Women in Crisis, Algoma held an Evening of Remembrance Monday Night at the Sault’s Water Tower Inn, and speakers were adamant, the time for action on Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is now.
The event was to acknowledge and remember the 62 women lost to femicide so far this year in Ontario.
Those who took to the podium to address the roughly 100 Sault residents in attendance included Erin Lee, Executive Director of the Lanark County Interval House.
Lee, in a 40-minute address as the evening’s keynote speaker, said people were shocked to learn there were 52 femicides in Ontario in 2022, an average of one per week. That number has grown to 62 in 2023.
“As we sit here, there’s somebody enduring violence in your community right now,” said Lee. “In fact, there are likely 1,000 people in your community, enduring violence, right now. We continue to unite, and we continue to fight for justice.”
She said efforts to reduce incidents of IPV haven’t been in vain, as statistics are not kept of survivors, women who find the help – and the courage – to escape abuse. “But the stat we’re carrying in our heart, is 62,” said Lee. “Those are the women whose voices, the women and children whose voices, can’t be heard anymore. We’re going to amplify the voices of those 62 people, because they can’t. We need to take the power that comes from those 62 lives and move them forward.”
A solid community investment, said Lee, would be to set aside a dollar for each woman, and for each person identifying themselves as gender-diverse, and put the dollars into a fund to end violence against them.
“That’s a really good budget decision,” said Lee. “We put lots of money into infrastructure. This is about life infrastructure. This is about committing and making sure a community is thriving and safer.”
Lee said the number of municipalities in Ontario to declare they have an IPV epidemic now totals 74.
She said the total of 74 – of more than 440 communities – appears small but quickly pointed out the 74 communities represent 70 per cent of Ontario’s population.
It costs nothing, to make the declaration, Lee told the gathering, “but what it does is it tells every survivor that we hear them. It tells every person that’s enduring (violence, abuse) that they matter. It tells every person on the list, that we don’t forget, and that we’re seeking change and justice.”
In seeking greater funding, Lee said it is important to be respectful of elected leaders, and police, but equally important build relationships, and bring them truth and clarity. “They’re in a position and we’re in a position. And they have power we don’t have. And we have something they don’t have, the trust of the
women. We have to figure out how to work together, better, not in opposition.”
A declaration of an IPV epidemic was the first recommendation arising out of the Renfrew County inquest into the murder of three women in the Renfrew area, in 2015. Lee says it’s time to move on to several of the other 85 recommendations.
Brian Sweeney, whose daughter Angie was murdered Oct. 23, spoke of his determination to fight for change.
Dan Jennings’ daughter Caitlin was murdered in July of this year, in London, Ont. Jennings told attendees he and his wife Michelle travelled to London two weeks ago to attend the bail hearing for the man accused of killing his daughter. The couple decided to marry on the trip and Jennings said it was a wedding gift to see the accused denied bail.
Like Sweeney, Jennings vows to fight for justice for Caitlin.
Another guest speaker was “Sue” a survivor of years of domestic abuse. Sue detailed her years of struggles in a relationship that was okay in the very beginning but steadily deteriorated.
Over the course of 15 anxiety-filled years, her partner controlled nearly every aspect of her life, physically abused her, made frequent threats and demeaned her daily. He placed all kinds of restrictions on when she could see her kids, sometimes denying her the simple pleasure of talking to them on the phone. Often fighting back tears, Sue told the gathering her partner was jealous of the tight bond she enjoyed with her children.
She credited people she had only just met, along with longtime friends for helping her find her way out of her domestic hell. “These people have proven that, no matter how alone you feel, you are never truly alone,” said Sue.
While her relationship was a draining emotional millstone, Sue said it also drained her financially.
The long nightmare was nearing its end when her son called to let her know that police were in the way to see her.
“I started to shake. I was petrified and relieved, all at the same time,” Sue said. “I didn’t know which way to turn. Someone from the police called me and told me to get out of the apartment. Find somewhere safe, and stay there. And whatever I do…don’t hang up the phone.”
She gave police pertinent information, including his vehicle’s make and model and license-plate number.
A short time later, an officer knocked on her door. “We have him,” the officer told her.
She didn’t recognize her son Travis at first. He gave her a huge hug.
“It’s okay Mom, we have you now,” her son assured her. Her living nightmare of being constantly badgered and abused was finally over, but there were some uncertainties. “Monday, July 11 was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I entered the doors of Women in Crisis. I had no idea when I would see my family again but I knew I had to take this step to get better, and they would be there when I was ready.”
Free from a physical and emotional prison, Sue now has a full-time job, and her own car once again. She recently earned a promotion and loves her work. Her sense of self has returned in a big way.
Later in the evening, in memory of women lost to femicide the past year, the names of the victims were read, and as each name was read, a candle was lit in remembrance.
Ten of the 62 names were Jane Does. Not reported missing. No one, apparently, looking for them.
Norma Elliott, Director of Community Relations and Finance, at Women in Cris, Algoma, said November is Women Abuse Month, and the agency is determined to keep making a difference.
“We’re starting our 16 days of activism,” Elliott told the audience. “You’ll see on our Facebook page what we’re trying to do…to help people understand what this is about. There are myths out there, and we want to dispel them,” she said.
“We went the community to come together and hold each other accountable, as the Chief (Sault Police Services’ Chief Hugh Stevenson) said, for our behaviours and our actions,” Elliott continued. “And to make
sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. Not anyone in our community, not anyone in the Sault and Algoma District, not anyone, anywhere. It’s time we say, enough is enough.”