Op-Ed

Ontario funding to fight domestic violence is not reaching all Canadians equally. Photo: CC Grant Neufeld.

Province needs to recognize severity of Aboriginal domestic abuse in funding scheme

This month, the Ontario government announced that 22 regions across the province would receive a total of $20 million as part of the Survivors of Domestic Violence Pilot Project, which is an investment that falls under Ontario’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy.

The affordable housing strategy is meant to ensure that “Every person has an affordable, suitable and adequate home to provide the foundation to secure employment, raise a family and build strong communities.”

Unfortunately, for this pilot project, it seems that not all people have been considered equally.

The list of communities that will receive funding has a definite focus on southern Ontario, while falling short in recognizing the northern regions of Ontario. This becomes especially problematic when you consider that northern Ontario is populated by close to a third of the province’s Indigenous communities.

Ontario’s Indigenous women report incidences of spousal violence at a rate that is 2.5 times greater than that of non-Aboriginal women. Not only does spousal violence occur at a higher frequency, but a report from Statistics Canada, Violent victimization of Aboriginal women in the Canadian provinces, shows that Aboriginal women experience spousal violence to a much more severe degree.

The report indicates that female Aboriginal victims of spousal violence were more likely than non-Aboriginal female victims to report that they had been injured as a result of the actions of their abuser. In addition, 48 per cent of the Aboriginal women victimized by spousal violence reported they experienced the most severe forms of violence, a designation which includes being sexually assaulted, beaten, choked, or threatened with a gun or a knife.

With this information in mind, it becomes evident that excluding Ontario communities north of Sault Ste. Marie from this huge chunk of funding is short-sighted and ignores a demographic of people that have been proven to need this aid the most.

With this project, the Ontario government has treated domestic violence like a one-dimensional issue, when in reality—like most social issues—there is a great deal of intersectionality to consider. Women are affected by domestic violence, but it isn’t enough to support women in general. Targeted funding must be given to the groups of women in Ontario that face the highest barriers to overcoming abuse.

In fact, this program would be ideal for Indigenous communities in particular, as the project’s web page states that “Participating communities will have the flexibility to design and implement their own local portable housing benefit programs for survivors of domestic violence.”

With so much debate about preserving Aboriginal culture amidst Canada’s history of forced integration, allowing northern Ontario’s Aboriginal communities to lead the implementation of a solution to domestic violence would likely make them more open to taking advantage of these resources.

The purpose of instituting a domestic violence prevention project isn’t so political leaders can give themselves a slap on the back and appeal to the masses—it’s to target and help people affected by a pervasive and life-changing issue.

Luckily, this is a pilot project, and there’s still time to extend the reach of this funding to Ontario’s northern Indigenous communities. The Ontario government must ensure it recognizes the women they have left behind, and adjust their domestic violence project accordingly.