Apr 17, 2008 03:38 PM
Victims of domestic violence in Ontario will get same-day support to help them and their children escape abusive spouses under a new program funded by the province, Attorney General Chris Bentley said today.
The government is spending $1.7 million to have victims contacted within 24 hours of being informed that charges have been laid, which Bentley said will grant them access to the services they need more quickly.
"The very clear message is that if you call, you will be supported," he said in announcing an additional $8.2 million in funding for programs to help victims of domestic abuse.
"If you call, you'll get access to those supports within 24 hours. If you call, we're there. We're collectively there to help."
It's crucial to reach out to victims as soon as possible, said Patricia Wilson, who helps abused women as the manager of a victim witness assistance program in Toronto.
"All too often, a woman who has been abused by her partner comes to us on the day of trial, telling us she does not want the charges to go forward," said Wilson, who spent 10 years helping abused women in shelters.
She recalled one woman who became isolated from the only family and friends she knew in Canada – a common story among abused women, Wilson said.
"She didn't understand our court process, or her partner's charges and bail conditions," she said. "She was financially dependent on him and believed him when he told her that he would take the children from her.
"She had no understanding of her rights and was terrified of not only her abuser, but also the justice system itself."
The additional government funding follows a week of bullet-dodging for the Liberals, who have been accused of not doing enough to help victims of violence or their children.
Bentley came under fire last week after Noellee Mowatt, a 19-year-old pregnant woman, was jailed for more than a week because authorities feared she wouldn't testify against her allegedly abusive boyfriend. Mowatt later recanted her story in court and was released on bail.
The government was also slammed Wednesday by a mother whose eight-year-old son was killed in 2006 by her abusive ex-husband during a court-ordered visit.
Julie Craven, whose son Jared's name was used in an Ontario law requiring a coroner's inquest whenever a child dies during a court-ordered parental visit, accused the Liberals of offering pets more protection under the law than kids.
A program designed to provide supervised access to children of separated families will see its budget double to $8.4 million, Bentley said.
Services are currently offered at 79 sites in the province, but that could be expanded due to the increased funding, said Bentley's spokesman Sheamus Murphy.
A program that offers specialized counselling and education programs for offenders will receive an additional $2 million in funding, and $500,000 will go towards a bail safety program that provides legal teams to interview abuse victims to help make recommendations during bail hearings.
The additional funds announced Thursday will boost total government spending on such programs to nearly $200 million, said Deb Matthews, the minister responsible for women's issues.