Kingston City Council declares intimate partner violence an epidemic

Lakeside District Councillor Wendy Stephen speaks to her new motion during a City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. Screen captured image.

Kingston City Council has voted to declare intimate partner violence (IPV), also referred to as domestic violence, an epidemic in the city.

During a meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023, councillors supported a new motion, moved by Lakeside District Councillor Wendy Stephen and seconded by Mayor Bryan Paterson, which called on the City to join numerous other municipalities across the province in declaring IPV an epidemic

The new motion referenced the Renfrew County Coroner’s Inquest, which came after Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk, and Nathalie Warmerdam were murdered on September 22, 2015, by the same man, with whom each of the three women had had a past intimate relationship. The inquest verdict included 86 different recommendations, “the first of which was for the Province of Ontario to formally declare IPV as an epidemic,” noted Stephen’s motion. 

The motion also made reference to the Mass Casualty Commission — a joint public inquiry between the Government of Canada and the Province of Nova Scotia looking into the violent rampage in that province in 2020 by a man who killed 22 people — which recommended governments “urgently prioritize preventing and ending gender-based violence (GBV), IPV, and family violence.” 

Before the motion was brought forward for debate, councillors received a delegation from Deirdre Reddick, chair of the Kingston Frontenac Anti-Violence Coordinating Committee and a self-identified survivor of intimate partner violence, who spoke to the need to declare an epidemic.

“I stand before you today as somebody who works on the front line as a women’s counsellor, as well as doing advocacy in the anti-violence campaign within the Kingston area,” she said. 

During her delegation, Reddick presented councillors with statistics on the reported victims of intimate partner violence crimes in Kingston. She stated that, in 2019, girls and women accounted for 80 per cent of the victims in the city, a statistic that increased slightly during the pandemic. During the same period, girls and women made up 75 per cent of the victims of reported cases of family violence. 

Reddick ended her presentation by noting that much of the work done by her member organizations takes place after intimate partner violence or gender-based violence has occurred, and that the City needs to move toward preventive measures. 

“Most of the work that is being done in the area is always after the fact. We know that we need to have the epidemic declared so that we can start doing prevention,” she explained. 

Following Reddick’s presentation, members of Council were given the opportunity to ask questions, with Leigh Martins from Kingston Interval House (KIH) joining Reddick to speak about the work her organization does for victims and survivors of intimate partner violence and gender-based violence.

“Right now, we have a 25-bed shelter. I can tell you tonight, we’re full,” Martins said. “We have an 18-unit rent-geared-to-income housing [property], with families living there for up to a year, and that’s full. We have waitlists for our counselling programs for women, children, and youth… We could open another second stage [facility] tomorrow and be full. This is why we need this. We need the support from our community because we’ve got women knocking on our door every day.”

When asked to elaborate on the rates of intimate partner violence and gender-based violene during the COVID-19 pandemic, Martins explained the statistics shown during the delegation are the “[tip of] the iceberg,” as many cases of violence often go unreported.

“We know that a lot of women don’t feel comfortable coming forward, and that’s also why we want to declare IPV an epidemic,” she said. 

“During the pandemic, our phone lines were quiet because women couldn’t make those calls. And now we’re seeing that those numbers are back up again. We just want our community to show support for these people who are experiencing intimate partner violence.” 

(L-R) Deirdre Reddick and Leigh Martins respond to questions from councillors around the prevalence of intimate partner violence. Screen captured image.

With Reddick’s presentation emphasizing the need for preventive measures, Martins responded to a question from Sydenham Councillor Conny Glenn by explaining that such an approach would hopefully include more funding for public education.

“I’m not saying that can happen in this room, but I think, across the board, that needs to happen. If we look at the funding we get for our individual agencies, we have not seen an increase. We have seen an increase in the work that we do,” she said. 

Martins, asked to elaborate on the demographics of people who utilize services at Kingston Interval House, replied that clients range from women aged 16 and up.

“We see women who are 16, we see women in their 80s… I think you maybe don’t realize how often you’re walking around with someone who is going through intimate partner violence,” she expressed.

“If we can declare an epidemic, then it gives those voices to survivors that have been afraid to speak up, who maybe feel like they are going to be stigmatized.” 

While more than 50 municipalities across Ontario have already declared intimate partner violence an epidemic, Martins noted that the provincial government chose not to take similar action: “Unfortunately, our provincial government chose not to state IPV as an epidemic, stating the language should go with health concerns… This is why all of our municipalities are saying this is the wrong answer, that you do need to make it an epidemic. This is in our communities across Ontario.”

When asked why the term “epidemic” is important to the cause, Martins spoke of the need to have consistent language throughout the province.

“This is something that, across Ontario, our different municipalities are trying to use the same language [about]… Language is powerful. When we look at the number of women in our community who have lost their lives due to intimate partner violence… I think we do need to call it an epidemic,” she said. 

With victims and survivors of intimate partner violence often needing to access medical care for injuries, Reddick noted the issue also has an impact on public health services: “With the number of visits to the hospital, this is actually a health issue. I think that using the term epidemic is relevant and recognizes that it’s a public health initiative and crisis that we need to be looking at.” 

When the motion was brought forward for debate later in the meeting, Councillor Stephen spoke about what inspired her to bring the motion to Council. She noted the impact of the Montreal Massacre — the December 6, 1989 murder of 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal — and how that horrific act led Parliament to declare December 6 the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. 

An emotional Stephen recounted her experience at a vigil in Kingston last year on December 6.

“As I listened to the choir and speakers, I began thinking about the women in my life who had recently left relationships in which they were experiencing violence. When the vigil ceremony ended, I quietly slipped away and sat alone in my car and I cried. My loved ones could have, so easily, been names on that list,” she said. 

“The thing with intimate partner violence is that it often happens behind closed doors. It happens in the privacy of people’s homes in what are supposed to be loving relationships. It can take many forms, including physical violence, but also verbal, emotional, economic, and sexual violence. Sometimes people experiencing intimate partner violence don’t recognize it for what it is; sometimes they do.”

“It was the horrific tragedy in Renfrew County that led to a coroner’s inquest and a verdict with 86 recommendations,” Stephen continued. “Most of the recommendations were directed at the provincial government, many of which they did adopt. However, the province… rejected the first recommendation, to properly declare intimate partner violence an epidemic… As community leaders, I think it is important for us to be clear in our message to the people living in these complicated relationships. You are not alone.”

The new motion received widespread support from members of Council. Glenn remarked on the need for the City to take the issue seriously, saying, “We need to make sure this is simply not another motion, [but] that we start to live this and act this. That is contingent upon all of us as community members recognizing this and realizing that the signs of domestic abuse are often low level, that we often don’t listen, we often don’t hear, we don’t act soon enough.”

She added, “It’s time for us to recognize that it is an epidemic and call on the ministries of the provincial government to work together on this. It is a public health crisis in our emergency rooms when we have people going there who should never have been there. It’s a crisis for all of us, so it’s an epidemic in multiple different ways.” 

It was an emotional evening around the horseshoe, with many councillors fighting tears as they addressed the issue. Loyalist-Cataraqui District Councillor Paul Chaves remarked on the need to include male victims of IPV in discussions on the issue.

“There is a stigma related to male victims of domestic abuse, a stigma from police, social services, family services, the courts, judges, the press, the community, and even family and friends,” Chaves emphasized. “Men already face the stigma if they were to report it. What is even worse is if their abuser can easily turn the table and say they were being falsely accused and are in fact the victim themselves.”

”I’m not trying to take away from the female victims of abuse. It’s important to shed light on the abuse of males,” he added. 

Stephen’s new motion passed with unanimous support from all members of Council. In additon to declaring IPV an epidemic, the motion also calls on staff to incorporate the 86 recommendations of the Renfrew County Coroner’s Inquest within the City of Kingston’s Community Safety and Well-Being Plan, where appropriate. A copy of the motion will also be sent to select provincial politicians, including Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Health Sylvia Jones. 

Members of the public can find the agenda from the October 17, 2023 Council meeting on the City of Kingston’s City Council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in full on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

Kingstonist will have further coverage of this matter, speaking with those from Kingston Interval House and the Kingston Frontenac Anti-Violence Coordinating Committee, as well as other relevant service providers locally. Further articles will be published in the coming days.

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