Violent deaths of women in Canada increased in 2020, study finds

Alongside COVID-19, another pandemic has wreaked havoc on the security and well-being of anyone it touches: violence against women and girls in this country.

Men caused more than 90% of violent deaths of women and girls in 2020, data says

As the world marks a year of COVID-19, researchers are calling out another pandemic that has ebbed and flowed for decades in this country: violence against women and girls.

In 2020 alone, 160 females were violently killed in Canada, according to a report published by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA) at the University of Guelph.

On average, that's one woman or girl killed every 2.5 days. 

That's an increase during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to 2019 when 146 women and girls were killed, the 88-page report named Call It Femicide shows. But in 2018 there were 164 instances of femicide, which is the killing of women and girls because they are female.

The CFOJA said in 90 per cent of the 128 cases where an accused perpetrator was identified, the accused was male.

Current or former partners

The study also found 41 per cent of violent deaths of the cases where relationship status were known involved a current or former intimate partner.

Of the 128 women and girls killed by a man in 2020, the type of relationship they shared was known for 88 victims of which 36, or 41 per cent, involved a current or former intimate partner relationship.

The study also found at least one in five women whose killers were identified as male were Indigenous — 30 out of 128 — although race and ethnicity on every case was not available.

The study is careful to avoid linking instances of killings to the pandemic because specific data is not yet available.

But there have been increases in crisis calls to shelters, as well as more serious and frequent instances of violence during the pandemic, said Anuradha Dugal, vice-president of community initiatives at the Canadian Women's Foundation in Montreal.

"We do know that there was a spike in gender-based violence," she said, adding that last year's numbers on femicides were "disheartening." 

However, Dugal added, "the reality of femicide, the murdering of women because they are women, does not shift year after year in Canada."

Resistance to recognize misogyny

The report also points to a resistance to recognize misogyny — or contempt and prejudice for girls and women — because it is not an individual characteristic.

"It is also a characteristic of patriarchal social structures and systems such as the police, courts, corrections, our governments our education systems, healthcare and our media," the report says. "It is part of the fabric of everyday life of women and girls." 

In 2020, the age of victims ranged from 20 years to 89 years, with an average age of 45. The largest proportion of victims was aged 25 to 34 and the smallest proportion was aged 18 to 24. Like the victims, the accused ranged in age from 21 to 94 years, with an average age of 47. 

Dugal says the conversation in Canada needs to pivot to what men and boys can be doing and not focus on victim behaviours.

"We need to shift the culture so men are responsible to each other and themselves and understand exactly that they are more responsible for this violence than anybody else and they need to take responsibility for that," she said.

"Men can ask for help," she said. "They can be strong enough and courageous enough to ask for help when they see things are getting out of hand."