Quebec's new domestic violence plan doesn't go far enough, advocate says

Liberal MNA David Birnbaum has defended Quebec's $600-million plan to counter domestic violence over the next five years across the province, but admits "the resources will never be quite sufficient."

Liberal MNA Birnbaum defends $600M plan, but admits 'the resources will never be quite sufficient'

Louise Riendeau, the spokesperson for the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale, says Quebec women's shelters are turning away 3,000 domestic violence victims every year. (Submitted by Louise Riendeau)

The Quebec government has detailed its new $600-million action plan to counter domestic violence over the next five years across the province.

Unveiled Friday, the plan includes increased funding for women's shelters, improved police training, more Crown prosecutors devoted to the issue and efforts to raise public awareness.

However, a domestic violence advocacy group says the province's plan falls short.

"It looks like it's a lot of money, but there's only $86 million in new money in this plan for five years," Louise Riendeau told CBC Montreal's Daybreak Monday. "It's around $17 million a year. It's not much."

Riendeau is the spokesperson for the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale, an association of Quebec women's shelters.

The group published an open letter this morning calling for more investments to combat an issue that impacts nearly 20,000 Quebec women every year.​

Riendeau commended certain aspects of the plan's 56 measures but, she said the group "would have liked to have stronger measures."

Shelters turn away 3,000 women a year

Domestic violence shelters are so full that approximately 3,000 women are turned away annually and are unable to receive services, said Riendeau.

In last week's announcement, Hélène David, Quebec's Minister for the Status of Women, said the new measures are intended to allow first- and second-stage shelters to respond to the complex realities faced by domestic violence victims, including women who live in remote communities and those with disabilities.

Spousal violence is consistently the most common form of violence against women in Canada, according to Women's Shelters Canada. The group says half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. (CBC)

Second-stage shelters offer support to women rebuilding their lives and regaining their autonomy, Riendeau explained.

Those types of shelters didn't have funding before, she said, so having it now is "good news."

But there are only about 100 first-stage shelters in the province for women seeking emergency help escaping a violent relationship — and new shelters are needed.

"We discussed this with the government for at least one year, but there's no money in this plan to have those new places," Riendeau said.

Better police training needed: Riendeau

The provincial plan includes two measures focused on improving police training, but Riendeau said she hoped to have something stronger in place.

"We need to be sure that when the police have to intervene, they acknowledge the danger — they believe the women," Riendeau said.

"Sometimes there's some harassment and the police say they cannot do anything."

With conjugal violence being such a serious issue across the province, "the resources will never be quite sufficient," said Liberal MNA David Birnbaum.

However, he told Daybreak the steps the province plans on taking will "go a long way."

MNA David Birnbaum said Quebec is making "every effort" to increase the number of shelters to support domestic violence victims across the province. (Quebec Liberal Party)

'These are not negligible efforts,' Liberal MNA says

Birnbaum, who represents the D'Arcy McGee riding and works as David's parliamentary assistant, said the provincial plan was derived from discussions with about 192 groups that provide services to domestic violence victims.

The plan includes $57 million to supporting shelters overall, he said, and the province intends to scout for new shelter sites, as well.

Birnbaum said "every effort" is being made to increase the amount of shelters, but that's only one piece of a much larger picture.

Victims need to be protected, police have to be there to help, and boys need to be sensitized to what it means to be in a "safe and secure conjugal relationship," Birnbaum said.

The new plan works to answer that need, he said, while supporting improved prosecution and rehabilitation efforts for offenders to prevent future acts of violence.

He said the aim is to create an environment that encourages more victims to come forward to seek help.

With the province investing millions of dollars in education and prevention, Birnbaum said "these are not negligible efforts."

"There are more that need to be taken. There's no doubt."

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak and The Canadian Press