Toronto Rape Crisis Centre says funding boost from province falls short

This week, the PC government announced a funding boost of $1 million for Ontario’s rape crisis centres - about a quarter of what had been promised to them by the previous Liberal government.

42 centres will receive $1M funding boost in 2019, says attorney general

Cynamin Maxwell of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, left, says the funding boost announced by the province has dashed the centre's hope of hiring a new staff member to cut down on a 15-month waitlist for face-to-face counselling. (CBC)

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney says Ontario's rape crisis centres will receive a funding boost of $1 million in the next fiscal year — about a quarter of what had been promised by the previous Liberal government.

Meanwhile, the centres say they are busier than ever, with multi-month waitlists and counsellors at risk of burning out. 

"It's a lot less than what we were anticipating and a lot less than what we were promised," said Cynamin Maxwell of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre on Wednesday.

In March 2018, the Liberal government pledged to give the centres $14.8 million dollars over three years.

That money failed to move before the provincial election, leaving rape crisis centres in limbo as they waited months to hear if the new government would honour the commitment.

This week, they got their answer, with Mulroney committing a boost of $1 million for 2019-2020, rather than the approximately $4 million that the Liberals had said would be provided.

"The original number was a lot more, and it would have enabled us to do a lot more," said Maxwell, adding that they still have no idea how the $1-million boost will be divided between different centres.

At present, Ontario's 42 rape crisis centres receive $14.8 million dollars a year from the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Hopes to add staff dashed

The Toronto Rape Crisis Centre had hoped to hire a new staff member with the provincial funding boost, but Maxwell says that's now impossible.

Their waitlist for face-to-face counselling has now ballooned to 15 months, which Nicole Pietsch, head of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, called "unprecedented."

Maxwell says their crisis hotline has also gone "through the roof," serving more than 10,000 people a year. 

Other centres, including those in Renfrew and Hamilton, had also hoped to bring on new staff to cut down wait lists.

Attorney General Caroline Mulroney's department has spent eight months reviewing sexual assault centre funding in Ontario. Now, a new review has been launched reviewing victims' services in general across the province. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The Thunder Bay Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault Counselling and Crisis Centre had gone as far as to hire a new counsellor when the Liberals made their announcement, but were forced to let that person go when the funding didn't materialize.

All in all, the demand for services in Ontario has been "explosive," said Pietsch in an interview with CBC News earlier this month.

Pietsch chalked that up to a larger cultural shift around sexual assault in which more people feel able to speak out. 

Review of victims services now in motion

So far, the government is committing only to a one-year funding increase for sexual assault centres.

"The Liberals make a lot of promises," said Mulroney in French on Wednesday. "That's why we have a $15-billion deficit."

The province has also announced a review of victims services more generally in Ontario across multiple ministries. 

"We're going to be getting people together to announce the framework for the review, and when we get that we'll be able to announce a timeline," said Mulroney.

The goal of the review, according to a provincial news release, is to "ensure victims of crime and their families can access the help they need when and where they need it most."