Local agencies find common ground on domestic violence

The issue of domestic violence is as complex as it is widespread. Close to 100 communities have rallied behind Bill 173, a provincial bill that would declare Intimate Personal Violence an epidemic.

The bill recently passed second reading.

Leaders of social services and various agencies are anxious to see the bill pass, but they’re not sitting idle, waiting.

Representatives from about 35 local agencies and social services took part in a two-day conference on domestic violence in Sault Ste. Marie. The event was hosted by the Algoma Domestic Violence Council (ADVC).

The conference, held Monday and Tuesday at the Quattro Hotel and Convention Centre, featured guest speakers and workshops across the social, mental health and legal spectrum.

Keynote speakers included Pamela Cross, Feminist lawyer and “advocate working on the issue of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).”

Cross is one of Canada’s foremost authorities on violence against women and in 2019 was the recipient of the Law Foundation of Ontario’s Guthrie Award. The Foundation’s board chair said Cross “is changing the way the legal system approaches violence against women.”

A Kingston, Ont., resident, Cross is Legal Director for Luke’s Place, a Durham Region organization that provides family law support and guidance on how abused women and their children can be safer. 

Cross told First Local that bringing services together for the Sault conference builds understanding and allows for practical approaches to issues.

“It’s also how we cut across some of the walls that can go up between different kinds of services,” says Cross. “I think it was Mark Twain that said, ‘If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ That can be a problem. 

If your job, as a police officer, is to charge people with criminal offences, you might not always understand why a woman might not want her partner charged with a criminal offence. You might think that’s the only solution. But there’s lots of women who don’t want their partners charged and there are good reasons for that, too.”

Declaring IPV an epidemic in Ontario was the number one recommendation of the jury in the Renfrew County inquest which probed the Ottawa-area murders of three women, on the same day, by the same man, in 2015. That jury issued 86 recommendations in its June 2022 report.

Cross says many of them, like the top one, were directed at the provincial government. But, she quickly adds, not all. Communities like Sault Ste. Marie, she says, are tackling recommendations on their own, where they can. 

“The first step is to do it within the community,” says Cross, “to build that common language, common understanding. To share information in a way that respects people’s right to privacy but also considers safety. And then yes, at the provincial level to connect all of that. (But) we’re getting away from silos and getting away from conflicts that can sometimes arise between various services.”

A one-hour zoom presentation by renowned domestic violence expert Dr. Peter Jaffe opened the conference. Dr. Jaffe is a psychologist and Professor in the Faculty of Education at Western University. He began his career over 50 years ago as a psychologist with the London, Ontario police department. 

He’s co-authored 11 books and held presentations and workshops worldwide. In 2009, he was named an Officer in the Order of Canada by the Governor General for his work in preventing domestic violence in the community.

Dr. Jaffe emphasized education while touching on a wide range of domestic violence issues including recognition of warning signs. He told the group domestic violence homicides are the most preventable of all homicides and dating violence the most common type of IPV. 

He said perpetrators are adept at making themselves the victim. He said the state of California takes domestic violence very seriously. Perps there must enter a 52-week program. 

In Canada, the scope of understanding is widening and improving. Dr. Jaffe said every employee in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization must attend sessions on domestic violence.

He urged attendees to be aware of burnout, vicarious trauma and moral injury. In the former, said Jaffe, individuals who are helpers develop some of the same symptoms as the victims. In the latter, professionals can feel like the system has let them down.

During a Q&A session after his presentation, Jaffe was asked how a survivor of domestic abuse can effect change.

“Share your stories,” said Dr. Jaffe. “I followed a lot of what happened in the Sault on The National, and they were very powerful stories. Having people with first-hand experience…is a powerful motivator for change.

Joining boards of directors said, Dr. Jaffe is another avenue for survivors to make a positive impact. 

“There’s always organizations providing services that need somebody on their board, whether it’s healthcare, social services or mental health services. There’s also survivor organizations, where survivors are providing support and services. 

Volunteering is another option, added Dr. Jaffe.

“I can tell you being an old professor with a PhD and having a number of statistics is not the same as hearing from someone who lost a friend or a child.”

Dr. Jaffe wished attendees well in developing a wish list, adding one of his wishes was for public service announcements on domestic violence during highly-rated, televised events, such as the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Norma Elliott, Director of Community Relations and Finance at Women in 

Crisis (WIC) Algoma, says one of the goals set during the conference is have IPV and sexual assault added to the City’s Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan (CSWP).

The plan, legislated by the Police Services Act, is designed to mitigate immediate social risks that lead to crime and that negatively impact a community member’s wellbeing and ability to have a healthy quality of life. 

“The City has a (CSWP) plan and it doesn’t include any of that,” says Elliott. “It includes mental health, addictions and poverty, but it doesn’t include IPV or sexual assault. We need to be a part of that. There’s way too many within our community that are affected by IPV and sexual assault to not be included in that plan.

Elliott says the ADVC will write to the Algoma Leadership Table (ALT), seeking their support for a revision of the Sault’s Community Safety and Well Being Plan.

The ALT, which represents about 50 agencies, could then take the motion to council. 

Elliott says the conference was well received.

“I think we have been able to make connections within the community, and we’re all on the same page,” says Elliott.

“This is an incredibly strong community,” said Sault Ste. Marie Police Services Staff Sgt. Vicki Monto when the event concluded, “and I think with our continued collaboration, we’ll implement education and prevention and public safety. All of our partners, working together.”

Paula Valois, Executive Director of CHADWIC Home, a women’s shelter in Wawa, serving north Algoma and Chapleau, says some of the closing remarks by Cross hit home.

“We ended with Pam talking a little bit about  hope,” says Valois. “So many times over the course of my 39 years in the field, there have definitely been some times where we do tend to lose hope. You feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

It’s important for us to come together and really remember some of the gains that we have made and successes that we have had over the years,” Valois said. “Take hope in the fact that there are so many organizations that came together here because they care about this issue and they want to see things change. That in itself is hopeful.”

Hope remains among social services’ leaders that Bill 173 will pass. Cross says it’s “symbolic” on some levels but can open doors. First and foremost though, it’s validation for survivors of abuse.

“That validation can sometimes be the first step for a survivor in being able to reach out for help,” says Cross. “That, in and of itself…you don’t have to spend any money to make that happen, you just have to pass the bill. And if that helps one, or a 100, or a 1,000 women think, ‘I’m going to get some support here,’ then it’s good enough.

But it will do more than that. Calling (IPV) an epidemic clearly makes it a public health issue.”

Cross suggests the province re-establish The Violence Against Women Roundtable, which was made up of about 15 experts from different areas of the field. 

“We met regularly with cabinet ministers, with the Premier and senior staff to advise them as they were considering policy and programs,” says Cross. “That should be re-established. If Mr. Ford wants to see more study, (he should talk) to that group of people, because those are the experts.”

Elliott is optimistic Bill 173 will pass.

“I really believe the province is going to move forward with this. I think they are starting to understand that there are a lot of people, and a lot of communities, that have been affected by IPV, and you can’t ignore it. There’s too big a movement. There’s too many people living with this, dying from this, how do you as a government not acknowledge that and not pass that bill.

I would like to see the federal government pass it as well,” continued Elliott. “They say that they understand and that they believe it’s there and needs to be looked at, but that’s just words. Pass it.”

One thought on “Local agencies find common ground on domestic violence

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *