, including developing a plan for housing survivors, reviewing mandatory charging, and implementing the hotline.

Now to be fair to the feds, the 3,000-page Commission report was just recently released. Yet since the province has had since last June to reply to the inquest recommendations, its response isn’t exactly reassuring.

After all, with intimate partner violence at epidemic levels, time is of the essence. Indeed, every day we wait, we risk adding yet more names to the same sad story we’ve heard all too often.


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One Response to “A plan to end partner violence”

  1. Maria Hernandez says:

    I would like to know if you have information about domestic violence against men. I would like to find a policy regarding this social issue that is also present in our society. I work in a shelter for men and fathers who have experienced domestic abuse, I believe that this is an issue that must be addressed with the same intensity as violence against women.



    Maria Hernandez


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