City of Peterborough declares intimate partner violence an epidemic

Brittany McMillan, left and Kim Dolan, middle, speak to Peterborough city council on Nov. 27, 2023 prior to council voting on a motion to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic. Robert Lothian/Global News Peterborough

Advocates in Peterborough are praising the city’s decision to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic.

During Monday’s meeting, city council approved a motion by Coun. Joy Lachica to declare intimate partner violence (IPV) an epidemic. The City of Peterborough is now the 74th municipality in Ontario to declare IPV an epidemic.

The motion acknowledges more than 85 recommendations by a jury following the coroner’s inquest into the 2015 murders of Nathalie Warmerdam, Carol Culleton and Anastasia Kuzyk in Renfrew County to help prevent similar tragedies. Among the recommendations was for Ontario to formally declare IPV an epidemic.

The motion also acknowledges the Mass Casualty Commission, established by the government of Canada and the Nova Scotia government, which stressed the need to end gender-based violence (GBV) in the wake of the mass shooting of 22 people in Nova Scotia in April 2020.

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Prior to council’s unanimous approval. Brittany McMillan, executive director of the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, and Kim Dolan, executive director of the YWCA Peterborough Haliburton, made a joint presentation to council urging them to endorse the motion.

Click to play video: 'Domestic violence ‘an epidemic’: Peterborough Domestic Abuse Network'
Domestic violence ‘an epidemic’: Peterborough Domestic Abuse Network

They highlighted a “snapshot” of 2022 data that showed that only six per cent of survivors of sexual assault in the region reported the assault to police. One in five people experiencing GBV said they called police.

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“Eighty per cent of the people don’t report — in our community, that’s over 10,000 people who are victims of gender-based violence last year,” Dolan said.

McMillan says their organizations are part of the Peterborough Domestic Abuse Network (PDAN) — consisting of more than 30 organizations in Peterborough city and county working to support survivors of domestic abuse.

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“We ask that you recognize that a large of number of your constituents are being impacted by violence,” she said.

McMillan said the system of supports is “complex and limited” and notes domestic violence often overlaps with homelessness and the housing crisis across Canada.

“Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness amongst women and children,” she told council. “And the risk of homelessness is one of the leading barriers for people seeking to leave abusive relationships.”

She says survivors of GBV often identify gaps including a lack of funding for long-term counselling, the need for community education and prevention, notably with youth, and the need for training for services and organizations to know how to intervene and refer survivors to appropriate help.

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Coun. Keith Riel says their presentation “resonated” with him.

“If you read the news today, there were two domestic incidents over the weekend,” he said. “But probably more happened that didn’t make the news. This  is happening every day.”

Following council’s declaration approval, Dolan and McMillan said it’s a “step in the right direction” to raise awareness of the impacts of violence against women.

“This motion helps support all survivors and also shifts the narrative to focus on the importance of preventing future violence,” McMillan stated.

Added Dolan: “On behalf of all our partner agencies, and the women, children, and gender-diverse people we serve through the YWCA, I want to thank Peterborough’s city councillors for making this historic declaration. We look forward to working together with our fellow social service agencies as well as with the city to effect change and make a difference in the lives of all those individuals experiencing or at risk of gender-based violence.”

Sarah Bass, manager of the PDAN, says members look forward to taking further action to address IPV.

“PDAN members have been working toward this as a first step toward local implementation of recommendations from the Renfrew Inquest, Mass Casualty Commission and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls final reports,” Bass said. “These reports identify actionable items that, if implemented, will help to prevent further violence against women and girls in our community.  Our members look forward to continuing to implement further recommendations at a local level and build on these efforts.”

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A vigil is scheduled on Dec. 6 at Peterborough City Hall at 5 p.m. to mark the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate assistance. Find a more comprehensive list of resources here.  

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