Violence ‘is actually on the rise’ and prevention should be part of Canada’s COVID-19 recovery plan, ombudsman for victims of crime warns
|Toronto Star 22 May 2020 at 20:57|
After an influx of “very troubling stories” through the pandemic, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime is calling for Canada’s COVID-19 recovery plan to include a violence prevention strategy.
“As we’ve been living through the pandemic, it’s becoming more and more clear that violence is a serious issue that is actually on the rise,” Heidi Illingworth said in an interview this week.
A resource for victims of crime, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime has, in the last two months, seen an increase in inquiries from victims and families seeking help and sharing stories about violence “happening in homes and communities across Canada because of increased isolation,” Illingworth said.
As the country moves cautiously into recovery, she said now is the “perfect time” to be addressing the causes of violence exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the “massive problem” of violence against women .
In an open letter penned to Dr. Theresa Tam last week, Illingworth implored Canada’s chief public health officer to include violence-prevention in the federal recovery response, saying its “critical” that resources be directed at preventing behaviours that lead to intimate partner violence, sexual violence and child abuse.
“We continue to learn of lethal violence during the pandemic with the murder of eight women and one girl in just 36 days in Canada. These femicides can and must be prevented,” Illingworth wrote in the May 15 letter.
A spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada did not respond by deadline Friday to questions sent by the Star.
A spokesperson for Illingworth said the office had not yet received a reply from Tam.
The impact of the pandemic will be “far reaching” and stress factors caused by the pandemic will continue to heighten the risks of violence, Illingworth wrote in her letter, including financial stress, increased reliance on alcohol or drugs, greater childcare responsibilities and lack of access to positive coping mechanisms.
In some Canadian cities, police and women’s shelter workers have seen an increase in violence involving an intimate partner; others have reported a drop in calls for service, which experts in this violence say could signal an inability of the victims to call for help safely, not a decline in incidents.
Illingworth notes in her letter that “many victims have lost access to telephones or computers,” including children who may be in danger.
While she welcomes the $50 million the federal government put towards women’s shelters and sexual assault centres at the outset of the pandemic, Illingworth said these centres “react after the problem has gotten out of hand.”
She urged the Canadian government “to target those at lower levels of risk, to prevent current tensions at home from escalating to violence.”
That could include immediate attempts to reach victims and potential perpetrators through public awareness efforts, including advertising campaigns to educate the public about their role in violence intervention and prevention.
“We can prevent a lot of violence if we teach people how to resolve conflict in a positive way,” she told the Star.
“We can’t just throw more money at the response; let’s put money at the beginning, upstream.