Ontario opts not to renew the $1 million boost in funding to rape crisis centres

With the nearly simultaneous news of the Ontario government making therapy for anxiety and depression free, the news that they will be revoking the $1 million dollar grant for rape crisis centres in Ontario seems to have been overshadowed. This news came from the Attorney General of Ontario, Doug Downey, just last Thursday, resulting in an outcry from nearly all crisis centres across Ontario.

In 2018, the provincial Liberal government had promised a great increase in funding for rape crisis centres, but when they lost the 2018 election, this funding was not granted. In the wake of the Liberals’ loss, the victorious provincial Conservative government followed this promise with a $1 million grant to be divided among the 42 crisis centres in Ontario last February.

Although it was a much lower amount of funding than the Liberals were going to provide, this funding helped dramatically lower the wait times for victims seeking help, as well as allowed for the hiring of more support facilitators. However, this funding is set to run out by the end of the month, and not to be renewed by the Ford government.

“Provincially, we asked the government if they weren’t going to do that big boost in funding that we had been anticipating and needed if they could at least maintain that $1 million dollar funding divided by 42 centers, and they said ‘no’,” said Sara Casselman, Executive Director of the SASC.

In the Waterloo region, this reduction of funding will have dire consequences. The Sexual Assault Support Center (SASC) of Kitchener is one of the 42 rape crisis centres in Ontario that will face the repercussions. SASC not only provides support for victims of rape, according to Casselman, but they also “provide counselling, advocacy in court and hospitals, 24-hour support, public education of sexual violence, and other issues related to sexual violence.”

With such a vast array of support services for victims of sexual assault, it is no wonder how a cut to funding by the Ontario government will impact the SASC.

“Across all our programs, we have helped over 900 survivors by providing direct service last year, but we also get around 80-100 calls per month on our 24-hour support line,” Casselman said. With this number of sexual assault victims in the Waterloo region alone, the cut to funding will dramatically increase wait times for victims seeking support, and cause staff hours to be cut.

With the $28,000 the SASC received from the Ontario government last year as part of the $1 million grant, they “were able to hire a full-time group and workshop facilitator to help meet the demands”.

Drop-in groups, art groups, therapy groups, restorative yoga groups and music therapy groups, for example, were able to be created for survivors to utilize while they awaited private support and counselling.

Without the $28,000 that they will no longer receive, Casselman said she is “unsure” if this program will be able to be maintained in the upcoming year.

Casselman explained how necessary government funding is for sexual assault support programs, stating that “this is at a time when we have on average 140 survivors on our waitlist. Five years ago, if we had had 40 people on our waiting list, the [government] would’ve said it was a crisis. Our new normal is 140 survivors on our waitlist.”

With the number of survivors on wait lists increasing, and the amount of funding provided by the government decreasing, essential supports like the group program implemented at SASC will become nonexistent.

Should this continue, it is possible that the number of survivors reaching out to seek help will decrease as well.

As Casselman said, the Ontario government does not understand that “every person who calls, needs help then. A waiting list is not the thing that they need.”

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