One in three women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime. A statistic like that is one of the many reasons that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne came to Guelph today to announce $1.75 million in new funding for the province's 42 sexual assault centres. The funding will be in addition to the $14.6 million that those centres already receive, and constitutes an ongoing financial commitment to the base funding that allows services like Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis (WIC) to help the survivors of sexual violence who need their assistance.
The new funding is meant as a supplement to the centres to assist in funding their base services like crisis helplines, peer support, individual and group counselling, and sexual violence education. The additional money is part of the province's commitment to the "It's Never Okay" action plan to combat sexual violence and harassment. A previous funding increase of $750,000 per year that was part of the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan in 2011, was set to expire in 2017.
"The reality is that many women in our province still do not feel safe," Wynne said, officially announcing the new funding. "This [funding] includes increasing our ongoing base funding support for Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis by about $26,000 per year. And this is just one of 42 sexual assault centres across Ontario that will receive increased ongoing funding. So this is not one-time, we're providing sexual assault centres the expanded, predictable and stable funding they need to offer survivors the best care."
After meeting with several of the women involved with WIC, Wynne made the funding announcement alongside Guelph MPP and Education Minister Liz Sandals. Sandals praised WIC for its outreach and its work with community partners in and around Guelph. "It feels very much that we all have a stake in Women in Crisis," Sandals said, "this is really an organization that we're really proud of."
Sandals also acknowledge that while she and Wynne had a good discussion with the women present, it's also "so frustrating that it remains necessary in 2015 to have to have such a discussion." Sandals added that, "sexual violence will not be tolerated in Ontario," and that the Ontario government is dedicated to working towards the elimination sexual violence in the province. "All Ontarians deserve to feel safe from sexual violence and harassment. And in order to achieve that, we all have a role to play," she said.
Wynne began her remarks by acknowledging the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. "It's an important acknowledgement because one of the things we're dealing with in this country is the reality of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and we cannot pretend that there aren't particular parts of our society, of our community, that aren't more impacted, or are disproportionately impacted," Wynne said.
Wynne explained that she believed government can help create a safe environment for women and men affected by sexual violence to come forward and get support. "Government exists to make people's lives better," she said. "To be a force for good, and part of that is about creating the conditions where people on the ground knows what has to happen for change to happen."
"I'm thrilled and truly emotionally overwhelmed at the moment," said Lenore Lukasik-Foss, Chair of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, following Wynne's announcement. "Last year, Ontario's 42 French and English language sexual assault centres responded to over 47,000 crisis calls from men and women survivors of sexual violence. With these additional funds, we will be able to strengthen our work and create real impact in the lives of survivors."
Taking questions following the announcement, Wynne said that the $1.75 million figure came from her desire to do as much as possible with as little bureaucratic strings as possible. "It was about doing as much as we can," she explained. "What we did want is it to be as a significant amount as it could be, and my intention was that it would be base funding so that people wouldn't have to hire someone to apply for, that it was money that would go to the centres in recognition of the work they were already doing."
According to WIC Executive Director Sly Castaldi, her organization's share of the new funding, is going to affirm what WIC is already doing. "I think it will go to enhancing our services, but that's what we do any time we get an increase in funding," she said.
"I really think we have to recognize that what is done everyday - the peer counselling, the intake, the administration of a centre like this - is such important work, and we have to make sure that there's adequate funding so that the things that are working can continue to be done," Wynne added.