Kitchener South-Hespeler MPP promises action on declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic in Ontario

Jess Dixon is the Progressive Conservative MPP for Kitchener South-Hespeler. (Carmen Groleau/CBC - image credit)
Jess Dixon is the Progressive Conservative MPP for Kitchener South-Hespeler. (Carmen Groleau/CBC - image credit)

Kitchener South-Hespeler MPP Jess Dixon says work she's set to begin this month will lead to tangible actions that can be taken when it comes to the intimate partner violence epidemic in Ontario.

Dixon has been tasked with co-leading a subcommittee of the justice committee, tasked with moving the issue forward — something she said is the most exciting opportunity she's had as an MPP so far.

The subcommittee, which is set to begin work in July, had its origin in April when the Ontario NDP introduced a bill that declared intimate partner violence an epidemic in Ontario. The Progressive Conservative government supported the bill but stopped short of actually declaring intimate partner violence an epidemic.

"The government put that to committee because frankly, even if we had voted it in right then, we haven't actually answered, well, what then do we do? So, the direction was to explore this and come up with some real recommendations," Dixon told CBC News.

"One of the challenges that I've heard, like, from the NDP and from other people in the sector, which I understand where they're coming from, is this has been studied over and over again. It's not like we haven't had committees and round tables and inquiries and inquests into this before. It's not like we don't have recommendations currently in existence."

A photo illustration of violence.
A photo illustration of violence.

In April the Ontario NDP introduced a bill that simply declared intimate partner violence an epidemic in Ontario. (Shutterstock)

Dixon said the subcommittee will do its work in three phases and will run until December.

"Throughout July and August, we have 10 days of testimony set, so that's 50 hours of submissions," she said.

"Those are people that we have or organizations that we have invited specifically because we feel that they will play an important role in really laying a foundation of what we are looking at here."

She said phase two will be ministry-focused, noting that "you can't address this problem without looking at inadequacies in government. And it's not about bad faith or maliciousness. It's just governments are very, very large, unwieldy machines that have, you know, bits going off in the corner and bits that are gathering dust."

Subcommittee plans to prepare interim reports

Phase three will be the subcommittee's travel phase when Dixon said they expect to hear a lot more from victims, survivors, providers of shelters, among others.

"We'll go to Renfrew, we're going to go up north. Indigenous women are significantly statistically impacted by IP [intimate partner] and sexual violence," she said.

Dixon said the subcommittee plans to prepare interim reports for the first three phases, and the fourth phase would include consolidating those reports,  "to ultimately conclude, is it an epidemic? Are we going to declare it an epidemic? And if so, what are the responses? What do we feel the responses to that state of affairs need to be?"

Meanwhile, Dixon also spoke on the decision in May by Government House Leader Paul Calandra to send a proposed NDP sexual assault justice bill to committee, cancelling debate on it.

Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife's private member's bill, called Lydia's Law, would compel the province to provide statistics on how sexual assault cases are doing in court and mandate progress reports on implementing recommendations from the auditor general.

Catherine Fife is the NDP candidate in Waterloo in the 2022 provincial election.
Catherine Fife is the NDP candidate in Waterloo in the 2022 provincial election.

Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife's private member's bill, called Lydia's Law, would compel the province to provide statistics on how sexual assault cases are doing in court and mandate progress reports on implementing recommendations from the auditor general. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The bill is named after a young Ontario woman who was sexually assaulted and embroiled in lengthy and difficult court proceedings.

When it was sent to committee without a chance for debate in the legislature, Fife criticized the move. At the time, Fife said when private member's bills get sent to committees, "they languish there, and they die there."

"I resented the characterization that [by sending it to our committee] it was sort of silencing the voices of victims," Dixon said.

"The part that was silenced was the part where politicians talk. Committee is where the people that experience it and our experts on it speak."

Dixon said the addition of Lydia's Law to her committee has expanded its mandate.

"The scope of my committee was intimate partner violence … I was already planning on expanding the scope of it, but by putting Lydia's Law in, which specifically references sexual violence, I now, in my opinion, have a clear mandate to address not only intimate partner violence, but also sexual violence," she said.

"Sexual violence, I would say has been something that has been left out of the conversation a bit when we have been focusing exclusively on intimate partner violence."

In a statement to CBC News, Fife said the Ford government lied when they promised to expedite Lydia's Law by dispensing it, without debate, silencing the voices of women at Queen's Park.

"This key piece of legislation to address a failure of the court system needs to be urgently implemented. Holding the Attorney General accountable for rapists walking free should be a high priority to this so-called 'tough-on-crime' government," Fife wrote.

"The committee hearings to determine whether intimate partner violence is an epidemic in Ontario is nothing more than a delay tactic on the part of this government and a waste of precious time as women face increasing levels of violence. We are disappointed but not surprised. We will keep pushing for Lydia's Law to be called to the justice committee and implemented."