Ontario Budget 2021 and Gender-based Violence spending: Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) Responds
Since 2016, Ontario’s community-based sexual assault centres have faced increased demands for service and wait lists for supportive counselling to survivors of sexual assault. With the rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in recent years, community-based sexual assault centres have seen a significant upswing in calls and requests for support. Each year, Ontario’s sexual assault centres respond to over 50,000 crisis line calls —up from 30,000 per year recorded in 2009. When Statistics Canada released its findings of Incident-based crime statistics in Canada in recent years, their numbers found that sexual assault in Ontario rose from 7,434 police-reported incidences in 2016 and 8,782 in 2017 to 10,634 in 2018 —revealing a year over year increase of almost 19%.
Overall, in its recent budget, Ontario has allocated some positive investments to address gender-based violence. The budget also saw some investment in sexual assault and victim services ‒ 2.1 million over 3 years to improve victim and sexual assault services. Of these dollars, however, fewwill find their way directly to services for survivors at Ontario’s existing sexual assault centres.
2.1 million over 3 years to improve victim and sexual assault services
The Ministry of the Attorney General shares that Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy invests in the following areas: new or enhanced sexual violence services in three underserved geographic areas in Ontario; expanding a legal advice program for sexual violence survivors; implementing a service-user complaints and feedback mechanism; and putting forward a requirement for all victim services organizations to collaborate with other service providers.
Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) is pleased to see investment in any area that improves supports for survivors. For example, the expansion of the existing Independent Legal Advice for Survivors of Sexual Assault program from three Ontario regions to provincewide is a welcome enhancement. Through this program, survivors of sexual violence who are interested in legal options can receive up to four hours of free legal advice to help them make informed decisions about their next steps. We are glad to see expansion of this program, which has benefitted survivors in Ottawa, Toronto and Thunder Bay areas in recent years.
OCRCC also commends bringing sexual violence services to underserved geographic areas. This investment will increase options and service access to survivors in Leeds and Grenville — where there is currently no sexual violence support service at all — and to Dufferin County, a rural-urban component of the large Peel region. Sexual violence services will also be expanded into Nipissing, Ontario. In rural and northern regions, in particular, we know that populations often reside across large geographic areas, creating unique access challenges for survivors of violence.
More services for sexual violence survivors is a positive achievement. Notwithstanding, we note that two of the three enhancements above are more closely connected with criminal justice services than community-based services. Community agencies dedicated to gender-based violence response bring particular expertise about survivors in local communities. For example, when survivors express a need for safe housing, face local trends in crime, or increase their calls to our crisis line, community-based sexual assault centres are the first to know this. It is also a reality that many survivors choose not to engage in the criminal justice system, or do not see positive outcomes when reporting sexual assault. Given this, community organizations like shelters and sexual assault centres commonly work with hidden populations of victims that other organizations may not. These populations include marginalized and racialized survivors of violence; survivors from the LGBTQS+ community; survivors with complex safety or confidentiality issues such as victims of human trafficking; and those who choose not to access the criminal justice system, such as sexual assault survivors. While it is important that survivors of crime have access to the legal system, they may also need access to alternative supports not connected to the criminal justice system.
Last, the Ministry’s 2021 budget investment will initiate the implementation of a service-user complaint and feedback mechanism, as well as a requirement for all victim services organizations to collaborate with other service providers. We note that all OCRCC member agencies have existing mechanisms for service-user feedback, including service-user complaints. Nonetheless, we welcome all mechanisms that further support good support-seeker experiences. Finally, intentional community collaboration and systems navigation support is an existing part of our work. A prior review of the counselling sector conveys this: the Ontario Ministry of the Status of Women and Shore Consulting report on the Review of Sexual Violence and Harassment Counselling Services and Helplines (2017) found that service providers that deliver dedicated and comprehensive sexual violence crisis services in Ontario support survivors in navigating the system in a variety of ways:
“Service providers consulted recognize the importance of service coordination and the majority of service providers make attempts to work with other community services to support survivors and aid in system navigation…in addition to crisis response and counselling, the ability to navigate the system is important in helping survivors move forward after the crisis”.
We look forward to moving forward with the Ministry on all these areas.
Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy: Some positive investments to address gender-based violence
In the 2021 budget, we are glad to see the Ontario government’s move to invest 18.5 Million to support Indigenous Women and Girls as part of Ontario’s response to the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We know that Indigenous women aged 25 to 44 are five times more likely than other Canadian women of the same age to die as a result of violence; according to Amnesty International, hundreds of Indigenous women have been reported missing or murdered in Canada and most of these cases remain unsolved.An investment in a response to the National Inquiry – and a need for more robust response to the needs of Indigenous communities overall – reflects this reality.
We also appreciate the Ontario government’s investment of 18.5 Million over 3 years for housing support for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications on increased isolation at home created unique risks for those experiencing domestic violence. It also created complex service access needs for agencies that support these survivors: Ontario’s shelters and transition houses. These organizations have been at the very front line of the pandemic, responding to both the increased danger to survivors of domestic violence, as well as the dangers of the virus itself. By the first week of April 2020 alone, Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses (OAITH), which represents over 70 shelters across Ontario, noted that that 20 percent of their organizations had experienced an increase in calls. These numbers and challenges have only continued to increase.
Last, we are pleased to see investment to address human trafficking, which Ontario sexual assault centres are a part of. Indeed, while COVID-19 has “slowed down much of the economy…sex trafficking has not decreased, as the pandemic has made vulnerable people more vulnerable and more susceptible” to trafficking; in addition, “young people have been online [more], putting them at risk of online traffickers”. We think a community-based approach is the most effective way to support trafficked survivors, and we hope that the Ontario government prioritizes investment in community-based services for sexual assault and human trafficking, as it did in 2020.
COVID-19 and Ontario sexual assault centres
During the COVID-19 pandemic, support for survivors of sexual violence in Ontario communities continues. Ontario sexual assault centres are operating, with some modifications to services that include the closure of physical offices where required, the implementation of distance services, and enhanced crisis and practical assistance to respond to the impacts of the pandemic.
The pandemic has proven to worsen pre-existing social and economic vulnerabilities. Women and girls, for example, face risks, “including sexual exploitation and abuse, unequal access to assistance, discrimination in aid provision…and violence”. Racialized communities, impoverished communities, “and other groups that have traditionally been marginalized, tend to be harmed by a disaster more”, and have less access to helping resources. More, recent Canadian research has noted that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting people of color in Canada, particularly Black Canadians, both in incident and in death rates. Ontario sexual assault centres see these realities reflected in support-seeker income and food insecurity, sexual exploitation, and increasingly complex survivor needs.
Organizations working with survivors of sexual violence have been impacted by prior fiscal years, as well as the most recent pandemic year. Before COVID-19, Ontario sexual assault centres faced a longstanding history of instability and precarious funding: this includes government cuts to funding, funding commitments that went unfulfilled, and a lack of sector resource increases despite increasing demands for sexual violence counselling services.
In the midst of the pandemic and “after months of uncertainty and ongoing challenges, the [gender-based violence services] sector is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the economic and social fallout of the pandemic”. Aside from some time-limited federal grants, these realities have seen little recognition and investment.
While we are pleased to see investments by the Ontario government in some areas of the gender-based violence sector, other services remain with the same limited resources as they did before 2020. For Ontario to be safe for survivors of violence, all services, including domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centres, must have the capacity to respond to community need.For example, the Ministry of Community Social Services Client Satisfaction Survey recognizes that women facing violence typically access more than one service, with 39% using between five to seven services and 22% using eight to nine services. However, so far, resources to support this capacity have been received by some vital organizations, but not by others – including Ontario’s existing sexual assault centres.
Limited resources mean less for Ontario victims of crime. Sexual violence support services are a necessary investment—one that is timely, relevant and life-changing to many Ontarians. We are well aware that sexual violence takes a significant economic and human toll on everything —from our economy to our criminal justice sector, to our health care system, to the safety of those in our communities.
As always, we appreciate the Ministry of the Attorney General’s intention to engage Ontario sexual assault centres on next steps, including consultation, as part of their continuous improvement of victim services. We look forward to we look forward to working with government to ensure that sexual violence services meet the increasing demands, and to improve the lives of survivors of sexual violence in Ontario.
Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) is a network of community-based sexual assault centres in Ontario. Member centres have been supporting survivors of sexual violence and offering prevention education since 1977: services include counselling to survivors of recent and historical sexual violence, accompaniment to hospital, police and court, advocacy and crisis support. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, go to https://sexualassaultsupport.ca/support/
 Ministry of the Attorney General, 2016
 Statistics Canada. Incident-based crime statistics, by detailed violations, Canada, provinces, territories and Census Metropolitan Areas. Data release – July 22, 2019. Online: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=3510017701&pickMembers%5B0%5D=1.16&pickMembers%5B1%5D=2.16
 Ministry of the Attorney General, 2021. Letter, 2021 Budget, Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy.
 According to Canadian research, just 33 out of every 1,000 sexual assault cases are reported to the police, and just 29 are actually recorded as a crime See: Patel, A. October 30, 2014. for Huffington Post Canada. 460,000 Sexual Assaults In Canada Every Year: YWCA Canada. Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/10/30/sexual-assault-canada_n_6074994.html
 Ontario Ministry of the Status of Women (now Office of Women’s Issues) and Shore Consulting. November 14, 2017. FINAL REPORT: Review of Sexual Violence and Harassment Counselling Services and Helplines: 58-59.
 2004 Amnesty International report: Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada.
 Amin, Faiza for CityNews. April 8, 2020. Domestic violence calls surge during coronavirus pandemic. Online: https://toronto.citynews.ca/2020/04/08/domestic-violence-calls-surge-during-coronavirus-pandemic/
 Gallorini, M for WBFO (NPR). June 10, 2020. Coronavirus pandemic has opened opportunity for human trafficking. Online: https://news.wbfo.org/post/coronavirus-pandemic-has-opened-opportunity-human-trafficking
 Benzie, R. for Toronto Star. March 5, 2020. Tories to inject $2 million in new funding for rape crisis centres — one day after signalling $1 million had been cut: Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are earmarking $2 million in new annual funding for the province’s 42 rape crisis centres — one day after the facilities said $1 million had been cut. Online: https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/news-story/9877068-tories-to-inject-2-million-in-new-funding-for-rape-crisis-centres-one-day-after-signalling-1-million-had-been-cut/
 Global Protection Cluster GBV Protection and Response and Inter-Agency Standing Committee. Last updated: 6 April 2020. Identifying & Mitigating Gender-based Violence Risks within the COVID-19 Response. Online: https://gbvguidelines.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Interagency-GBV-risk-mitigation-and-Covid-tipsheet.pdf: 10.
 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Geneva, 2015. Unseen, unheard: Gender-based violence in disasters. Online: https://www.ifrc.org/Global/Documents/Secretariat/201511/1297700_GBV_in_Disasters_EN_LR2.pdf: 16
 Tasker, J.P. for CBC News. March 10, 2021. More racially diverse areas reported much higher numbers of COVID-19 deaths: StatsCan: Black Canadians in particular have been far more likely to succumb to the virus than others. Online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/racial-minorities-covid-19-hard-hit-1.5943878
 Ontario sexual assault centres saw cuts, (5% 1995) nominal increases (2004-2005, an annualized 5% increase to re-instate a previous government’s cutback in 1995; 3% 2007-2008) and no core increases at all (2005-2007 and 2007-2011). A component of the Sexual Violence Action Plan (2011 and again in 2015) included a now-permanent commitment from the Ministry of the Attorney General to increase funding support to Ontario’s Sexual Assault Centres. In 2018 the Wynne government announced an approximately 30% increase to the sexual violence sector in Ontario. This increase was intended to address significant increases in service access and service pressures following a number of high-profile sexual violence cases. Despite this commitment, under the Ford PC government, the funding increase never became reality.
 YWCA Canada, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), the Canadian Women’s Foundation, G(irls)20 and Oxfam Canada. December 2020. Women’s Sector At Risk Of Financial Devastation —Implications for Canada’s COVID-19 Recovery: 2.