Advocates call for action in wake of Toronto van attack, domestic violence homicides

Women's advocates are calling on all levels of government to step up and address violence and misogyny, they say was a force behind Monday's van attack, along with a growing number of homicides linked to domestic violence in the Greater Toronto Area.

While police continue to investigate motive in Monday's attack, women's advocates say misogyny is a clue

A woman reaches over flowers to write a note on the makeshift memorial for the victims of Monday's van attack. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Women's advocates are calling on all levels of government to step up and address violence and misogyny, they say was a force behind Monday's van attack, along with a growing number of homicides linked to domestic violence in the Greater Toronto Area. 

Accused van driver, Alek Minassian, is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder in connection with the incident. Police said the 25-year-old is alleged to have published a "cryptic" Facebook post minutes before the attack unfolded.  

His post called for an "incel rebellion." The Incel community — "involuntary celibates" — are active on online platforms associated with the alt-right. Some experts have called this fringe internet movement misogynistic. 

The North York Women's Shelter and Peel Committee Against Woman Abuse (PCAWA) also point to several homicides in 2018, including the deaths of Baljit Thandi and Avtar Kaur early this year, Holly Hamilton and the triple murders of the Pejcinovski family, as evidence of increasing violence against women. 

According to the Canadian Women's Foundation — every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by their intimate partner.

Police are investigating what led accused van driver, Alek Minassian, to plow into multiple pedestrians in north Toronto on Monday. (Pam Davies/CBC)

"Violence is everywhere, it's mundane ... [the van attack] is an extreme, exceptional case that everyone has rallied around and we're shocked," said Mohini Datta-Ray, executive director of the North York Women's Shelter.

"We're shocked because we don't pay attention."

We're shocked because we don't pay attention.- Mohini Datta-Ray, North York Women's Centre

Datta-Ray wants all three levels of government, municipal, provincial and federal, to commit more funding to frontline service and violence prevention work, along with "comprehensive" education on gender-based violence in schools.

"It means putting money where their mouth is, in terms of funding the programs activists have been calling for, things like anti-poverty initiatives ... What poverty does to women in violence; you cannot understate," Datta-Ray said. 

Mohini Datta-Ray with the North York Women's Shelter is calling for more funding and support for frontline workers and community services. (CBC News)

The North York Women's Shelter is undergoing $12 million revamp of its centre, with $9 million of the funds coming from a federal and provincial grant. 

The newly expanded shelter, set to open in March 2019, will be re-constructed using research that's based on experiences of frontline workers and women who have sought help at the shelter.

"Why don't women go to shelters? One of the reasons is they might have pets, that their partners threaten to kill; that's often the first thing that happen. We've built in pet kennels, for example," Datta-Ray explained. 

A digital rendering of the North York Women's Shelter after it's planned construction in March 2019. (North York Women's Shelter)

One shelter location will not solve a major issue such as domestic violence, a problem Laura Hartley, co-ordinator with PCAWA, said can also be bridged with targeted funding. 

"We've seen a dramatic increase in the amount of women coming forward to seek counselling and support, so we need increased funding for those support services."

Hartley added a major shift in attitudes toward domestic violence needs to change. 

"We need to be naming misogyny, we need to be talking about the sexist attitudes that normalize a culture and perpetuate violence against women."

Tory responds

Mayor John Tory responded to the calls to action on Friday and said he is "open to doing whatever we can at the municipal level to stop violence against women."

Tory added he has asked the city manager to "report to my office as soon as possible on what the city is currently doing to address the issue, and areas where the city could take action."

The Ministry of Community and Social Services confirmed the provincial and federal governments have committed $28 million for the construction and renovation of several women's shelters in Ontario over the past two years. 

The misogynistic ideology behind incels, or "involuntarily celibate," exists beyond the online subculture. Farrah Khan, manager of Consent Comes First at Ryerson University, and Humberto Carolo, executive director of the White Ribbon campaign, discuss the larger movement of misogynistic hate. 12:10

The province has also allotted $150.4 million over three years to "enhance access" to support services and spaces for women and children, along with supports in rural communities. 

Minister of the Status of Women Harinder Malhi said since Toronto police have not confirmed misogyny as a motive in the van attack, it "wouldn't be appropriate for us to speculate."

She stated, "the victims and families associated with this attack are deserving of privacy, respect and a public that doesn't' jump to conclusions."