As violence against women escalates, Quebec groups renew calls for government to step in, stop the 'madness'

There have been six women killed in the province since the start of the year, according to Radio-Canada. The recent string of violence against women has one group calling on the province to say less and do more.

About 30 per cent of women who reach out for help don't get it, provincial crisis hotline says

Police discovered the bodies of a couple inside a taxi cab on Friday morning. Investigators believe the man killed the woman before taking his own life. (Radio-Canada)

For months, groups that help women get out of abusive relationships warned the Quebec government that the pandemic and its restrictions would lead to an escalation of violence.

Less than 90 days into the year, six women have been killed in the province have been committed in the province.

The most recent death came early Friday morning, when a 52-year-old man killed his partner inside a taxi cab, before taking his own life.

The attacks against women have left one advocate almost at a loss for words.

"It's absolutely insane," said Maud Pontel, a co-ordinator with Alliance MH2, a network of second-stage shelters in the province. 

Second-stage shelters are non-emergency transition houses for people who have left domestic violence environments.

"Right now, it's madness when it comes to violence against women."

On Saturday morning, Montreal police were called to a home in LaSalle. A 29-year-old woman was taken to hospital in critical condition, and her 32-year-old boyfriend was taken into custody.

Earlier this month, Pontel's group released a list of eight recommendations for the Quebec government, ahead of the provincial budget that's set to be tabled next Thursday.

Its top suggestion is no surprise — more shelter space for women who need to escape domestic violence.

Maud Pontel is a coordinator for Alliance MH2, a group in Quebec representing second-stage shelters for women. (Franca G. Mignacca/CBC)

SOS Violence Conjugale, the provincial toll-free crisis line, says it's received more than 34,000 online and phone requests for help since January — an unprecedented number.

Claudine Thibaudeau, a clinical co-ordinator with SOS Violence Conjugale, says too many people who reach out to SOS Violence Conjugale aren't able to get the help they need.

"Around 30 per cent of the time, when people call us to ask for shelter, we have to tell them that unfortunately we can't find a place for them within a reasonable distance, or that's catered to their needs, so we need to always be able to say yes," she said.

"Asking someone to call us back tonight or call us back tomorrow is counterproductive for their safety. Tomorrow, they may not have that opportunity to call."

The pandemic has led to more women being isolated and stuck at home with their abusive partners, the group says, but it's also worried that violence could surge as the province starts to ease public health rules. 

"As collective freedoms increase, in some situations partners may increase their violence to keep the power that they gained during the pandemic," said Thibaudeau.

Claudine Thibaudeau, a clinical coordinator with SOS Violence Conjugale, says many women who reach out for help cannot get it, due to a lack of shelter space in the province. (Submitted by Claudine Thibaudeau)

The recent spate of violent incidents has gotten the attention of elected officials.

Earlier this month, 28-year-old Myriam Dallaire and her 60-year-old mother Sylvie Bisson were killed in Sainte-Sophie, in the Laurentians. On Friday, Dallaire's ex-partner Benjamin Soudin was charged with two counts of second-degree murder.

Calls for action

At the time, the deaths prompted Premier François Legault to describe the killings as cowardly, and the act of a "barbarian.''

On Saturday, Mayor Valérie Plante took to social media and issued a call to end violence against women.

As far as Pontel is concerned, words help, but they don't save lives. 

"It's not because the premier will say some words at a press conference that we make a change," she said. "The government has to act now. Fast. And it has to put in place concrete measures to save women."

Last December, the province announced a $180-million plan designed to fight domestic violence, which included a pilot project to explore the use of tracking bracelets to help keep offenders away from their ex-partners.

Much of the money, however, is expected to go toward beefing up services in existing shelters, not creating new ones.

With files from Franca G. Mignacca