December 6, 2020

Toronto’s women’s shelters highlight links between mass violence and domestic violence on December 6, 2020

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A joint statement from 10 Toronto women’s shelters

This December 6th, as we have for the past three decades, we remember 14 young women killed at École Polytechnique in Montreal on Dec 6, 1989 for daring to assert their right to a bright future in a career of their choosing.

As we mark this day of remembrance here in our community, we will be doing so as the trial into the Toronto van attack nears its end. The assailant, who killed eight women and two men when he pointed his van at pedestrians walking down Yonge Street on a sunny day in April 2018, confessed to identifying with the ‘incel’ community – an online group that promotes misogyny and hate. He even told one expert that as he was driving the van, he wished he was killing more women. His trial began just months after the worst mass murder in Canadian history: The killing of 22 people in rural Nova Scotia, a spree that assailant began after a vicious assault on his common-law partner.

It is easy to write-off mass murders as the products of a few violent, disturbed men. But we cannot when there is such strong evidence that mass violence is directly tied to misogyny and domestic violence. And domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic has gotten worse, rising nationwide by between 20-30%.

This will be our first December 6th spent in lockdown mode – a chilling state of play for women experiencing violence at home. A new Women’s Shelters Canada report finds that 59% of shelters saw a decline in crisis calls when schools, businesses and public spaces closed. When society began to reopen, these calls for help increased – 52% of shelters reported the women had experienced somewhat or much more severe violence than what they had seen prior.

As shelter care providers here in Toronto, we have witnessed all of this firsthand. And ahead of December 6, we feel it is crucial to connect these dots so the public and policymakers can see the real cost of failing to address violence against women. We have seen racialized women be disproportionately impacted by violence. We know women tend to be the “hidden homeless,” couch surfing and staying with friends and family to escape violence. In a pandemic, sadly some have calculated that it is safer to stay home with their abuser and just try to survive.

This year’s femicide list, published in late November by the Ontario Association of Interval and Transitional Housing contained the names of 35 women and girls who died between November 2019 and November 2020. Twenty of them were members of our Greater Toronto Area community.

Violence against women is baked into our societal structures. It is inextricably linked to anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and to poverty. And it continues to happen because of systemic failures to take action on inequality.

Women who experience the various layers of violence in their daily lives, from physical aggression to financial abuse to threats to their immigration status by an abusive partner, need our compassion and support to help escape poverty and build new, independent lives in which they are safe. We need much more affordable housing and supportive transition programs to help them get on their feet. We need reliable, high-quality, low-cost childcare so they can find and work at solid, well-paying jobs, which should also be in far greater supply. We need greater investment in the frontline services best equipped to help – services that have had to get much nimbler and more creative in helping women in crisis during COVID-19 through virtual counselling, the use of hotels for more shelter space, and the creation of food banks to address hunger.

As the pandemic has made plain, we need to see the bigger picture and take a rare opportunity to do things differently. When a mass attack like Polytechnique or the Toronto Van Attack or Portapique NS occurs, we get a glimpse of how this hatred hurts all of us. We should not have to wait for an attack or a pandemic to invest in safety and dignity. But now that we are here, community members, policy makers – all of us, need to seize this moment and create lasting change for generations to come.

YWCA Toronto (Arise & Women’s Shelter)

The Redwood

Red Door Family Shelter

North York Women’s Shelter

Women’s Habitat

Anduhyaun Inc.

Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter

La Maison

Homeward Family Shelter – Julliette’s Place