Dear Premier Wynne,
On two separate occasions this past year, I wrote to you as Ontario NDP Women’s Issues critic about the crisis in the Partner Assault Response (PAR) program and the risk your government is creating for women and children. I am writing once again because, despite repeated warnings from community leaders and experts, the Ministry of Attorney General has continued to erode the program and ignore the concerns raised.
On June 16, 2016, the Huron Domestic Assault Review Team (DART) requested that the Attorney General intervene to prevent the closure of Huron County’s 30-year PAR program, stating that the agency can no longer afford to subsidize the government on the delivery of what should be an essential program in every community. The situation in Huron County is only the most recent. Last month, the New Path program in Barrie quietly closed their PAR program after 15 years of service. If the Attorney General does not move quickly to protect the Huron County PAR program, it will be the fourth program in the past year to close – because of the Ministry’s willful mishandling of this critical community resource.
I am writing to you because it is not enough for your government to say you are collaborating, while you continue to ignore the advice of experts. It has been over a year since a broad group of community leaders wrote in good faith to the former Attorney General, asking for a halt to PAR “modernization” until a comprehensive review can take place. In response to my questions in the legislature, you and the former Attorney General assured me that no cuts to the program were being implemented. Nevertheless, despite the requests to stop, the Ministry has communicated with PAR providers through email that modernization (a.k.a. cuts) will proceed and in February 2016, the Ministry “reallocated” PAR funding citing the need to meet demand.
Premier, if your government would listen to the community as I have, you would know that the way the Ministry is calculating the demand is based on misunderstanding of the data, combined with ongoing mistrust of community input. Every time the Attorney General cites a “waitlist” problem, it signals to community leaders that the Ministry has not listened to their advice and that the Minister is not being briefed accurately. It is alarming that the Ministry does not value the expertise and commitment brought by PAR providers to this most complex issue, nor the difficulty of the work they do, which requires a high degree of experience and specialized knowledge to be effective. It is insulting that the Ministry has suggested that PAR leaders use volunteers to work with offenders as a way to manage costs. The idea of using volunteers to work with offenders is both offensive and disturbing, revealing a distinct lack of understanding on the part of Ministry decision-makers as to the seriousness of the issue.
Premier, the PAR budget is about $10 million for the entire province. By comparison, your government spends $1.5 billion annually on funding for children’s aid societies, a system that is failing many vulnerable children and where about 60% of the caseload involves domestic violence. It is not difficult to understand that stopping the violence at the source would have significant societal, economic and system impacts including better outcomes for children and their mothers. We need to invest more, not less in retaining PAR expertise and expand programming. Many Northern and rural communities do not have PAR or have one person trying to meet the complex challenges in their communities. We need definitive action that acknowledges your government understands the chaos that has been created by years of mismanagement and the ongoing paternalistic attitudes shown by the Ministry of the Attorney General toward community leaders.
Last September, three women were killed in Renfrew County by a man who had been in the system for years. Since then, how many more women have died in Ontario because we cannot get ahead of the crisis? We cannot afford to continue to ignore the evidence and the experts.
When will the Premier insist that her government genuinely listen and respond to the advice and evidence of community leaders and researchers? The PAR program is merely the canary in the mineshaft. I agree with the experts that we need a broad system level, cross-sector, non-partisan, multi-ministry, multi community discussion and review process that moves us toward prevention. Community leaders can give concrete and innovative suggestions about how to move forward. In fact, they have been working on it all along.
The people on the frontlines of domestic and sexual violence deserve our appreciation, support and protection. It is unacceptable that they have to fight so hard to serve the province. To this end, I am adding my voice to the people in Huron County in asking you and the Attorney General to take immediate steps to stop the modernization process, to stabilize Huron County’s existing PAR program, and to take further steps to stabilize all of the PAR programs across the province. We cannot afford to lose one more PAR provider.
I look forward to your prompt response to these urgent concerns.
Peggy Sattler, MPP London West
NDP Women’s Issues Critic