1st session, 37th Parliament | 1re session, 37e législature
Wed 4 Oct 2000 / Mer 4 oct 2000
ORDERS OF THE DAY
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROTECTION ACT, 2000 / LOI DE 2000 SUR LA PROTECTION CONTRE LA VIOLENCE FAMILIALE
Resuming the debate adjourned on October 3, 2000, on the motion for second reading of Bill 117, An Act to better protect victims of domestic violence / Projet de loi 117, Loi visant à mieux protéger les victimes de violence familiale.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-East York): Yesterday, I read into the record the names and a bit about the lives and the deaths of approximately 44 women who have been killed by their intimate partners or ex-partners since the release of the jury recommendations of the May-Iles coroner's inquiry. Those recommendations were released in July 1998. The recitation of the women's names and the details of their lives and deaths for me is an attempt to break through what often in this place seems like the reference to this nameless, faceless group of abused women. It was an attempt to underscore the unique and heinous nature of domestic assault and intimate femicide in response to a particular comment in the Legislature that domestic violence is not just about male violence against women and the response of some MPPs in support of that comment.
I wanted to underscore that while I'm sure all honourable MPPs would agree that eradication of violence in our society is a goal that we all share--it's an aim that is laudable and one that in a civil society we must continue to strive for--there is a particular issue with domestic assault and intimate femicide and there are particular roots in our society that give rise to these conditions, to these situations, to this violence, to this killing. There are things that we as legislators, and in particular the executive council, the cabinet of Ontario as the government of Ontario, can do that will make a real difference, that will in fact save women's lives.
At the end of what for me was a very emotional and painful reading of the names of those women, I asked us to consider the question, will the bill before us today do anything to save women's lives? Would it have saved even one of those women's lives? I have to say, regretfully, the answer is no.
Let me be clear. I indicated earlier that I don't object to the bill itself. I support the measures, however inadequate they are in light of the big picture we're dealing with.
I hope you'll excuse me; I'm suffering from the institutional cold that's going through the building, so it's hard to keep the voice going.
In fact, I want to say in particular to the staff of the Attorney General who worked on this that I think there was some fine work done on an issue of how to toughen up or make more accessible intervention orders or restraining orders. I think some of the things, like broadening the category of those people who can apply for restraining orders, including people in dating relationships dealing with stalking situations, are positive. I can say some positive things about the actual words that are on the paper, but I have to implore MPPs to look at the issue that we're trying to address and to understand how far short of the mark this initiative on the part of the government is.
Even this bill, if it is to be more than words on paper, requires initiatives on the part of the government to make it meaningful. Not coincidentally, some of those things--and I will highlight them--are in the nature of the demands that have been put forward by over 95 women's organizations that have now come together and agreed on the list of emergency measures to be implemented this fall.
I say again, and I know I'll continue to come back to this, I find it so hard to understand how the government cannot be moved by the incredible coalition of support that has come behind these demands: over 95 different and disparate women's organizations. What does it take to get you to listen? I don't want to, in your eyes, cheapen the debate by asking the question, but one has to wonder how you write off these voices so easily. One has to wonder why it's so easy for you to dismiss women's voices.
The legislation before us seeks to strengthen civil restraining orders, making them more accessible, broadening the conditions, criminalizing violation of the orders, broadening the category of people who can apply for the orders. None of that, in and of itself, is negative. You need to understand, however, that a civil restraining order, this new intervention order as it's being defined, is at the bottom of the list of the criminal justice system. It is less in its impact and import than bail condition orders or than peace bonds. It's sort of the lowest, most minor intervention. Even if it's to work, I ask you to look out in the field and understand how the community will access and be able to take advantage of this initiative.
Firstly, women's organizations are saying very clearly that for women to know and understand their ability to get this restraining order, there have to be community supports out there that women can go to to get this information. They have to know about it. They have to be given advice on how to access it and counselling on whether it's the right option for them at this point in time. There have to be services available that are culturally and linguistically suitable for communities so that women can get this information.
At the very time when we're talking about this, you will know that I raised in the House my concern over the cancellation of grants from the Ontario Women's Directorate to four women's centres this year and at least three or four more in the last two years. The minister responded saying, "No, we're funding more women's centres than ever before." With respect, I have to disagree. I have to ask you to take a look at what has happened: the money that has been expanded in the department of Ontario Women's Directorate has been reallocated and reprioritized in terms of the groups and organizations that it goes to. It is now going more and more frequently to generic organizations out there, for example, employment counselling organizations, which may have one particular program geared toward women. That is very different than women's centres which have specific understanding of the issues facing women, which can connect women to a range of social services that they need when they are looking to flee an abusive situation, which have connections and networks to the shelters, to the crisis hotlines, to housing programs and to counselling programs.
Your new criterion that's been put in place to expanded funds is being diverted away from women's centres, which are the front-line organizations women feel safe going to in their community. Those centres can reach out and work with women. Perhaps women who first come don't want to disclose that they're in a situation of abuse. Maybe they're looking for other sorts of help. They build trusting relationships.
The fact that those funds now have been withdrawn, because those particular organizations didn't make the request-for-proposal process and get their grants renewed, threatens the continued existence of those centres. In the case of North York, which I raised, that's a third of their funding.
I remember the history of stable funding to women's centres because I was at the cabinet table at the time we made the decision to put in place core funding instead of just project funding, to stabilize the centres so they would remain in communities and would be a secure place for women to come to. That's gone by the wayside with the decision to go back to project funding. You've got to understand the impact. So I ask how women are going to find out and know and access information about how to get these new restraining orders.
The bill extends accessibility, the 24-hour provision of service, so that women can get intervention orders quicker. On paper, again, that's a very good thing. We currently have a shortage of JPs in this province. You've heard time and time again on the news things about traffic tickets and traffic offences being thrown out because the courts--provincial offences courts and others--are backlogged.
I didn't hear in this announcement where the major new investment is to ensure that accessibility of 24/7 has meaning other than on paper. I have to take that a step further and say, how is it going to be different for a woman going to a JP or a judge to get a restraining order, just because it's quicker and more accessible, than it is now when we're dealing with a critical lack of training of our judiciary with respect to this issue?
The May-Iles jury recommendations, the coroner's jury recommendations, called on the province, the Ministry of the Attorney General, the minister, to put in place a training program for the judiciary to deal with the issue of domestic violence and domestic assault, the risk assessment issue, so that when justices are faced with making decisions about whether to release someone on bail and what the conditions are--whether they should be released at all, whether a risk assessment should be ordered first--they have some education about it. The minister said, "No. They're independent. We can't do that." But as was pointed out in the coroner's jury report, the Ministry of the Attorney General has in previous years, under a previous administration, done specific sensitivity and educational training with justices around aboriginal justice issues. It has been done. It can be done. It takes the political will.
I want to remind you of all the women whose names I read yesterday and the number of times in those tragic deaths that their murderers had already had contact with the criminal justice system and been released on either recognizance with conditions or bail orders with conditions. The fact that they've been repeatedly released speaks to the need to talk to our judiciary about what the heck's happening. Why are they being let out again when they are clearly a risk and a repeat offender and violator of conditions? Without the training that has been recommended in May-Iles and in the joint committee report and by the women's organizations that were here two weeks ago, how is that judiciary going to be any better at handling these requests for intervention orders?
The training of the police in terms of how they deal with this--one of the things we always worry about when new initiatives and new measures like this are put in place is that they become an alternative to arrest and incarceration. Everyone is always looking at diversion programs to get people out of the system. When someone's a risk to someone's safety, when someone is hell-bent on killing an intimate partner, we don't want diversionary programs available to them. We don't want police officers to be able to recommend to a woman that she go and get this quick access of a restraining order instead of laying charges.
The program of education for police is going to be critical. And you know what? It's going to have to be monitored, and the only people who will be able to monitor that effectively are the women's advocates out in the communities, again, whose funds have been cut. A recommendation, again from the May-Iles jury report, that there be independent women's advocates funded in our communities to help women interact with the judiciary and with the police and to monitor and advocate on the systemic issues here has been ignored by the government. It's part of the demands put forward by the cross-sectoral coalition of over 95 women's organizations that came here two weeks ago. That's a necessary piece if this is going to have meaning. I don't believe that you want this to be used as an alternative to charging people and incarcerating them, but someone has to monitor it and you'd better look to put in place the front-line advocates to ensure that happens.
The act also requires a woman to seek a lawyer if she wants to get the restraining order extended beyond 30 days. Where are the expanded resources to help women get through that system? One of the things that the government is planning on doing is a major expansion in the use of paralegal duty counsel in our legal aid system. That is not good enough. The complex issues involved in a woman's life when she is seeking protection from life-threatening abuse require more than a duty counsel for a half-hour and a different person every time you come into the court. Someone has to track it through.
Legal aid has got to be made available not just for the domestic violence issue but the family law issue. There are property issues; there are child custody issues; there are divorce issues. There are all sorts of things that come into this, and we've segmented off what women are able to access. Part of the demands of the over 95 women's organizations that were here a week and a half or two weeks ago was that you address that, that you understand that.
Where are the women going to get the legal help to get these restraining or intervention orders extended beyond the 30 days? It has to be done with the help of a lawyer.
I don't want to say that intervention orders and restraining orders are of no use, but a lot of people have said that they're not worth the paper they're printed on. I think this bill tries to make them a little bit more worth the paper they're printed on. But you still have to look at where they are in the hierarchy of things: as I said, below bail orders, below peace bonds. If bail orders are more serious, if bail orders already have a Criminal Code offence attached to breaching the conditions, and if that hasn't stopped some of the men I referred to yesterday who killed their intimate partners, how is this restraining order going to?
Gillian Hadley's husband had been arrested and released with conditions. He was arrested again a number of months later, in January this year. He was released by the officer in charge on his own recognizance with conditions. He'd violated conditions already; he's released again with conditions. In February he was arrested, charged with assault and violation of the conditions from January. He was released again on bail with conditions, and he went out and he murdered Gillian. If someone is going to kill, do they worry about the criminal offence of violating the conditions of bail or an officer-in-charge recognizance or in this case now a restraining order?
The minister's announcement talks about expanded counselling for abusers in this situation. Gillian Hadley's husband was in anger management counselling, by the way; it was already part of the conditions. I find it amazing that in your announcements over the last little while, you're prepared to say you're going to expand the court-ordered counselling for abusers. Where is the expanded counselling for the women who are abused? That's what we're calling for, too.
The Minister of Community and Social Services fought hard, I believe, for a budget commitment last year of $10 million. You reannounced that, unfortunately, on the same day that the coalition of women's groups was here to make their voices heard. There were more than a few who felt that was an attempt of the heavy hand of government to silence them, to undercut their message. It was reannounced, but it's for counselling for children who witness domestic violence, and that's important, and it's for a very small bit of transition counselling. You know what? It doesn't even make up for the money that was cut from the shelters and women's centres in 1995. It hasn't made up for that yet. There's been no expansion in the number of beds, even though it was a commitment in your campaign Blueprint.
We're told that right now in Toronto--and this is a discussion I hope to have with the Minister of Community and Social Services in a bit more depth--there are over 300 women with their children who are victims of domestic violence and are in the regular emergency housing shelter system, not violence shelters, because there are no spaces in the violence shelters. There are communities that don't have shelters at all.
The May-Iles jury recommendations, which you so often quote as being proud that you're implementing a lot of them, called for a review of shelter funding. Why haven't you done that? There has to be an expansion in the number of beds, you have to increase the outreach workers who are in the existing shelters, and you have to do a review of the funding.
Where do women go after the emergency shelter? You cancelled all the programs for second-stage housing support, where women go to get their lives and their children's lives back together, to get some normalcy, to get the help they need to move on with their lives independently. You cancelled all of that. You must reinstate those programs: they're critical to help women save their lives.
Gillian Hadley had left the abusive situation. Gillian Hadley was looking to move again to get away from her killer. She couldn't find affordable housing to move to. She was on waiting lists for social housing. She couldn't access supports--they weren't there in the community--to give her an advocate, a helping hand to figure out her way through the system. That's what's needed.
Rape crisis centres: you cut their funding by 5% when you first came to government. You've not restored that. The Toronto crisis helpline can't answer all the calls that are coming in to it. They were flooded with calls last summer. With all of the news of the six horrific murders, women knowing that they themselves were at risk, they were trying to call someplace to get some help, get some advice. The helpline couldn't answer, and you know what? They're getting calls from around the province even though they're established as the Toronto help hotline.
For six months there's been a proposal in your government, inside the ministry, to establish a province-wide crisis helpline. Why haven't you responded to that? Who is taking a comprehensive look at this? Why don't you understand that the supports to women's community and social organizations in the communities that address women where they are in their lives, that have very specific target populations, that understand issues in cultural and ethnic communities, that understand the double oppression of women from those communities, that can help them, understanding the cultural sensitivity around some of these issues, find their way to safety have been cut?
You must respond on this front. Women have to have safe places to go for effective counselling and advocacy. They have to have safe places to go with affordable housing. They have to have sufficient economic income to be able to leave abusive situations. There has to be the access to adequate legal representation if they do end up in the criminal justice system. I remind you, and I'll do it over and over again, only 10% of abused women contact the police and only 25% of them end up in the criminal justice system.
What about the vast majority of women who are living in a situation of fear of violence right now, who need help and support, who can't get it in the community because of all of the cuts and the refusal to respond to the May-Iles jury recommendations on this front, to the joint committee on domestic violence report on this front and to over 95 women's organizations--different and disparate, as I've said--who've come together and joined their voices together on this package of emergency measures to be implemented this fall?
There are a number of ministries involved in the comprehensive response but much of this lies within the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Ontario Women's Directorate, although the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Housing, the Attorney General, the Solicitor General all have a very clear role to play. But someone's got to take the lead and I implore the Minister of Community and Social Services, because I believe he's beginning to understand the message. I believe that maybe he's at a point where he can hear what the women's organizations are saying and that maybe he can take a role in co-ordinating a government response to ensure that the community, social and economic measures are put in place to save women's lives.
I'm saying to him that the representatives of those women's organizations want a signal of good faith from the government. They want to see the grants to women's centres restored; not employment centres that are offering programs to women, not the other community organizations that are doing good work, and we support the grants that you've given to them. The grants that you have cut from women's centres, the comprehensive community-based women's centres that are providing a range of social outreach and programming for women, the grants that you've cut that threaten the very existence of some of those centres--restore those grants.
Then let's talk about the package. It's been presented to you. You've had it for three week now--two and a half, three weeks. There has not been a response from the parliamentary assistant who attended the meeting, from the minister she reports to, the minister responsible for women's issues, from the Minister of Community and Social Services, for whom many of the demands fall directly within his portfolio, or from any other minister of the crown. Yet, when we started this session, the week before and on the first day of the session, the Premier of this province stood up and said that putting an end to domestic violence was going to be a priority for this fall session.
And what did that translate into? The bill that is before us today being debated. I ask you once again, would this bill have saved any one of the lives of the women whose names I read into the record of this Legislative Assembly yesterday, the 44 women who have been murdered by their intimate partners since July 1998 and the release of the jury recommendations from the May-Iles coroner's inquiry? Would it have saved one of those women's lives? The answer is no.
You know, this issue continues. I don't have the details; maybe the Minister of Community and Social Services does because as an MPP he represents an Ottawa riding. I understand that an Ottawa woman, a feminist, an activist, an advocate for women, was attacked this morning by her intimate partner with knives and power tools. She lived; she survived that attack. I understand that he was shot by the police. It's another tragedy and these tragedies happen every week in a horrific fashion and every day and many times a day in altercations of violence and abuse in women's lives.
I'm not talking to you any more about a bill that makes it easier to get a restraining order. I don't know who it will help. Again I say to the drafters that it is well done. It's a really good attempt at beefing up restraining orders, which are the lowest of the criminal justice measures that can be taken. I am speaking to you about understanding the breadth of action that will be needed to actually have an impact and to save women's lives. It is not good enough for us all to stand and say we are committed to ending domestic violence. It is not good enough for a minister of the crown to stand up, like many ministers do on many issues, and use the rhetoric of, "We're doing more than any government has ever done before." I am sorry.
Our understanding of the issue--the conditions in the province have changed over the last five years with the cuts to organizations that did provide support, the organizations that are desperately crying out for added resources because they can't meet the demand that's there, the women's organizations province-wide that have spent hours developing a desperate plea for emergency measures, a coalition coming together to back that, and there continues to be no response from the government on those initiatives. They're emergency measures. They're not the long term that we've got to continue to talk about. They are the things that need to be done today to save a woman's life tomorrow and there's no response.
Minister of Community and Social Services, I ask you, what does it take? Can you create a space for the powerful in your cabinet to hear from these women directly and respond to them? Can you pass something through your caucus and your cabinet that you're going to answer the questions, and if you're not going to respond on some of these issues, you're going to say why and we can have a debate about whether that's right or wrong? Can you take the package and advocate, in the end, if it's going to save lives--and there's such broad agreement that it will save lives--why it's not within your power to do it? The package that's been proposed has a price tag of $350 million. That's 10% of the surplus that you're projecting for this year.
What is unacceptable is the continued silence, the refusal to answer, the refusal to engage in a dialogue, the refusal to respond to women's voices and to tell women if you agree, if you disagree, why you agree or you disagree, the continued hiding behind a long list of criminal justice initiatives as if that will solve the problem when only 10% of abused women go to the police and only a quarter of them end up in the criminal justice system. It's unacceptable that the Premier says ending domestic violence is going to be a priority for this session and the initiative to prove that is this bill.
Don't get me wrong; I'll vote for the bill. But, please, someone over there acknowledge--not in rhetorical terms of that of course there's more we must do; there's always more we must do--that this misses the mark in terms the response that's required today in our society to save women's lives. If all of us agree on that goal, and I believe that we all do, then a response is required.
If you are prepared to say that this is an adequate response and the initiatives you've put in place are adequate, defend that, and join with that your answer to why the initiatives that have been put forward as these emergency measures will not be implemented by your government. If you're going to look at them and you're going to respond to them, tell us that. Tell us what the process is. Tell us how long it's going to take to implement the emergency measures that, if implemented today, could save women's lives tomorrow.
We will continue to push you. We will continue to hound you. We will continue to want to drive an answer out of you. If you tell us what your response is, if you tell us what the process is, we will join hands with you and help you accomplish it. The goal is so simple, it is so right, it is so just: it is a goal of saving women's lives. Please tell us how you're going to respond to the plea to save women's lives.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr Bert Johnson): Comments and questions?
Mr David Tilson (Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey): I would like to congratulate the member for Beaches-East York for her very impassioned speech on a very serious social issue. We've heard her speak on this issue before. It is a serious issue, the issue of violence against women.
This bill of course goes beyond that. It talks about domestic violence against women, domestic violence against men, domestic violence against children, domestic violence involving gay relationships and domestic violence with respect to elders. That's not to take anything away from the comments the member has put forward, but I draw to your attention that that is the intention of this bill. There may be other things that the government needs to do, as has been submitted by the member, but this bill talks about putting forward an intervention order. The member has indicated that she's supportive of that. Then of course she talked about a whole slew of other things, which she is entitled to do. Quite frankly, I think it's a step in the right direction. She has put forward some comments of criticism toward how this could be improved. That's something the government should be looking at: how do you get people, whether it's women, children, men or elders, to go to the police? That's a legitimate question.
However, this specific bill allows, in situations of domestic violence, for an intervention order. In fact, in section 3, which is the crux, the main point of the bill, it gives 13 conditions that can be put forward, which is quite extensive. I suggest that if members haven't looked at those conditions they do so, because I think they'll find it's a step in the right direction in dealing with domestic violence.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): I too want to comment on the comments of the member for Beaches-East York. I think she has quite correctly spelled out for us in the Legislature the question that we need answered, and that is, is this the government's response? Has the government decided that at this time this is all they are prepared to do to deal with domestic violence? Is this what the government has determined? If it is, the member for Beaches-East York and I, and certainly those who are most involved in this issue in the community, would say that it is a totally inadequate response. As we are dealing with this bill, if this is going to be the only measure that we see in the next few weeks from this government, I think the member for Beaches-East York has the right to be as angry as she is.
If the government is saying, "You don't understand. We are going to be coming forward shortly with other measures," then surely we should know those measures. If we're going to be dealing with this bill, let's see your program, because there is no doubt that this on its own is not going to make a substantive difference in domestic violence in Ontario.
I can hardly imagine a more tragic environment to be in than to be subject to domestic abuse. We all look on our homes as a sanctuary of peace and calmness. To have to return to that living hell daily and face that is unacceptable. We know what the solutions are. We know they'll work. We simply need to know from the government, are you prepared to move forward with them?
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): I want to say to the people of Ontario, the members of this House and particularly the members of the government across the way that they really need to pay attention to what the member who has just spoken has said in this House today and yesterday. If you're at all interested in the issue of violence against women, the picture that she painted was just uncontestable. We all know what's happening out there. It was painted in a very focused, precise and compelling way here in this House.
The argument that she made, not only on her own behalf--because she knows this issue backwards and forwards--but also for women out there who are being abused, who are vulnerable, and on behalf of the 95 women's organizations which have looked at the legislation that this government has tabled and critiqued it, is that it simply is not enough, particularly when you hold it up against the need for all of us to centre our effort on saving lives. It just doesn't do it; it just doesn't cut the mustard here. If the government is serious at all about initiatives to save lives, to protect women, to create an environment in Ontario where women can freely enter into relationships, go to work, live their daily lives without having to worry about being beaten up or threatened or ultimately killed, then you have to listen to the arguments that were put by the member for Beaches-East York.
I would suggest that all of you take time over the next day or two to take a look at Hansard and to read what she has put on the record, so that you might understand what it is that really needs to be done. You're the government. You have the power. You can do it. Please do it.
Hon John R. Baird (Minister of Community and Social Services, minister responsible for francophone affairs): The member for Beaches-East York is undoubtedly the most passionate member of this House on this issue; I know it's one she cares a great deal about, and has for some time.
I guess we all believe in going to the same place, in the same goals about what we have to do to address this plague which is domestic violence. The member for Scarborough-Agincourt talked about the sanctuary of a home. You talk to a number of constituents who talked about safety on the streets and how there is such a fear, and they just wait to get home and to reach that doorknob, put the key in, where they'll feel safe, and the real tragedy for many is that's when the fear starts, not when it stops.
The member opposite won't be surprised to know that there may be some disagreement on how we get to that goal--what's the right mix of addressing the legal issues, the judicial issues, the criminal response, but so too the social response, the community response. If the view is, "Can we do more?" it's an unequivocal yes. I think we should have, and I think we are having, a thoughtful, fair and respectful discussion on this issue.
This bill isn't going to end this problem overnight. I don't think anyone is going to suggest that. It's a step forward--I'd argue a big step forward--together with the $5 million to deal with child witnesses of domestic violence, the $5 million to provide additional transitional support in the community to those shelters and with the increased number of domestic violence courts. These are a number of steps forward. Can we do more? Undoubtedly yes. These women's groups came forward and presented a plan with hundreds of millions of dollars of price tags attached to it two weeks ago. I think it's worthwhile to consider it and to reflect on it and to talk about the issue of the capacity of shelters, which I've indicated that we're extremely prepared to do.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for Beaches-East York has two minutes to respond.
Ms Lankin: I appreciate all the members' responses.
I say to the member for Dufferin-Peel that violence against all members in society is an issue for which we share a concern. I say to him, though, that the Premier of this province said there was going to be a focus on initiatives in response to six brutal murders of women this summer. You're saying this bill addresses a whole lot of other issues, and I agree with you, so I'm now waiting for the response from the government to the six brutal murders of women this summer, the 44 women who have been killed since the May-Iles jury recommendations, the 50 women killed in this country every year and what we can do in Ontario, in our province, to address it.
To the Minister of Community and Social Services, with whom I can always have a very direct and honest conversation and can make, I think, progress in our understanding of each other's positions--you said it would come as no surprise to me that there's a difference of opinion on what needs to be done and what the right mix is. You know what? I don't know what the difference of opinion is, because you won't speak about it. You won't answer.
When you say the $5 million for transition supports in the community, the $5 million for child witness, you don't acknowledge that it barely makes up for the cuts you made to shelters, you don't acknowledge the cuts to the rape crisis centres, you don't acknowledge the end of second-stage housing programs. You don't acknowledge, when you say the women were only here two weeks ago, that these issues have been raised over and over again. You don't acknowledge that the proposal for the province-wide crisis hotline has been in the government for months and months now.
I want to have a respectful dialogue. I do want to have a process in which we make gains and we change things and we make things better to save women's lives. I'm asking you, pleading with you, to start talking openly. Tell us where your government stands.
The Deputy Speaker: Further debate?
Ms Marilyn Mushinski (Scarborough Centre): I appreciate the opportunity to join in this debate today speaking on Bill 117, the Domestic Violence Protection Act, 2000. I have to start off by saying that, having listened to the various points of view around this House today, I join with my colleague the Minister of Community and Social Services in recognizing the passion and commitment that the member for Beaches-East York has on this issue. I have to say that over the past few years I have been tremendously moved by that passion and commitment that she has so obviously given this House in terms of speaking in defence of this very serious issue.
The bill under consideration is about commitment. It's about commitment to creating safe communities where people can be safe and they can feel safe, not just in their homes but in their streets and in their neighbourhoods. Over the last five years, this government has taken a leadership role in taking very concrete action to protect and support victims of domestic violence.
I want to speak today a little bit about some of those initiatives, because I think it's important that it be repeated that we clearly have taken a stand on the side of victims. The programs we have taken clearly demonstrate that. For example, we've created and expanded the domestic violence court program. Indeed, it's become one of the largest in Canada and it's one of the most comprehensive of its kind in Canada.
I know the minister recently announced an expansion of those into my riding of Scarborough Centre, because the issue of domestic violence is a very serious issue and has been identified, certainly in terms of policing, by the police in Scarborough as perhaps one of the most serious and important issues affecting the whole issue of policing in my community of Scarborough.
We've allocated an additional $8 million annually to ensure that crown attorneys have sufficient time to meet with victims in preparing their cases for prosecution. All of these things are important measures toward ensuring that justice is not just seen to be done but is indeed done to protect the victims of domestic violence.
What this particular measure does is that it actually gives a voice to the victims in the justice system, something I've had serious concerns about over the last few years and is reflected in the intent of my private member's bill.
We've also expanded the victim/witness assistance program. That too is another measure we have done to really support the victims of domestic violence.
And yes, we plan to do more. I've heard a lot today about, does this bill go far enough? I think it's important for us to recognize that there are many, many things that we have to continue to do and to expand, and this is one of them.
To get victims in touch with the services they need, we've actually expanded the victim crisis assistance and referral service and the SupportLink program. To support families in crisis, we've expanded the supervised access program. I'm particularly pleased that these actions of our government have been taken really to make our justice system more responsive to the needs of the victims of domestic violence. They are important components that support victims and, more importantly, actually hold abusers accountable for their actions.
Bill 117 is one more step we're taking to protect victims of domestic violence and to hold offenders accountable. That's a promise we made in the Common Sense Revolution, it's a promise we made in the Blueprint, and it's a promise we made in the throne speech. So you can say that we are indeed keeping our promises.
The members opposite maintain that we have not supported victims through community-based programs. As a member of a community council for 12 years who was very actively involved in the development of community-based programs such as the establishment of the Scarborough Women's Centre, of which I was a founding member, and bringing about the first shelter for women in Scarborough, called the Emily Stowe Shelter for Women, I recognize the absolute need for supporting community-based programs. To suggest that somehow this government does not do that is a totally inaccurate portrayal of this government.
I want you to consider the facts. Some $51 million has been allocated to support 98 emergency shelters and related services in 2000-01. We're committed to supporting women's shelters, because we know they help to keep abused women and their children safe. They also provide practical and emotional supports that are essential to helping women escape violence in their lives and to support children who witness violence.
Funding for shelters includes $1.7 million which was allocated by my great colleague the Minister of Community and Social Services in 1999-2000 for crisis lines across Ontario. I hear a lot of rhetoric about our not supporting these kinds of community programs, but they're right within the allocation of the important ministries that provide these important services. These lines operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and have fielded over 150,000 calls.
We recognize the important role that these lines, again, play by offering support and assistance to women in crisis. It's important that as we implement these kinds of programs we also continue to try to improve them.
Recently, the Ministry of Community and Social Services announced $10 million annually to enable shelters to hire additional support workers and to establish programs that are specifically designed to help children who have witnessed violence in their homes. These services have been identified as critical services by a broad range of agencies that serve abused women and their children, including the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, the United Way of Greater Toronto and the Joint Committee on Domestic Violence. So to suggest somehow that we're not listening to the very people who deliver these services I think maligns much of what our government is doing in supporting victims of violence.
The Ministry of Community and Social Services has also improved the means by which shelters are funded. We've simplified the funding arrangement by assuming the municipalities' share. Some $21 million has been allocated to over 100 counselling programs for women and their children in 2000-01.
Approximately $50 million has been committed to support innovative community-based projects that focus on vulnerable children and adults as part of the victims' justice action plan and $10 million annually has been allocated for the expansion of community-based programs, including the victim crisis assistance and referral service, SupportLink and making services more flexible to meet the needs of northern communities.
We're expanding the victim crisis assistance and referral service, called VCARS for short, by as much as 50%. Managed by community-based boards, 26 VCARS sites across the province work in partnership with local police services, something that they themselves have identified as a priority in trying to protect victims of violence. The victim crisis assistance and referral service also helps victims to get in touch with community supports, something clearly identified as a high need by the member for East York, so that they can leave dangerous situations.
The victim support line is provided as part of the victim crisis assistance and referral program. The victim support line is a province-wide, toll-free, bilingual information line that provides referrals to victim services, information about the criminal justice system and automated notification about offender release from custody.
SupportLink, which provides safety planning that can involved cell phones pre-programmed to dial 911, would help to ensure that emergency response teams are alerted immediately if there is danger. The SupportLink program will be expanded by as much as tenfold. Currently, two successful SupportLink pilots are providing wireless phones programmed to access 911 to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking.
Safety planning assistance is also an essential component of this service. The program is delivered in alliance with Ericsson Communications and Rogers Cantel. An additional $500,000 was provided to cover streamlined applications for emergency legal aid advice and the number of hours was doubled to assist abused women seeking restraining orders.
Speaking about the legal aid process, I have to say that protection from domestic violence is the highest priority for family law certificates from legal aid. Legal aid services to victims of domestic violence can be accessed through certificates that are available through legal aid area offices, duty counsel at the courts, advice lawyers in the community and at the family law information centres attached to the courts, and at the three family law offices in the provinces.
Legal aid provides 90 advice lawyers who visit shelters and community agencies to provide free advice to the public.
Certificates can be issued immediately and made retroactive for victims of domestic violence. Up to eight hours is available for restraining orders, in addition to the hours available for other family law matters.
Two hours of emergency legal advice is available to eligible victims of domestic violence by direct referral to a lawyer of the victim's choice. This program is administered through shelters, the victim witness/assistance program and community-based organizations.
In 1998-99 almost 3,000 women received assistance through our emergency legal aid service for women in shelters program. We also created the specialized services for abused women in partnership with the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic. This pilot project assists women who want to leave abusive relationships by providing direct legal services, advocacy and information about family law, landlord and tenant and immigration issues.
The number of supervised access sites will also be expanded to provide for safe visits between non-custodial parents and children. Supervised access centres are part of our ongoing commitment to ensuring the wellbeing of Ontario's children and families.
We've more than doubled the number of court districts served by the supervised access program, from 14 to 36, and we're further expanding this important program, from 36 to 54 sites, province-wide. Supervised access centres provide families with safe and neutral places where non-custodial parents and children can meet under supervised and controlled circumstances.
Fifty million dollars has also been committed to rent supplements to help house up to 10,000 families and individuals; 445 of these units have been allocated to victims of domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence would receive priority consideration for the remaining units. These subsidized units will assist individuals who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, with the local housing authorities and consolidated municipal service managers, is presently reviewing and processing applications from interested landlords. To date, over 1,700 units have been approved, and applications from non-profit and co-op housing projects are eligible for consideration. This is expected to improve the approval of more units.
These are over 40 projects and initiatives in the areas of safety, justice and prevention to help meet the needs of abused and assaulted women in Ontario. Much of the funding supports are also for community-based programs and services. In fact, this government is actually spending more to prevent domestic violence than it ever has in the past. We now spend almost $135 million, which is an increase of over $37 million since 1995. A further $5 million will be added next year, which will bring the total to approximately $140 million.
Domestic violence is an issue that affects us all. It affects us as legislators, as neighbours, friends, fathers, mothers and, finally, citizens of Ontario. It is a serious crime, and whether we've been victims of domestic violence, whether we know someone who has been or whether we have lived in a neighbourhood where domestic violence has occurred, we're all affected. We're affected in ways that negatively impact our communities because communities cannot prosper if we allow violence in our homes. We can't attract families, we can't attract business and we can't attract investments if we have unsafe communities.
We've sent a clear message and a clear signal that domestic violence is not to be tolerated in Ontario. An Act to better protect victims of domestic violence is another important step toward providing faster access and better protection for victims of domestic violence.
I still believe that Ontario is the best place to live, to work and to raise a family, and I believe it is important that we work together to assist victims of domestic violence and to help keep our children and our communities safe.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Tony Martin): Comments or questions?
Mr Dominic Agostino (Hamilton East): I'm pleased to briefly respond in two minutes. First of all, I think it's a positive tone that all members are taking toward this very serious issue. It's important for us to maintain that throughout this because it's clearly an issue that all of us are impacted by directly or indirectly in this province and the communities in which we live.
One of the areas we need to focus on that does as much, and that we have tried to address over the years, is the impact of domestic violence, particularly in communities of new Canadians and in communities of certain ethnic backgrounds where there's a whole stigma, a whole cultural negativity that is attached to a woman coming forward and reporting domestic abuse as a victim.
I can't tell you how many women over the years have come to see me in my office who have been repeatedly beaten by their spouses, abused physically and sexually. But they're afraid to step forward, not only out of fear of reprisal and a fear of further victimization, but out of fear because of cultural or ethnic beliefs and traditions and values. Often they are isolated from the rest of their family when they do that. All of a sudden they are blamed for it. They are victimized again by their family.
Those are the types of issues, as we look at domestic violence, that we've got to address. We just can't ignore that. We've got to deal with these individuals so that there's a comfort level, there's an understanding and there are support programs in place to ensure that when a woman comes forward the resources will be there, and that we educate as much as we can in the prevention area. It's an area that often we don't talk about. It's often unheard of because a silent victim is not only silenced by an abuser but silenced by her community often, by her family, by her relatives, by her neighbours, based on cultural and ethnic traditions and values that they have. It's an area that I hope not only this bill but other pieces of legislation in the future will address because it's a very serious problem.
Mr Joseph Spina (Brampton Centre): I am pleased that our government has moved forward on this issue of domestic violence. I agree with members opposite and on all sides of the House that this is an issue that should not be tolerated in any of our communities and certainly not all across our province.
This bill is the first step toward getting the help they need to escape the abuse once and for all. I'm pleased that today, out of the $5 million that was announced by the Minister of Community and Social Services for the transitional support program, the Salvation Army Family Resource Centre in Brampton will receive about $133,400 to hire transitional support workers. That's part of our program to help abused women break free of domestic violence. I'm very pleased because the employees and volunteers of the Salvation Army Family Resource Centre in Brampton are probably the best resource we have for all people, but primarily and mostly for women to escape that domestic violence environment. I want to congratulate the hard work that is being done by the people at the Salvation Army Family Resource Centre. Having personally been there a few times supporting some of their Christmas activities, I'm very proud that they were recognized for the additional funding to go out towards this program.
Mr Phillips: This summer, among the most memorable situations in my mind were several cases of extreme domestic violence that all of us reacted to with horror. I just say to all of us, whatever we're doing right now is not working, it's not adequate and we need to do more.
This bill, which our party, the Liberal Party, and Dalton McGuinty will support, is but a small part of what we believe and, perhaps more importantly, what the people in the community who are involved in this on a day-to-day basis strongly believe. They brought forward to us a few weeks ago a series of recommendations and they said, "If you and the Legislature want to do something substantive, do these things." Frankly, they and we are still waiting for a response to it.
To me, firstly, if we all agree, which I think we do, that domestic violence is a significant tragic situation in Ontario, there continues to be a totally unacceptable level of it. Forty-four deaths are unacceptable. If we believe that the steps in this bill are but a small part of the solution, we should be today debating the other parts of the solution and, if not today, the government should say to the members of the opposition and the public, "Yes, we have substantive moves coming in the next few weeks." That's simply the demand that's been made by the opposition; it's still to be responded to by the government.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Timmins-James Bay): I guess what bothers me in what we're hearing from across the way is that the government tries to make us believe, at least the backbenchers and the ministers through this bill, that this is going to be the answer that's going to deal with the very serious issue in our society of violence against women. They've put forward this bill as sort of the answer to that problem. I just really get a sense that they don't get it. They really don't.
As I speak to people, for example, at the women's shelter in my riding or I speak to people at the crisis centre in Timmins and talk to them about what the problem is, they say, "Listen, Gilles, the reality is that less than 10% of women who are sexually assaulted actually go to the police and, of that, only 25% of them ever get to court."
What we need government to do is to support community programs that deal with the issue way before it ever gets to the courts, to give the women the kind of support they need, to try to break some of the attitudes we have in our society of men towards women but also, quite frankly, to deal with some of the issues of how we support women in our community. I guess it would be easier for me to accept at face value what the government is saying if I would see the government make inroads in those particular areas.
I sat in this House, Mr Speaker, as you did, and watched this government close eight women's centres across this province--a government that says it's serious about dealing with violence against women, a government that has cut a number of other community programs that are earmarked to deal with the issue at the frontline, giving women the kind of support they need. So I have a really hard time accepting the line of the government that this is an important first step, because if we measure this as a first step, I'm afraid to say, it's a pretty small one.
The Acting Speaker: Response?
Ms Mushinski: I'd certainly like to thank the members for Hamilton East, Brampton Centre, Scarborough-Agincourt and Timmins-James Bay for their comments. I must say, it is nice to see the somewhat non-partisan way in which my comments were responded to.
I should say, in response to the member for Hamilton East, who spoke about the whole fairly new area of dealing with domestic abuse and some of the cultural issues with respect to our very culturally diverse community, that indeed, when Mrs Cunningham was the minister of women's issues she introduced and expanded the whole area of cultural interpretation into our court system in recognition of the fact that many of us do represent many culturally diverse communities that have specific needs, especially as they pertain to cultural interpretation. That is another issue where I think this government clearly respects the fact that the whole issue of domestic violence is not a simple issue. It's a very diverse and complex issue, but it is one that I believe all members of this House are completely committed to eradicating in this province.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mr Phillips: I'll be sharing my time with my colleague from Ottawa-Vanier.
I appreciate the chance to debate this bill and to get some of my thoughts on the record. I can hardly imagine a more tragic environment than to be subject to domestic abuse. As I said earlier in the Legislature, we're all fortunate. We go home to an oasis, a place of calm and civility, and without that, many of us would have some challenges here. We face enough challenges in our workplace but when we go home, that's where we get our nurturing and our love and our caring. As I said, I can hardly imagine the pain that a woman must go through to, in her own home, face physical and mental abuse.
We see the statistics--the 44 women who have died as a result of physical abuse--but we know from those who know the field well that that's merely the tip of the iceberg of the amount of domestic abuse that goes on. I gather that nine out of 10 women who face domestic abuse do not attempt to deal with it through our police organizations. For one reason or another, it just doesn't happen. So we're dealing with a situation that is somewhat less public than other situations we deal with, but one of the most tragic ones that one can imagine.
Most of us have been fortunate. I was certainly most fortunate. I grew up in a home that was peaceful and calm--I was lucky--and that provided me with a warm, loving environment. I always felt very comfortable at home as a child, and today even. But you can simply imagine, for the woman and the children involved in that, how utterly tragic it must be to face that on a regular basis. There were few instances of events in the summer that are more memorable in my mind than those horrific domestic violence incidents that we saw in Ontario. So whatever we're doing, it's not working; 44 deaths is testimony to that.
What we have today is a bill that our party, the Liberal Party, and Dalton McGuinty will be voting in favour of. It is part of a comprehensive package, but it's only part of a comprehensive package. We really should be dealing with the entire package. We would like to hear from the government when they will be coming forward with the other components of that. It isn't as if we don't have the answers to it. We have the May-Iles inquest results. Justice Baldwin then took it a step forward to give us recommendations and the coalition of groups that deal with domestic violence brought forward recommendations to us. So we have those recommendations.
I might note, on a small personal note, that I developed intense interest in the Iles-May inquest. I coached hockey for 30 years, and four years ago a young boy came to our team a little bit late in the season. I wondered why it was late in the season, but his name was Iles--he was the son of Randy Iles--and he came to play for our team after this incident. So my awareness of the incident and obviously, then, my interest in the May-Iles inquest was heightened.
The first thing we all have to acknowledge, and I do think most members of the Legislature would, is that this is a problem that needs our attention. For those people, those women in those situations, it is an unimaginable hell on earth. The solution we have before us today is but part of it, so we have to put a priority now on coming forward with the rest of the solution. The government is right now running a surplus probably of over $4 billion this fiscal year--at least $4 billion--and surely this is an area where we can invest in dealing with an unacceptable situation for a significant number of the citizens of Ontario.
What are those solutions? The people involved in it tell us, and I agree, that they need second-stage housing. They need housing after the shelters where, on a somewhat more long-term basis, they can have a safe, caring environment in which to live. We know that the help lines should be expanded across the province, and multilingually.
I might add, just as an aside, that 10 years ago in my community the Greek Orthodox Church of Canada established a program dealing with wife assault. I give His Eminence Archbishop Sotirios a lot of credit. He led this, set up this program in one of his churches. It takes some courage to acknowledge. Wife assault, woman assault, exists in every community. It is not unique to any one community. As I say, I commend the Greek Orthodox Church and His Eminence Archbishop Sotirios and St Nicholas Church for implementing it.
But those are the sorts of programs we need to invest in. The shelter funding has been cut by 5%. That is funding that should be restored. The coalition of women's groups dealing with this issue said, "There are certain things we need to do to help to deal with this situation on an emergency basis."
Before I turn my time over to my colleague from Ottawa-Vanier, I'd just once again say that I can barely imagine what it must be like to live in a mentally and physically abusing situation with an abusive spouse. We only see those who are the victims in a very major way, hurt or dead. We don't see the dramatic numbers that aren't reported. Nine out of 10 women are reluctant to go to the police, for a variety of reasons, some understandable. Fear of: "If I now leave my abusive partner, where do I go? Will I be able to feed my children? Will I have a place to stay? Can I provide an environment for them?"--terribly emotional problems.
This solution, this proposal, this bill, is but one part. We had very much hoped that the government would have come forward with a comprehensive plan. The Premier indicated over the summer that this was a huge priority for the government. We hope the government will take the opportunity, before we pass this bill, to announce that they will be coming forward this session with a more comprehensive plan.
Mrs Claudette Boyer (Ottawa-Vanier): Thank you for allowing me to voice my thoughts on the very important topic of domestic violence. As a woman, this topic is one of great importance. I know of not one woman, no matter how rich, how old, how educated or how influential, who does not think about this threat at one time or another. This issue is one which crosses partisan lines because it is one which affects us all, regardless of party ties.
Oui, c'est vrai. En tant que femmes, ce sujet n'est jamais loin de nos pensées. C'est un sujet qui nous affecte, non pas parce que nous agissons d'une telle manière ni parce que nous pensons d'une façon différente ou parce que nous voyons le monde d'une perspective différente. La violence faite aux femmes est un dossier qui nous affecte tous et toutes, hommes et femmes.
Mothers, daughters, sisters and cousins all are affected by this tragic problem. On November 25 last year I rose in this House to speak on this very same topic. At that time, I argued that violence against women was a crime, but that tinkering with the criminal justice system was not a strong enough response. I said that women who have been violated need counselling and compassionate assistance to heal and prepare for a life free of violence and financial dependence.
Malheureusement, ce gouvernement n'a pas écouté à 100 %, et encore une fois nous nous trouvons avec un projet de loi qui vise uniquement à punir les abuseurs. Notre caucus, sous l'habile leadership de M. McGuinty, a toujours appuyé des mesures visant à contrer la violence faite aux femmes. Ce projet de loi n'améliore aucunement les services disponibles aux femmes victimes d'abus.
This is a government that speaks endlessly about victims' rights, yet at the very same time, with this bill, they are taking the focus off the victims. We need to focus our time, our resources and our efforts toward helping women who are victims of violence instead of focusing solely on the best and harshest way to punish the abusers. I repeat, we must focus on the victim.
If this government thinks this bill will prevent violence against women, they are wrong and they should stop saying it will. It will do nothing of the sort. I agree it will provide stricter punishments to the abusers after the fact, but really I am not sure Ontarian women are going to sleep any better tonight knowing that fact.
Here is an example of what I mean when I say the government is focusing on the abuser instead of the victim. One of the good changes that will come out of this act is that breaches of the new intervention orders will be enforced according to provisions of the Criminal Code. All this means is that if an abuser ignores a court order, he will now be charged under the Criminal Code. I'm fully supportive of this measure, just as my party is, but where does the victim fit into this? We know where the abuser stands but what about the victim?
Il y a quelques jours j'ai parlé à la directrice de la Maison d'Amitié, qui est une maison pour les femmes abusées, qui est située dans mon comté d'Ottawa-Vanier. J'ai jasé avec elle pour m'informer de ce qu'elle pensait de ce sujet. Comme bien d'autres, elle craint que les changements qu'amèneront ce projet de loi sont plutôt cosmétiques et ne s'adressent pas aux vrais problèmes.
Pourquoi quelqu'un qui planifie un acte des plus horribles, soit l'abus, le viol ou le meurtre, aurait-il peur de briser cette loi qui le verra maintenant chargé sous le Code criminel ? Est-ce qu'une simple loi sur papier ne suffit tout simplement pas pour arrêter quelqu'un qui cherche à étouffer une vie humaine ? Pensez-vous honnêtement qu'un homme qui cherche à abuser, à violer ou à tuer sa femme sera détourné par les conséquences de cette loi ? Encore une fois, où sont les intérêts des victimes ?
Faisons une petite analogie. Voici ce qui me semble que ça signifie, les droits de la victime pour ce gouvernement : premièrement, un manque flagrant de fonds de ressources pour nos foyers pour femmes abusées ; un manque flagrant d'habitations à longue terme ; de longues listes d'attentes pour avoir accès à des conseillers professionnels ; et plus important, un manque de vision et de plan d'attaque pour éliminer la violence faite aux femmes.
J'aimerais quand même à ce moment ici aborder un autre sujet dans un autre rang. Dans mon comté d'Ottawa-Vanier nous avons, oui, comme je vous ai dit, une maison de passage francophone qui, comme toutes les autres maisons de passage dans la province, souffre d'un manque de ressources et d'appui.
Mais la Maison d'Amitié est spéciale parce qu'elle offre aux femmes victimes d'abus la chance de se faire servir dans leur langue. Maintenant il y en a qui nous diront que la langue et la violence familiale ne sont pas des dossiers qui vont de pair. Ils diront que le problème est premièrement qu'une femme ait accès à une maison de passage et que la question de langue est secondaire. C'est peut-être vrai. Mais je pense que cet argument ignore l'impact immense que présente la situation de violence familiale aux femmes. Je pense que les femmes abusées ont assez souffert par l'abus qu'elles se doivent d'avoir la chance d'exprimer ce qu'elles ressentent, d'exprimer ce qu'elles ont vécu dans leur langue, et c'est beaucoup plus facile de s'exprimer dans sa propre langue.
À Ottawa-Vanier, la Maison d'Amitié ne peut tout simplement pas accommoder toutes les femmes qui leur arrivent pour de l'aide et pour être servies en français. Les femmes sont donc renvoyées pour obtenir des services en anglais. N'étant pas à l'aise, qu'arrive-t-il ? Ces femmes ne vont pas chercher l'aide dont elles ont besoin.
Let me outline some of the requests put forward to the government of Ontario by women's groups in the province. Incidentally, the Liberal Party and the third party have both sided in support of these very modest demands. I don't think that the Harris government has done so, so let me outline a few of these demands.
These groups ask that the Assaulted Women's Helpline be extended province-wide.
SOS Femmes demande que la seule ligne d'urgence disponible aux femmes francophones devrait avoir leur base d'opération garantie, demande que 15 $ millions soient alloués aux foyers communautaires indépendants.
They are asking for funding for women's neighbourhood groups. They are asking for funding for province-wide anti-violence groups and stable funding support for women's centres.
These demands are by no means excessive.
Ce gouvernement parle constamment des droits de la personne, mais ce projet de loi parle exclusivement des mesures punitives dirigées vers l'abuseur.
We know that this government has done considerably well playing up the tough-on-crime agenda. We know that it believes strongly in the notion of punitive justice. But what I cannot accept is that we end there. Punitive justice must be preceded by a strong commitment to real and true prevention. It is here where this government has continued to drop the ball.
Quand viendront les vraies mesures pour prévenir et enrayer la violence faite aux femmes ? Merci.
M. Bisson : Ma collègue Mme Boyer de Vanier soulève un point qui est très important et très intéressant : quand viendront les services dont on a besoin dans nos communautés pour nous assurer que les femmes abusées ont une place où aller et ont les conseils nécessaires et qu'elles ont les services dans la communauté pour être capables de trouver une manière de traiter ce problème dans la communauté ? Je pense bien que le point est que le gouvernement présent manque de vision, comme l'a dit Mme Boyer, et manque de plan de comment on veut s'organiser dans cette direction-là comme gouvernement provincial.
Ce gouvernement a pris une décision dès 1995 d'éliminer beaucoup de programmes d'aide dans la communauté pour ceux dans notre communauté, dans notre société, qui sont victimes dans cette situation, et le gouvernement essaie de mettre une bonne face à la situation en mettant en place ce projet de loi qui va en avant jusqu'à un certain point pour aider. On ne va pas faire semblant que ça n'aide pas beaucoup, mais c'est plutôt un plan de communication qu'un plan d'affaires quand ça vient à être capable de trouver des solutions aux problèmes dans notre société. On voit ce gouvernement qui, à beaucoup de reprises, a pris cette position sur beaucoup de questions sociales dans notre société.
On n'a pas besoin d'encore un autre communiqué de presse de notre gouvernement, d'encore une autre opportunité pour le ministre de se lever pour dire : « Regardez comment on a fait du bien. » On a besoin, de la part de ce gouvernement, d'un plan concret mis en place tel que suggéré par les coalitions des femmes de cette province pour trouver, finalement, une manière de traiter ce problème. Je dis que ça prend des sous, ça prend un plan, ça prend une vision, et c'est quelque chose qu'on veut voir chez notre gouvernement une bonne journée.
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): I certainly compliment both the members who spoke on this bill, the member from Scarborough-Agincourt and the member from Ottawa-Vanier, and I compliment both parties for their support on this particular bill. Often the public don't understand why parties don't work together, and this is one good example of where they are. Both of them spoke on a very sensitive and very emotional issue.
The member from Scarborough-Agincourt made reference to growing up in a loving home, not being familiar with violence, and I can say the same thing. It was quite a revelation, new information for me, as I got older and became mature to realize that that kind of thing did go on. It was quite a surprise to me, but as time went on I started to realize just how serious this particular issue is.
There have been a few comments made, including by the member from Timmins-James Bay, about this bill being window dressing and not going far enough. But there is some real definition in this bill on what is abuse. There's the expansion to include other areas that haven't been totally covered in the past, different relationships people have, including elders, including children, and things such as dating. We've all heard about some of the things that apparently do happen on dating, which I find very disturbing, particularly when I have three daughters. I'm certainly very supportive of women and the issues that go around that.
This is a lot more than cosmetic change that has been referred to. I think there are some very definite moves being made here, and I compliment the minister for bringing forward this bill.
Mr James J. Bradley (St Catharines): As a number of people have now observed, one of the problems is that there's a total program required to deal with domestic violence. One of the components that I'm very concerned about is the lack of adequate funding for both first- and second-stage housing. If I can mention one place in St Catharines, it would be Women's Place in St Catharines, which is a shelter for people who are victims of domestic violence, and I can't think of a time when Women's Place is not overflowing with people. The staff are scrambling to deal with the circumstances that face those who are in dire situations when they arrive at Women's Place.
What you see happening now across our communities is that you see people scrambling for money. Everybody is now holding a golf tournament. Every charitable organization has a golf tournament going now, or they're selling tickets, or they're having some kind of fundraiser. The problem is that a lot of people of goodwill out there are getting what you call donor fatigue because they've been asked to donate to so many different areas.
I think of the next stage, if you will, in terms of housing. We have Bethlehem Place in St Catharines, which has allowed people over a period of time to get their lives back together. It's had a great success rate. At one time it could count upon, certainly not all of its funding, but a significant portion of it, to come from the provincial government. That is absent today, and they're competing with so many other worthwhile organizations, trying to get the funds.
While this bill is one component, what is required is an investment--not $200 mailed out to everybody as a public relations trick by the government, but invested in solid programs such as Women's Place and Bethlehem Place.
M. Jean-Marc Lalonde (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell) : Oui, le Parti libéral de l'Ontario va appuyer ce projet de loi. Je crois qu'il est un grand montant pour le gouvernement conservateur d'arriver avec les modifications, puisque depuis longtemps nous voyons que Madam Justice Lesley Baldwin avait fait des recommandations. Elle avait aussi demandé si on avait déjà fait des approches pour apporter les changements nécessaires.
C'est bien beau pour le gouvernement de dire qu'on va apporter une modification. Comme j'ai dit, nous allons l'appuyer, mais est-ce qu'on va avoir le personnel en place pour s'en assurer ? Nous regardons que nous recevons actuellement environ 25 appels par année concernant la violence locale, mais 50 % à 75 % des appels ne sont pas placés parce que les gens savent que ça ne vaut pas la peine de placer un appel parce qu'on n'a pas de réponse.
Il est aussi grandement important pour le gouvernement d'apporter des changements parce qu'eux sont responsables du Code criminel. Lorsqu'on regarde le Code criminel, en moyenne, actuellement, une personne qui est incarcérée pour moins de deux ans est la responsabilité de la province. Mais d'après les dernières statistiques que j'ai reçues, les personnes qui sont incarcérées passent environ un sixième de leur temps derrière les barreaux. Cela veut dire qu'on a un manque d'espace, et puis à tous les jours nous entendons dire qu'il y a un manque de places dans nos prisons, dans nos centres de détention. Je crois qu'il est la responsabilité du gouvernement de voir à ce que les personnes soient retenues plus longtemps qu'un sixième de leur temps qu'elles doivent passer en prison. À chaque fois que ces personnes-là sortent, la majorité du temps elles sont encore impliquées dans une autre violence. Que ce soit chez les aînés, chez les jeunes, chez les dames, il y a toujours de la violence quand ces personnes-là sont laissées aller trop tôt des cellules de prison.
Le Président suppléant : Réponse ?
Mme Boyer: Premièrement, je remercie mon collègue de Timmins-Baie James pour s'apercevoir qu'on manque aussi peut-être de vision et de plan d'attaque envers le problème de la violence chez les femmes.
I'd like to thank the member for Northumberland for recognizing that this is not a partisan issue but that everybody is involved in it. When he talks about "cosmetic changes," I agree with that, but right now we're talking about punishing the abuser. Maybe we wouldn't have abusers if we had a plan, if we had the money, if we had the prevention to look into this.
Let's not forget what these women really want. They want money, they want preventive funding, not only money for those abusers' houses but money to prevent, to do some education in our schools and in women's groups.
Je pense qu'il est très important de penser encore une fois bravo pour tenter de punir avec ce projet de loi ceux qui abusent, ceux qui font de la violence domestique, mais pensons aussi s'il vous plaît à trouver ce plan d'attaque, ces raisons, ces buts pour justement enrayer la violence domestique.
Mr Garry J. Guzzo (Ottawa West-Nepean): I welcome an opportunity today to spend a few moments with regard to this piece of progressive legislation. I commend the Attorney General for a step in the right direction in a very difficult area of the law, a minefield that is domestic law.
I know the minister would agree that this act will require some fine-tuning. Let me say at the outset that I sincerely hope this bill, once it passes second reading, will be referred to the justice committee because I would welcome an opportunity to have input into the amendments that I feel this bill will meet.
I should point out that it's very easy to criticize attempts to move the envelope forward in the area of domestic and matrimonial law. The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, and we've seen examples of that theory being put into practice in recent history in Ontario.
It's not my wish to be partisan today, but I do wish to reflect upon the advancements made under the governments in the past number of years, and I would suggest approximately 25 years.
It is indeed a sad comment that I'm compelled to assess the advancements in matrimonial law, and indeed in many facets of the work of government, in a 25-year period, but it seems to me that it takes about a quarter of a century to accomplish anything worthwhile in this province. For example, in 1973, as a member of the regional council in Ottawa-Carleton, I attended my first meeting with regard to a four-lane highway from Prescott to Ottawa, a highway which opened in 1999.
In 1976, I attended my first meeting of bench and bar with regard to a Unified Family Court, a court which was extended to Ottawa-Carleton in 1998, 20 years after the pilot project was first introduced in Hamilton and gradually developed throughout the province. Today, it still encompasses less than 50% of the jurisdictions. That's a very significant point when we look at the enforcement of this piece of legislation we're looking at today.
I think back to 1974 when I attended upon Premier Davis as chairman of the planning committee in Ottawa-Carleton with a plan to reduce the number of municipalities within the region of Ottawa-Carleton. In the year 2000, legislation was passed which will take effect January 1, 2001, but not without a special referendum in the municipality of West Carleton.
In 1975, I again attended upon Premier Davis and the Minister of Labour of this province as a representative of council with regard to an unfair labour practice in the construction field on both sides of the Quebec-Ontario border. Legislation was passed in 1999 addressing this issue. But as the member from Prescott-Russell stated yesterday in this House, there's been very little progress. And so we look at quarter centuries as short periods of time in dealing with the problems that the people we represent face.
In 1978, when I went to the bench, in most major cities in Ontario, definitely in Ottawa-Carleton and indeed in all areas in eastern Ontario, domestic assaults were handled in the Family Court. Regardless of the seriousness of same, they were handled in the Family Court. The rule was easily stated but very difficult to understand. Punch your neighbour in the nose, you go to Criminal Court. Punch your wife in the nose, that's for Family Court. Why was this? The answer was that in fact the family courts were in-camera courts. There was no press. There was no public and no publicity, and while the same level of sentence was available, there was no public embarrassment to assaulting somebody within your family.
This was exceedingly hard to justify and the judges in the Ottawa-Carleton Provincial Court (Family Division)--four, I might tell you, of the most brilliant jurists to be assembled under one roof in this province at any one time--Mr Justice P.D. Hamlyn, Mr Justice Jean-Paul Michel and Mr Justice Guy Goulard--took it upon themselves to change the procedures. We were way ahead of our time, to say the least, because the thinking in the 1970s was so much different. I remember well an incident here in Toronto which underlines that fact.
The situation to which I refer arose from the deaths of four babies at the children's hospital here in Toronto in 1980. A young nurse by the name of Susan Nelles had been charged with murder. She was not convicted and she was not acquitted. She was in fact discharged at a preliminary hearing. Now, a preliminary hearing is held in cases of indictable offences where an accused elects a trial by a Superior Court judge or a judge and jury. The preliminary hearing does not decide the guilt or innocence of the individual. It is only there to assess if there is sufficient evidence to send an accused to trial. I believe the proper question placed before a preliminary inquiry is, could a properly instructed jury, if it believes all the evidence put forward, properly convict?
The judge presiding over the 40-day preliminary hearing, 40 days of evidence, in 1982 found that there was insufficient evidence to send this young lady to trial. The judge was not finding that there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt of her guilt, but simply that there was not even enough evidence with which a properly instructed jury could render a guilty verdict even if it believed all the evidence. As I recollect, this accused received an exemplary defence from a man by the name of Austin Cooper. As I recollect, Mr Cooper called no evidence in the 40 days of that preliminary hearing.
Some two years later, during a royal commission, headed by Mr Justice Samuel Grange, which was set up to investigate the charges in the prosecution of this young nurse, a memo written in 1981 was released in evidence. The memo had been written by the crown attorney for Metropolitan Toronto, one Jerome Wiley, to the Toronto police department. This is a senior crown attorney for this jurisdiction in which I stand today writing to the Toronto police on a very high-profile case. That memo accused the Toronto police of giving this murder investigation "only slightly more priority than a domestic murder." Accompanying that memo was a letter, also released at that time--1982--before the royal commission for the first time, from that crown attorney to the police alleging that manpower shortages and costs were preventing police from doing an adequate job.
Where could the resources have been going--to traffic violations, to real murders which were "non-domestic" murders?" Up until that hour, the release of the memo at the Grange hearing, no one in Ontario was aware that there was a difference between a domestic homicide and any other homicide, at least not in the eyes of the law and presumably not in the eyes of any police force. But here was a senior crown attorney making this distinction for the first time and driving home the fact that there were different standards.
Last night, as I mulled over some situations that I have experienced, I pulled out a copy of a story from the Toronto Sun dated Thursday, August 30, 1984. This story was written by one Heather Bird, then a staff writer for the Toronto Sun and now, I believe, a senior editor. It sheds considerable light on the thinking of the day. Writing at that time, Ms Bird said, "The Metropolitan Toronto Police gave the Susan Nelles murder investigation 'only slightly more priority than a domestic murder,' according to the memo of Jerome Wiley, the crown attorney." She goes on and describes the allegations and the problems, the hesitation on the part of the Toronto police which the crown felt gave rise to some of the problems they faced.
I think it is interesting to realize how far we have come in this province in the past 15 to 20 years. We now have specialty courts for domestic violence, we have specially trained prosecutors in these courts and we are constantly--and even properly in some cases--tinkering with the rules of evidence in these matters.
You've heard about the victim/witness assistance program which has been commenced and expanded, the victim crisis assistance and referral program, the supervised access program and the SupportLink program from other speakers. But as we enter the 21st century, many will raise their voices and say, "It's about time." We can put more funds into the community for protective measures. The biggest corrective measure required would be to educate the vulnerable people to recognize those who may be violent.
This issue was driven home to me years ago as a young lawyer by a young battered woman for whom I was acting. She was escaping her second abusive relationship and she discussed openly her future, as bleak as it appeared at that time. She explained to me how men who were abusers could sense women who, for some reason, were more willing to accept and tolerate abuse, even for short periods of time. She described the recognition in comparative terms to that of the sex offender who could single out the most vulnerable child in a group of youngsters. In all my years on the bench, and in my practice, dealing with abuse cases between spouses, between partners, and cases of abuse of children, I never forgot that conversation and how the accuracy of that comparison had been overlooked by so many in the field of domestic law.
As we enter the 21st century, we must be reminded that our Constitution, the British North America Act, is 133 years old. Our Constitution causes some serious problems re the advancement of matrimonial law--and other areas as well, I might add--in particular the making of emergency intervention orders and the enforcement of all intervention orders under this act.
It might be wise to just sit and read subsection 3(6) of this act on enforcement and compare it to subsection 4(3) on the content of emergency intervention orders, and then note the handling, in subsection 3(2), paragraph 8, of "exclusive possession of the residence shared by the applicant and the respondent" for an intervention order. If you compare those sections, you will see that the Constitution of this country--the 133-year-old, antiquated Constitution--
Mr Dwight Duncan (Windsor-St Clair): The Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Mr Guzzo: The Charter of Rights doesn't help in any way, shape or form. I know you Liberals think 1982 solved all the problems. I have to tell you this: it created more than it solved.
In any event, under the British North America Act, property is the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, and it is to be dealt with by a section 96 judge appointed by the federal government. I enjoy explaining the significance of this situation in the following manner. I try to explain that in my 11 years as a provincial court judge under the Family Law Reform Act, I could deal with some very important issues: custody of young children; access to young children of the non-custodial parent; spousal support; child maintenance; and special medical, psychological, and psychiatric reports for children. All of these matters are serious concerns for all families, whether the children are very small or grown up. However, if the parents in question owned a dog or a parrot, I, as a non-section-96 judge, was not capable of deciding which parent got custody of the parrot. I could give the four children to one spouse or the other, or I could divide the family--two children to each spouse--but I wasn't capable, not properly equipped, to fully decide which spouse would get the parrot.
This situation gave rise to the logical conclusion that the legislators of this province and this country gave a higher priority to parrots than they did to children. Indeed, it used to allow provincial court judges to refer to the section 96 brother as being for the birds. The fact of the matter is, you cannot draw any other conclusion but the fact that somebody must think that animals are a higher priority than children to allow that type of legislation to live, not just in this province but right across the country.
The expansion of the Unified Family Court in many parts of the province eliminated this problem, but I remind you that less than 50% of the jurisdictions in this province are serviced by a unified court. That's something we should keep in the back of our minds and to which we should address our attention in months to come.
I'd like to spend a minute or two on the issue of enforcement. It's a similar problem, not just for constitutional reasons but simply because certain police forces do not show the same commitment to enforce a provincial court order as they do to that of a federally appointed judge. I might further add that the problem is increased when it comes to warrants, be they warrants of committal or warrants of arrest, designed to bring a person before the court. The underlying education program of police forces who will be called upon to enforce Bill 117 once it is proclaimed will have to drive home the fact that the only difference--the only difference--between a restraining order or an intervention order under this act, issued by a provincial court judge or a designated judge and a restraining order made by a superior court judge or indeed a warrant issued by a provincial court judge or that issued by a superior court judge--in matrimonial matters the only difference is the size of the bank account of the parents and the size of the home in which the family resides. The children in each case have exactly the same problems, but more importantly and more definitely, the children in each case have the same constitutional rights, and we are not confirming those and we are not maintaining those because of the imbalance of the 133-year-old Constitution, the British North America Act.
In closing, I want to again commend the minister for bringing this legislation forward. As I say, I look forward to dealing with it. I hope it's in my committee or whatever committee, and I look forward to having an opportunity to deal with it at third reading. I commend to all members to simply keep advancing this envelope even if it's done in quarter-century periods.
The Acting Speaker: Comments or questions?
Mr Duncan: I listened attentively to my colleague the member for Ottawa West-Nepean, who I think brings a singular expertise to this question that many of us in the House do not have. I felt that his observations were worthy of the consideration of the Legislature, but moreover of the minister.
We differ, obviously, in one area where we had a little to-ing and fro-ing with respect to the charter; however, I feel that the comments he made did address the technical and legal questions based on his experience as a provincial court judge and a practising lawyer.
My colleagues in the Liberal caucus and our leader, Dalton McGuinty, will vote in favour of this bill. I agree with the thrust of what my colleague from Ottawa West-Nepean was saying with respect to the fact that this is not the end. This is not where we have to stop. He pointed out, in my view, something that a number of members have not reflected on, and that is further changes in court or judicial processes that, in his experience and views, need to be made.
We have on this side of the House focused our concerns with respect to the question of prevention versus subsequent punishment or dealing with a problem after it's happened. In my community, we are fortunate to have an organization called Hiatus House and its director, Donna Miller, who has been a leader in the whole field of domestic violence and dealing with it. I organized a fundraiser for that organization. Indeed, I will be giving my $200 tax rebate to Hiatus House to reflect my concern about the fact that a number of programs have been cut by this government.
I welcome the member's comments. I appreciate his insight on this issue and I hope that the Attorney General will take his comments and observations to heart.
Mr Bisson: I'm happy to respond to the member from West Rideau. I have to admit that my impression of this member has changed greatly over the years that I've seen him here. I thought he was just a neo-con; he is a neo-con, he is a Conservative, he does believe in the rhetoric as we saw in his speech. But he does have a principled position. The one thing that I've come to appreciate from the member for West Rideau--he served on the bench, he has obviously good expertise on these issues and I listened to what he has to say quite carefully. But I've seen him display a certain independence, as all judges should and will and do, in this House at times. I've seen him on some of the issues of justice actually not so much follow the party line but do what he thought was right as an individual. I wanted an opportunity to put that on the record because I think sometimes we engage in this place in a lot of back and forth because we take our positions very seriously and sometimes don't the chance to talk about when other members do things right. So I want to say that upfront.
I also want to say that I know that the member well understands this issue, probably more than most, because he's had to deal with this himself in his former job as a lawyer and also as a judge. He understands that really when you get to court, the orders by the police are the last measure. It's unfortunate, but the reality is that less than 10% of women who are abused actually go to the police in order to lay any type of charges. Of those, he would well know that only about 25% of them end up in the courts.
I know he understands, as I do, that this in itself is not a bad thing. This law certainly will assist the situation. We're not going to pretend for one second it's going to make things worse. But I know he also understands that this cannot be seen alone. We need to do many more things, such as to restore many of the cuts that were made to women's centres in this province and the type of services in the community that we need to put in place to make sure women can go and get services well before they end up before the police or the courts.
Mr Bart Maves (Niagara Falls): Before I get into my comments, I would like to welcome a friend of mine, young Jessie Dykstra from St Catharines, who has made the trip up today and is in the gallery.
I have similar thoughts and comments to the members opposite about the comments of the member for Ottawa West-Nepean. I always enjoy listening to his speeches in the House. He uses a historical perspective quite often in his speeches, which is very much appreciated. He brings a historical perspective and lets us realize where we've come from, where we are now and where we're going to go.
It's kind of shocking, as I listened to his speech, the way the courts and the legal system over the years have viewed domestic violence, and, I guess by extension, society in general has viewed domestic violence, not viewing it on the same plane and taking it with the same seriousness that we've taken other forms of violence. I think his comments and his historical perspective today showed that. It was quite shocking for me to realize that, and probably for people at home to do the same.
I appreciate that the members opposite--the Liberals, I just heard now, are going to vote for this and the NDP think it's a step forward. The member, in his remarks, while he thinks that things take quite a bit of time--a quarter century in most cases--he too is pleased that this is a step in the right direction. I appreciate his comments and I thank him again for his perspective.
Mr Bradley: I was monitoring the speech of the member from Ottawa, and he does bring a lot of experience to the House in terms of his position on the bench and his knowledge of the legal system. This has consistently been a rather significant problem. I want to try a couple of things on him to see what his reaction might be to those.
There are some commercials now on television, put out by the Ontario Lottery Corp, I believe, which show people escaping from positive domestic situations, going out the window to get engaged in some activity--perhaps it's casino gambling or something of that nature. The point is that these commercials are there to encourage people to undertake action which may eventually end up in domestic violence. With your experience on the bench, sir, you would perhaps know many of the things that trigger domestic violence. I'm concerned about those kinds of commercials which lure people into those circumstances, and they're running on television at this time. I think you're supposed to run down to Woodbine and there is some kind of casino or slots down there.
The second is, as I mentioned earlier, you would be familiar with both first- and second-stage housing and the struggle of places such as Women's Place in St Catharines and Bethlehem Place in St Catharines. They deal at different stages, but still provide services--of course in Women's Place it is to women and their children, and in Bethlehem Place it's extended a little further. How do you feel we would benefit by injecting more funds into those, investing funds into those first- and second-stage housing initiatives and how they might positively affect domestic violence in this province?
The Acting Speaker: Response?
Mr Guzzo: I wish to express my appreciation to the members from Windsor-St Clair, Timmins-James Bay, Niagara Falls and St Catharines for their comments.
I would like to take this opportunity to address the issue that was raised both by the last speaker, the member for St Catharines, and the first speaker, the member from Windsor-St Clair. One of the advantages of being on the bench at the time I was there was that I had an opportunity to move around the province. I actually held court in many of the jurisdictions in many of your ridings, certainly many times in Windsor--it was a favourite of mine when you got that new courthouse around about that time--and also in the St Catharines-Niagara Falls-Welland area.
One of the things we tend to forget is that there is no equality in this province or any other province, or any other jurisdiction. I hear the member from Windsor-St Clair. I'm aware, sir, of the support facility that exists in your community. You're a very fortunate individual, as am I, representing a major city. I look across and I see the member from Pembroke; he's not quite as fortunate. When you sat in Pembroke, the facilities were not there. The Family Court clinic serving all of eastern Ontario was in Ottawa. Go up north and look what the people in some of those jurisdictions are facing. Where have we been reluctant and where have we been hesitant to advance the unified court, which is of such tremendous value to people in difficulty and people coming before the courts, people experiencing the kind of abuse we're talking about here? Of course it's to the less populated areas. That's something we should keep in mind. I thank you for your comments.
The Acting Speaker: Further debate?
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor West): Speaker, I'll be splitting my time with the member from Windsor-St Clair.
I am very pleased to speak to this bill which, as members of my caucus have already indicated, Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberal Party will be supporting. Our dissatisfaction with the bill is that we do feel that the government has not come to the table enough to address the issue of domestic violence. We wanted to share a letter with the Attorney General, Minister Flaherty, and we will be passing this along. This particular letter is signed by all six women caucus members in the Ontario Liberal Party: Bountrogianni, Di Cocco, McLeod, Boyer, Dombrowsky and myself. We're sharing our thoughts with the Attorney General. All of the parties were encouraged to participate on September 20 when a number of women's groups came to Queen's Park. They were asked to sign on the dotted line to mark the fact that they were going to be supportive of taking action against domestic violence. The two opposition parties signed that pledge and the government did not, which begs the question of why.
We each received a letter from a woman named Shelly McKay. She set out the challenge she faced herself being a victim of domestic abuse. She said, "Currently, Canadian citizens believe that when victims of domestic violence seek help from the law they get it. In fact, the law contributes to the abuse."
She went on to say, "I knew when I saw the look of terror in my four-year-old daughter's eyes as she watched her father assault me that I had to break the silence about our suffering. It is time to identify the cause of this suffering and through collective community action recognize the seriousness of domestic violence."
What I think was most poignant was how she ended her letter. She said, "It doesn't matter to me where you live or how much money you have, I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for your family."
Shelly managed to put her thoughts so succinctly in that letter that we needed to share with the public, and certainly with the Attorney General today, to talk about the fact that it isn't just about a bill and it isn't just about the court system. With the Minister of Community and Social Services spending some time in the House this afternoon, he needs to recognize what role his ministry has to play in support for women and their children who are dealing with this very difficult situation.
Our Hiatus House was mentioned even by members opposite. We're very fortunate to have this kind of facility in the Windsor area. Unfortunately, the vacancy rates and the allowable space that they have in the shelter are limited. They are often full to capacity--not just 17 women, but 35 children, which goes to show that most of the time that these women are running and looking for shelter they're bringing their children with them. This past summer, in July, they were at 96% occupancy rate, and that doesn't allow them enough flexibility when they get more women who are arriving at their doorsteps. What are these women to do?
I spoke with a number of people who are dealing with all kinds of issues in trying to escape abusive situations at home. I want to talk about Zahara, Mia and Maria. These are three examples of women currently in Windsor who are in domestic violence and abuse cases. All three of these women have landed immigrant status. Their average age is 35 years old. They each have three children. Their children range in age from two to 11 years old. These women came to Windsor with no supports. They came with their husbands. They don't know the city and there is a language barrier. You can imagine how difficult it would be for these women to escape a violent situation at home. Because of the changes in social services, they're not able to access the assistance they need to get themselves out. I ask the government, what do you do about these cases?
We know what changes have been made to the maximum shelter allowances. So any one of these--Zahara, Mia or Maria--is each looking at $602 as her monthly shelter allowance. I encourage any member of this House to come to my community right now and look for an apartment for $602 a month, their shelter allowance.
We know that much of the issue is about financial security when these women choose to finally leave their homes. Many of these women are trying to access financial support through the new FRO system. We've talked often about the debacle of that system and how we can't access support payments from these spouses who don't have custody of the children. We want to talk about how many times these women, who are already dealing with the greatest stress in their lives, are trying to call the 1-800 number to understand why they can't access money that's truly theirs. Every time they call they don't get the same case manager, and each time they have to tell some stranger on the phone just how dire a strait they're in, just how abusive it is at home. Every time they call they have to go through the embarrassment and the torture of the entire story of having been an abused woman and why it is they need help to get quickly through the Family Responsibility Office so that they can access support that is truly theirs. This is what is happening. This is an FRO issue, as you call it. This is an issue under the Attorney General. Nothing is being done to satisfy these claims. Our office tries to access help for these women and we're stymied almost as much as the women themselves.
Can you imagine the stress of three children running around at your feet, having been abused at home, finally having the courage to leave, not knowing what the future is going to hold, and then being told that you will be put on hold for 20 minutes? When you get that person to finally come to the phone they don't have your case file, they don't have any of your information and you have to start right back again at square one to try to give as much information as you can and go through all of the emotion that that means.
It is something that the government should address and could have addressed two years ago when we first brought up these issues of the centralization of the Family Responsibility Office. The centralization of those offices meant that the Windsor staff who used to run it were fired. These were the people, the local staffers, who knew the individuals on a personal basis. They knew what their situation was at home. They saved them the time and the embarrassment of having to deal with this terrible home life situation. But now they have to explain it time and time again. That's only one issue, the debacle of the Family Responsibility Office, but many women in our shelter have had to contend with a 1-800 number and no one to answer the phone.
What's happening is that we have a significant housing crisis and no one is building affordable housing in Ontario. We've recognized that problem, and our critic David Caplan has often brought that to the floor of this House. When you live in Windsor you can't find affordable housing. Where are the women to go when they're trying to strike out on their own? There is nowhere to go.
I want to talk to you about Susan, Martha and Tina. Their average age is 26 years old. These residents have been in our shelter for 35 days. They're looking for a place to move to but there is nowhere to move. We don't have affordable housing in Windsor that's available to these women. There's no priority list for these women, and the allowance they have through social services, until at least they can get on their feet, is simply not sufficient. If they are on their own, their shelter allowance is $325. Where will we find supportive housing for these women with $325 a month?
The point I have to make today is that while the bill is something we're going to be in favour of and vote for, the issue of domestic violence and how we can get women established and independent and out of those terrible situations in their homes, and in particular ensure the safety of their children--with the system that the Ontario government has ruined, the system that doesn't allow the safety net for these families, the inadequacies that we keep telling you about time after time, you cannot as a government come into the House today with this bill and say, "There, we've done our thing for domestic violence." You haven't even scratched the surface, because the very real issues that women have to contend with have everything to do with various ministry offices, but none of them are being addressed by the government.
I think it's time that the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Ministry of Health and the Attorney General's office strike a task force. You should sit down and say, "If domestic violence is going to be a priority, we're going to discover what the very real issues are."
We heard today from a member across the floor who said she was involved in launching a shelter in her own community of Scarborough. Surely this MPP understands the day-to-day drama that a woman would go through in leaving that abusive home. Surely that member across the way from Scarborough would understand what it means to need the financial security before you can leave, especially when you have children, to know that there's a secure place you can go to, that you'll be able to have a place of your own, that you'll be able to have the support you need just to get you back on your feet.
That currently does not exist in Ontario. It is making women face very tough decisions and what they often do is go back to the abusive relationship. It doesn't even enter into the court system so that the bill we are discussing today can make a difference in their lives. Until the government understands that it's a far greater issue than just one bill is going to satisfy, we are never going to resolve issues that are faced daily by women in Ontario.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Tony Martin): Before we adjourn, I bring the attention of the House to the Speaker's gallery, where we have Dr Manohar Singh Gill, chief election commissioner of India, and his wife, Mrs Gill. Welcome.
This House stands adjourned until tomorrow morning, Thursday, October 5, at 10 of the clock.
The House adjourned at 1758.
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