Toronto

Ontario cancels $1M for rape crisis centres, prompting concerns wait times will spike

Ontario's 42 rape crisis centres have learned the $1 million funding boost they received from the province last year will not be renewed, fuelling concerns wait times for survivors of sexual violence will spike as a result.

Cancelling funding boost could mean layoffs, says activist

Deb Singh, chair of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, said the centres received word from Ontario's Attorney General Doug Downey directly last Thursday that the province would not be renewing $1 million in funding provided last year. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario's 42 rape crisis centres have learned the $1 million funding boost they received last year from the province will not be renewed, fuelling concerns wait times for survivors of sexual violence will spike as a result.

Deb Singh, chair of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, told CBC News Wednesday the centres received word directly from Ontario's Attorney General Doug Downey last Thursday that the province would not be renewing the additional funding. Currently, Ontario's rape crisis centres receive $14.8 million dollars each year from the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Singh, who is also a counsellor at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, said the additional funding provided by the PC government reduced wait times for victims seeking help from 18 months in October 2018 to six months in the first months of 2020.

Now she's concerned that won't continue. 

"We absolutely see that going back up again because we don't have those additional supports within the centre," she said. 

'Our government delivered,' says province

Singh says there was no expectation that the additional funding would be renewed, but with demands on rape crisis centres increasing amid the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, she hoped the province would recognize the need for added support for sexual assault victims.

In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for the attorney general said, "Our government delivered on its guarantee to maintain funding to the Ministry of the Attorney General's victims services programs, including sexual assault centres, at $60.2 million as a part of our commitment to support victims of crime and their families while holding offenders accountable.

"As our work continues to find ways of directing more resources and tools to the front-lines of victims supports across the Ontario government, we will be maintaining the same funding guarantee in 2020-21," said senior communications adviser Jenessa Crognali. 

The provincial government announced the additional funding last year as the heads of rape crisis centres warned they were dealing with months-long waitlists and counselors at risk of burning out.

The $1 million was only a quarter of what the previous Liberal government had promised rape crisis centres, but that money wasn't provided before the party lost power in the June 2018 provincial election. 

Of that additional funding, the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape received $76,000, with its use limited by the government, Singh said. Still, the money made it possible to hire three additional workers who provided face-to-face counselling, ran support groups and other services that will not be possible as a result of the cuts, she said. 

'A cruel cut to funding'

NDP womens' issues critic Jill Andrew issued a statement Wednesday calling for the decision to be reversed.

"Doug Ford is making a cruel cut to funding," Andrew said. 

"The Liberals waited until they were on the cusp of an election to react to #MeToo and the surge in survivors seeking support, and now Doug Ford's Conservatives are taking things from bad to worse for survivors of rape and sexual violence."

Singh too is hoping the government will reverse the decision.

"What we would really like is to be able to address this with the ministry directly," she said. "Our hope would be that the ministry would recognize that we're a very inexpensive service to be supporting victims of crime in Ontario and at a high quality level."

"But we need a real partnership with the government to be able to do that."

Ontario announced Wednesday its next budget will be delivered March 25.

Finance Minister Rod Phillips said his budget will "stay the course" in terms of the government's plan to balance the budget by 2023 — a year after the next provincial election. 

"It's prudent, measured and deliberate," Phillips said of the spending plan.

About the Author

Shanifa Nasser

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shanifa Nasser is an investigative journalist interested in national security and stories with a heartbeat. Before coming to CBC News, she was a Munk Fellow in Global Journalism at the University of Toronto. She also holds a Master's degree in Islamic Studies. shanifa.nasser@cbc.ca

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