When Brian Sweeney lost his 41-year-old daughter, Angie, to Intimate Partner Violence, Oct. 23, he vowed to take on an issue that is on the rise, both locally and in the province of Ontario.
Grief-stricken but angry, Sweeney appeared before Council urging them to support a resolution declaring an IPV epidemic in the city.
Sweeney is determined to get the attention of the federal and provincial governments, and he won’t be alone.
City Council later approved the resolution unanimously, joining more than 60 other communities and associations in making the declaration. Since then, The City of Sudbury has joined the growing list, making the same declaration earlier this month. The Township of Hilton on St. Joseph’s Island did as well.
Calling out the rise in violence against women and Intimate Partner Violence by applying the epidemic level goes back to the Renfrew County Inquest.
It was the No. 1 recommendation in the coroner’s report; that IPV be declared an epidemic in Ontario.
That inquest probed the murders of three women in the Renfrew County area in September, 2015. Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton were all murdered by the same man. He allegedly stalked two of the victims for years.
Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker says he’s hopeful the province will reconsider its reluctance to call IPV an epidemic in Ontario. The Ford government has rejected the epidemic label stating the term relates only to
diseases. “I’m hopeful the resolution approved unanimously by City Council will encourage the Government of Ontario to act and declare Intimate Partner Violence an epidemic,” Shoemaker told First Local. “The statistics clearly demonstrate this to be the case and the Renfrew County Inquest recommended that the Province make this declaration.”
So far this year, 55 women have lost their lives to Intimate Partner Violence.
Along with the passing of the resolution, Shoemaker sent a letter to Premier Doug Ford. In his letter, Shoemaker wrote, in part:
I want to express my frustration with the lack of support for our community to address the mental health and addictions crisis, which continues to get worse and impacts so many aspects of life in Sault Ste. Marie. To provide some examples, I can tell you that we need the return of Concurrent Disorders Day Treatment Programming. We need more stable funding for the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. We need provincial approval of consumption and treatment services to resume, along with the funding that
needs to accompany these projects. These are needs, not wants. We can’t wait any longer. We can’t take any more steps backward.
Advocates of the epidemic label point to the World Health Organization, which has stated violence against women and Intimate Partner Violence is a major health problem and a violation of human rights.
Norma Elliott, Director of Community Relations and Finance at Women in Crisis (WIC), Algoma welcomed council’s and the Mayor’s action.
“We’re to up 55 people who have lost their lives in Ontario this year,” said Elliott. “That’s more than one person, per week. So how is that not an issue? How is that not a problem, that our government can say it’s not an epidemic?”
Elliott says pre-Covid, WIC received an average of 2,000 calls a year. The number jumped to 3,000 in 2022. She says she was pleased to hear was Sault Police Services Chief Hugh Stevenson recent comments on IPV.
“He (Chief Stevenson) put it out there and said that we have to start looking at domestic violence under a different light. Until we give it a name, a label and call it an epidemic for what it is, that’s when people will
start taking it seriously. It’s here. We wouldn’t have the numbers we have if it wasn’t happening and we need to talk about it . We need to start taking responsibility and holding (perpetrators) accountable.
I think for us, the more we talk about it, the more we get it out there, the more people become aware and it’s harder for perpetrators to hide.”
Elliott says the Covid pandemic played a large role in the increased number of calls both to WIC and Sault Police Services. The pandemic, she said, forced the closure of a number of agencies for several months.
Women and/or their partners were unable to attend counselling sessions. Unemployment and employment uncertainty raised stressed levels in many relationships, she says. If a relationship was
already strained, it likely only got worse during the pandemic.
“You could access them online or on the phone but lots of times that was the only connection for people,” she says. “There was a big struggle in our community with regards to addictions and mental health. People who had to work through it, who had to go out every day. All of the pressures just kept piling up on everybody.”
The declarations across the province raise awareness, but Elliott said the Ontario government has to do more to support social services.
“You have to make sure that shelters are funded properly. Costs have gone through the roof, in every area,” said Elliott.
Shoemaker said it’s important that community leaders use their platforms to bring issues to light and hopefully bring about change.
While the declaration of an IPV recommendation was the first one listed in the Renfrew County coroner’s report, there were 85 others, including adding the term femicide to the Criminal Code and clear guidelines to flag perpetrators.
The Mayor told First Local he plans to meet with the coroner to discuss the best way to move forward, and report back to council.