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Toronto council unanimously passes motion to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic

City councillors voted unanimously to declare gender-based violence and intimate partner violence an epidemic in Toronto.

"History in the making, this is way overdue," said Carla Neto, executive director of Women's Habitat of Etobicoke, Ont. 

"This is all about the women, the children who have endured horrible situations, abuses and now the City of Toronto is saying we see you, we don't agree with this, this is not okay."

When Mayor Olivia Chow brought the motion forward, she shared a personal story of experiencing intimate partner violence in her childhood home.

"Watching my dad deteriorate because he couldn't find a job when he arrived in Canada and he couldn't drive a taxi," Chow said. "In his frustration and bitterness - not giving him any excuse - but he took out the violence against my mother."

Chow specifically remembered a call she got in the middle of the night from her mom, when she'd already moved out on her own.

"My mom was just beside herself screaming and weeping, saying 'Oh, help, what's happening,'" Chow said. "She was beaten and she had a crack in her skull. I said 'Get to the hospital, mom,’ and I got her out after she was stitched up. I said, ‘Mom, you can't go back home.’"

That story prompted other councillors to share their own experiences.

Speaker Frances Nunziata said she went through it 48 years ago when she was married.

"When you go through the violence in a marriage, it's very difficult, and I can tell you years ago it was very difficult to talk about it because you felt ashamed," she said on the council floor.

"I know they're ashamed because I was ashamed. I was afraid to tell anybody. And then I was accused, ‘Well, it's your fault, what are you not doing, are you not cooking? Are you not cleaning?’ Whatever."

Councillor Lily Cheng, who is going to be coming back with the interim report, also spoke up.

"As somebody who grew up with violence at home, it's also children who are victims in these stories, especially for new immigrants, sometimes you just grow up and you think it's normal," Cheng said. "I'm grateful for the healing journey that I've been able to go through with my family."

According to Toronto police, there have been six intimate partner violence homicides so far this year. Last year there were seven, in 2021 there were nine and there were five in 2020.

"I am hopeful today that this epidemic declaration is one step towards prioritizing the eradication of the violence, not just the response to the violence when it's already happened, but the eradication of it," Marissa Kokkoros, executive director of Aura Freedom.

The motion also calls on the provincial and federal governments to make the same declaration, one the Doug Ford government rejected earlier this month.

"It's our hope that we can change the premier's mind about declaring this an epidemic," said Heather McGregor, CEO of YWCA Toronto. "Two councillors and the mayor stood up to talk about their own experience will have, has had a big impact on all of us and I suspect it will have a big impact on the premier."

The declaration is just the first of 86 recommendations made during a coroner's inquest into the 2015 deaths of Nathalie Warmerdam, Carol Culleton and Anastasia Kuzyk in Renfrew County.

"With this declaration, and all the recommendations in there, I believe we could do a lot more," said Chow.

She discussed the recommendations including things like better support for victims, better tracking of perpetrators, better bail conditions, and more housing.

"Many of those that are waiting for affordable housing on our wait list, that 90,000 household will list some of them a woman leaving abusive relationships," said Chow.

Her apartment is what helped get her mom out of the dangerous situation, and she says it's critical to saving lives.

Chow said Cheng is expected to have an interim report back to council by the end of the year that will include the city's action plan. Top Stories

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