One day after Ontario rape crisis centre advocates raised the alarm that the province was ending a much-needed $1 million funding boost, the Doug Ford government announced it would actually increase centre budgets by $2 million.
Progressive Conservative MPP Jill Dunlop made the announcement during question period on Thursday.
“We are restructuring to provide better services that actually serve victims across Ontario,” said the associate minister of children and women’s issues. “For the first time, victims are being heard. It is the work of sexual assault centres that make for a real impact for those seeking services.”
Late last week, the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres was informed by the Ministry of the Attorney General that the one-time funding bump of $1 million provided in 2019 to 42 centres would not continue, coordinator Nicole Pietsch told HuffPost Canada Wednesday. Its base funding would go back to $14.8 million a year.
“Rape survivors deserve more.”
The PCs had provided extra funding in place of the previous Liberal government’s 2018 promise to implement a permanent 33 per cent increase. Although significantly less, the $1 million helped centres hire counsellors and offer more programs, including group therapy, decreasing wait times to about six months in cities like Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara. Without that funding, the coalition had warned wait times would increase to a year or more in some regions.
As of Thursday afternoon, the coalition had not been contacted by the province about any new money, Pietsch said. “We’d like to hear from them before we can respond, or comment on it.”
The $2 million is part of Premier Doug Ford’s government’s anti-human trafficking strategy, which he announced Friday. It is unclear if it will be awarded only to centres working specifically to end human trafficking.
“It is my personal mission to put an end to this disgusting industry,” he said at a news conference in Niagara on Friday.
The anti-human trafficking strategy pegs $202 million in new funding over five years in addition to an existing $105 million budget. The Globe and Mail said it appears to be the largest government investment of its kind in Canada. The province said it will use the money to launch a public awareness campaign and training, bolster police, Crown prosecutorial and child protective services, and support victims.
Indigenous-led support initiatives will receive an additional $4 million, and $6 million for community supports, Dunlop said.
In the legislature Thursday, NDP MPP Jill Andrew called the proposed $2 million commitment to rape crisis centres “peanuts.”
“Rape survivors deserve more,” she said. “Gender-based violence is on the rise, and your money is going down. It doesn’t make sense.”
One in three women have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in public, according to a 2019 study from Statistics Canada. It also notes nearly 40 per cent of women have been physically or sexually assaulted since the age of 15.
In 2009, 30,000 calls from survivors or their families and friends were made to rape crisis centres in Ontario. The coalition estimates it received more than 50,000 last year, and helped 17,000 survivors.
Update — March 6, 2020: This story includes comments from Premier Doug Ford and additional comments from MPP Jill Dunlop following a news conference.