BY Ana Lucia Londono Flores & Gabrielle Dumont
“Society seems to judge the victims. It comes back to us, but never to the assaulters,” says Nancy Boucher, a domestic violence survivor.
Four years ago, she met her ex-partner on a dating website. Boucher says it was love at first sight.
“We had a passionate love, we connected right away,” says Boucher. “When he was in a good mood, he was the nicest man.”
Those tender moments didn’t last very long. After only a few months of dating, he had already shown signs of violence towards her.
Boucher wasn’t the only woman he had harmed. Not wanting her loved ones to worry about her, she decided to open up to one of her closest friends about her situation.
“I’m a strong woman who doesn’t give way. The people around me would have never understood my decision of staying with him,” says Boucher.
Boucher’s ex-partner was detained in August 2020. The trial became an ordeal for Boucher as there were several postponements because the accused changed his lawyer, lengthening the process.
“I don’t understand how someone with such a long history of violence could get away from justice,” says Boucher.
Maud Pontel is coordinator for the Alliance of second-stage shelters (Alliance MH2), which are shelters for women who are departing an emergency shelter and experiencing major security issues due to an ex-spouse. She sees domestic violence as another pandemic that needs to be addressed.
Since the beginning of the year, 13 femicides have occurred in Quebec. In just eight weeks, eight women were killed by their former or current partners.
According to the report #CallItFemicide, conducted by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA), 160 women and girls were killed in Canada in 2020.
Quebec counted 23 femicides in 2020.
Despite the CFOJA mentioning that it is too early to relate current femicides with the impact of COVID-19, Pontel notes that the pandemic has exacerbated tensions in many homes.
“Women are trapped,” says Pontel. “We have the tools to prevent and improve services for women and aggressors, but it takes political leadership as well.”
Claudine Thibaudeau, a social worker of SOS Violence Conjugale, explains that there are many times when the organization had to decline demands as there is not enough room in shelters.
“We are the key to these services and we should always be able to say yes, but there is a lack of space in shelters,” says Thibaudeau. “We had to tell women to call back later and that’s the worst thing that we can do since it may leave time for the victim to question the relationship, which is dangerous for her safety.”
With the help of the government, SOS Violence Conjugale was able to deploy a service by text and chat on September 14, 2020, to make it easier for victims to communicate. However, these services only work from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on weekdays.
“40 000 requests were made this year and that means there’s a great demand for help,” says Thibaudeau.
In early 2021, Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, announced the creation of a working group in charge of improving the support of sexual assault and domestic violence victims in the legal process.
The group would consist of the Justice Ministry, the Public Security Ministry, the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions, the Quebec Legal Services Commission which helps with legal aid and the Court of Quebec.
The creation of such a group was proposed after a report was released at the end of 2020 containing 190 recommendations, outlining the issues to be considered to implement new measures and services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
The Ministry of Health and Social Services also granted a total of $144.5 million in 2020-2021 for the fight against domestic violence. An additional $4.5 M went to women shelters for 2021-2022.
On April 2, people took the streets of Montreal to protest against violence against women and femicides. Other protests occurred in towns such as Sherbrooke, Victoriaville and Rimouski.
“So we need more money in the community network. We need a frim message from the government that denounces these types of things,” said Elizabeth Jean, a worker at Maison du Réconfort, at the protest.
“Right now, we are in the worse meaning of femicides that follow one another, week by week.”
As for Boucher, her ex-partner was sentenced to 36 months in prison. She says she can finally move on from her past. She hopes her experience will encourage other women to come forward.
“I want to speak loud for women who may not have the strength or the courage to speak up about their own experience.”