After 10 murders and budget blowback, Quebec to make announcement on domestic violence

After a devastating spate of conjugal murders – 10 women dead since January – Quebec is set to make some sort of announcement on Friday about domestic violence.

“We're on our hands and knees. Whatever they give us, we'll take,” said one director of a Montreal women’s shelter.

However, after years asking for longer-term thinking, and an amount in the province’s new budget last month that was so small it drew widespread criticism, she said that really, she’s hoping for much more.

“I hope it’s a funding announcement for more space in shelters—that’s what I hope,” said Melpa Kamateros, who runs Montreal’s Shield of Athena shelter.

But instead of “a little bit of a bandaid here, and we're going to plug up the holes here—I want to see something that's really going to reverberate.”

The provincial announcement is slated for 1 p.m. on Friday. Quebec’s public security minister, Genevieve Guilbault, will speak alongside Isabelle Charest, the minister responsible for women.

Two leaders of major associations of women’s shelters will also be present.

The new budget last March included only $22.5 million over five years for new women's shelter spaces, sparking harsh words from Quebec Solidaire co-leader Manon Massé, who called it "insulting."

"If the government [can] put a billion dollars to connect to the internet, I'm sure it could have put more than that for women," she said at the time. 

This year’s domestic murder statistics are already shocking, outpacing last year’s numbers before it’s even spring.

Kamateros said it’s certain that COVID-19 is heightening the risks for women in violent relationships, increasing various strains on families.

At the same time, it’s also starkly showing shelters’ capacity problems—in past years, most women asking for help could be squeezed in, even if facilities were over capacity, she said.

“We're funded for nine [beds], but we keep taking women” at the Shield of Athena emergency shelter, she said. “We're not going to turn them away.”

But they used to be able to put people two to a room if needed, and that’s no longer safe in the pandemic.

And before COVID-19, the problems facing many Quebec women were already severe and the system was in dire need of government help, she said.

In 2014, for example, nine women were murdered by partners in the space of two weeks, Kamateros said.

“I’ve been 30 years in the field and I keep seeing the same things being repeated,” she said.

“The interest only comes out when, unfortunately, the woman and kids get killed.”

She said it’s hard to put a dollar amount on what she’s hoping to see from the government Friday, but what would be really constructive is not a “band-aid” but a longer-term strategy that includes making the court process easier and looks at the entirety of what women need to leave home and safely establish themselves afterwards.

The most dangerous period lasts for a full year after women decide to leave, she said. Experts have long said that women face the most serious risk of attack when they announce they’re leaving a partner or do leave.

“When you think of these [recent] deaths, and you look at them, I think many of them were done when the women had taken the decision to separate, ok?” Kamateros said.

“That point… is the most dangerous point.”

One major need right now is emergency funding that can go straight to women who want to leave violent households to help them with things like taxis and shelters, Kamateros said.

“The whole issue of conjugal violence has been minimized,” she said. “What we've seen in the shelter are younger and younger women,” including many in their 20s, she said.

“It means the perceptions on gender-based violence have not changed. It means young men are perpetrating these acts of violence.”

 

SUPPORT NETWORK

Victims of domestic violence can contact SOS violence conjugale at 1-800-363-9010.

Other resources:

 

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