Intimate partner violence is an epidemic and should be recognized as one, believes Coun. Dominique O’Rourke.
She’s set to introduce a motion to city council later this month that, if approved, would see Guelph join with more than 70 other Ontario municipalities in declaring intimate partner violence and violence against women an epidemic, as recommended by a jury last year following an inquest into the murder of three women in the Ottawa area.
“We know this is pervasive in our community and we need to talk about it,” O’Rourke said. “This issue clearly is not one that is going to go away.
“We know this is all around us.”
Last year saw Guelph Wellington Women in Crisis serve 998 women and 54 children across its programs, fielding just shy of 2,500 crisis calls.
Guelph police responded to 1,659 calls related to domestic violence incidents in 2022, about 20 more than in 2021.
According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, one woman or girl was killed every 48 hours throughout the country.
“It would take tremendous courage for someone to contact police and it would take tremendous courage for someone to contact an agency that will support them,” the councillor said. “We are very focused, as a city, on the issues we see on our streets. We need to broaden that lens and think about the safety of people sometimes in their own home.”
O’Rourke’s proposed motion, which is on the council meeting agenda for Nov. 28, doesn’t stop at making the declaration.
It directs city staff to look at the city’s community plan through a lens of intimate partner violence and report back to council with proposed changes. Further, intimate partner violence is to be included in any future updates to the city’s community safety and wellbeing plan.
“That will identify what the next steps could be,” said O’Rourke, noting the trauma of such violence can be a contributing factor in a variety of mental health and social issues such as homelessness. “It’s linked to many other things in our community.”
As well, the motion seeks to find out how the Guelph Police Services Board intends to address the inquest jury’s 86 recommendations.
Among those recommendations, all of which are formally addressed to the provincial government, including that “all justice system participants who work with (intimate partner violence) survivors and perpetrators are trained and engage in a trauma-informed approach to interacting and dealing with survivors and perpetrators.”
O’Rourke’s motion calls on the provincial government to follow in the footsteps of municipalities and declare intimate partner violence to be an epidemic – something Ontario officials have opted not to do at this point – and to “properly” fund involved agencies.
Asked what level of support she’s seen from her council colleagues on the issue, O’Rourke responded, “All the other communities have unanimously supported the motion. I fully expect you’ll see unanimous support (in Guelph too).”