Quebec announces $1M emergency fund for victims of sexual abuse

Help centres for victims of sexual abuse say they're facing unprecedented demand for their services. They hope the Quebec government will add to the $1-million emergency fund announced Thursday.

Allegations of sexual misconduct and #metoo stir up 'social hurricane,' says women's minister, Hélène David

Lucie Charlebois, minister responsible for youth protection and public health, and Hélène David, minister responsible for the status of women, announced $1 million in new money for sexual assault centres Thursday. (CBC)

The Quebec government will distribute $1 million in emergency funding to community groups across the province that assist victims of sexual assault and abuse.

Hélène David, the minister responsible for the status of women, made the announcement Thursday, flanked by Lucie Charlebois, the minister responsible for youth protection and public health.

David said the money will be dedicated to new resources for frontline workers who are expecting a surge in demand, following the worldwide #metoo movement that has grown out of allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.

Similar allegations have surfaced against Gilles Rozon and Éric Salvail, two well-known figures in Quebec's entertainment industry, encouraging Quebecers who've been sexually harassed or assaulted to come forward.

"In past years we've seen waves of denunciation. Since Weinstein, we've gone from a wave to a hurricane, a social hurricane," said David.

Charlebois underlined the importance of accompanying alleged victims through every step of the denunciation process.

"We are aware that it is not easy to come forward, but we want people to know there are services there to help,'' said Charlebois.

Details on how the additional $1 million will be distributed throughout the province remain to be seen.

Charlebois invited organizations to get in touch with the Ministry of Health and Social Services, adding that youth, men and the LGBT community would not be forgotten when it comes to distributing the new resources.

Victims now face wait lists 

Support centres for victims of sexual assault told CBC News the new money is welcome but said much more is needed to deal with the chronic underfunding they face. 

Julie Tremblay, with Viol-Secours in Quebec City, said women and adolescents now sometimes have to wait up to three months before seeing a social worker.

''The worst part is sometimes after this period the victims decide to not use our services,'' said Tremblay.
Julie Tremblay, executive director of Viol-Secours, says in the last year 100 women have refused help from Viol-Secours after lingering too long on a waiting list. (Submitted by Viol-Secours)

This backlog began one year ago, Tremblay said, after a string of assaults was reported on the campus of Laval University.

''There was a collective movement of indignation towards sexual abuse,'' said Tremblay, who has seen a steady increase in the number of calls to the centre since.

The funding, however, hasn't budged until now.

''We did not see a single penny of new money,'' said Tremblay.

'It's heartbreaking'

Staff at the sexual assault support centre in Val-d'Or, in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, have also been forced to create a waiting list for the first time in the centre's 35 years of existence.

Workers at Assaut Sexuel Secours said this was due to increased demand, as well as their outreach work in Indigenous communities following allegations of police mistreatment of women two years ago.

Counsellor Judy Lafontaine said it is heartbreaking to have to tell women they can't get therapy right away.

"When women look for help, they need it now. Being turned away, they continue feeling helpess, torn,'' Lafontaine said.

Meela Mykoo, who is responsible for the centre's finances, said despite requests to several ministries, no additional funding has come their way since what she calls ''the crisis of 2015."

Meela Mykoo, left, and Judy Lafontaine, say no additional money has been provided to Assaut Sexuel Secours in Val-D'Or since the 2015 crisis. (Catou Mackinnon/CBC)
''We met with Lucie Charlebois a month ago, she told us the budget was done, and there was no additional money for these services,'' Mykoo told CBC News.

In an email, the Quebec Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat said that "Assaut Sexuel Secours in Val d'Or received a $264,000 fund from Quebec's community support program for 2016-17." 

The secretariat added that ''the centre's Mikizi project was still under analysis which should be completed in the near future.''

Government to adjust resources

Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée said that 43 centres across Quebec have a collective need of an additional $5 million per year.

''Money has been promised, but right now, these groups have received nothing,'' Lisée said during question period on Thursday.

When asked how the government would deal with the recurring problem of underfunding in community services, Charlebois said the province has already committed $223 million to prevention and support for victims over the next five years, including $23 million dedicated to colleges and universities.

"We've already spent $100 million. We will now evaluate where the demands are coming from, and if we need to reassess further down the line, we will," said Charlebois.

New Montreal hotline

Montreal police have set up a temporary assistance line for victims of sexual assault.

A sexual crimes unit investigator will be available Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., at 514-280-2079. 

The Quebec coalition of sexual assault centres also has help available across the province. 

With files from Catou Mackinnon and Angelica Montgomery