Montreal

Quebec's public security minister implores abused women to seek help regardless of curfew, other restrictions

The province is grappling with one fatal case of domestic violence after one another, prompting the public security minister to speak, in hopes of reassuring victims who need help during the pandemic.

'There are no restrictions for a woman that needs to leave a violent home,' Geneviève Guilbault says

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault says the recent string of violence against women is unacceptable. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

As the province grapples with a jarring wave of domestic violence that has claimed the lives of several women in recent weeks, Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault is trying to reassure women in abusive relationships, urging them to not let the curfew and other public health restrictions get in the way of seeking help.

There have been at least six women killed in Quebec since early February. Another woman, Rebekah Harry, 29, was attacked last Saturday and her 32-year-old boyfriend was arrested and charged with assault. Harry has since died.

Last Friday, the bodies of a 52-year-old man and a 40-year-old woman were found in the front of a taxi cab, and police say the man killed his partner before taking his own life.

"The context of the pandemic, the measures, and the whole environment of current restrictions must never, never, never stop you from asking for help, to leave a home or a place that's dangerous for you or your children," Guilbault said during a news conference.

"There are no restrictions for a woman that needs to leave a violent home."

According to the province's Public Security Ministry, there was a 45 per cent jump in the number of charges laid in connection with domestic violence between 2015 and 2020.

Guilbault also said there was a 12-per-cent increase in the number of victims reaching out to police. She says this shows that more is being done about violence against women.

Last Friday, police found a 52-year-old man and a woman inside a taxi in Montreal's Saint-Leonard neighbourhood. Police say the man killed his partner before taking his own life. (Mathieu Wagner/Radio-Canada)

"It's a topic that's become unavoidable," she said. "It's a step in the right direction. It's important for people to understand that this type of violence does not go unpunished in Quebec."

Guilbault was accompanied by Isabelle Charest, the minister responsible for the status of women. Last December, the pair unveiled a $180-million plan to fight violence against women.

As part of that plan, the province is spending $9 million for a feasibility study to determine if electronic bracelets for offenders can help reduce violence. On Tuesday, Guilbault said the study was originally due in March 2022, but she has now asked for it to be completed this year due to the urgency of the situation.

On Wednesday, both ministers were asked if more money is being earmarked in the province's next budget, to be tabled tomorrow, but Guilbault declined to answer, only saying the province is taking the issue seriously.

"If we need to put in more money, we will," Guilbault said.

Gaelle Fedida of l'Alliance MH2 says the government is not doing enough to address violence against women. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

'These murders could have been prevented'

For one group that advocates against domestic violence, the government's message today was very different from what they heard during a private meeting earlier this month.

They say the minister responsible for the status of women told them not to get their hopes up about the provincial budget, to be tabled Thursday.

Gaëlle Fedida is a coordinator with l'Alliance MH2, a group that represents second-stage shelters who provide non-emergency transition housing for people who are escaping domestic violence. 

"We will see tomorrow," Fedida said, referring to the budget.

Earlier this month, l'Alliance MH2 released eight recommendations for the government, and a call for more shelter space was at the top of the list. However, Fedida says an overhaul of the justice system to better protect victims is just as important.

"These murders could have been prevented," she said. "If all of the [work] that needed to be done had been done before, this would not happen so often." 

If you're in immediate danger, call 911. If you need help, SOS violence conjugale is a provincial toll-free crisis line, available 24/7, TTY compatible

You can reach them at 1-800-363-9010 by phone, or via text at 438-601-1211 You can also look for information on their website SOS's new website.

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