Community safety includes safety from gender-based violence

Community safety and well-being plans (CSWPs) came into being as the result of the Safer Ontario Act, passed by the provincial government in 2018. It requires municipalities to create these CSWP plans, but offers little in the way of detail about what the plans need to include.

Recommendation #10 from the CKW inquest calls for the inclusion of intimate partner violence (IPV) in CSWBPs. The provincial government says its jurisdiction does not extend to mandating what goes into the individual plans developed by each municipality.

A number of communities have included a focus on gender-based violence (GBV), with provisions relating to both IPV and sexual violence, in their CSWBPs.

Including GBV in CSWBPs acknowledges that GBV, including IPV, is a serious and public problem, and that the community is going to be part of responding to and addressing that problem. It brings GBV out of the shadows into the public, which helps those living with GBV to feel less isolated. It makes GBV part of community conversations rather than a secret that people think they can’t talk about.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Find out whether your community is one of the 95 that have declared IPV to be an epidemic.
  2. If it hasn’t, contact your local women’s shelter or sexual assault centre to find out if they are advocating for this.
  3. If your community has already made the declaration, find out whether it includes GBV in its CSWBP. You can do this by asking your city councillor or the women’s shelter/sexual assault centre.
    1. If it hasn’t, raise the issue with one of your city councillors and find out how you can be part of the process to develop GBV material to include in the CSWBP. There may be a working group or steering committee already in place or you might be able to start one.
  4. Speak out about the importance of including GBV in your municipality’s CSWBP. Write a letter to the editor, talk about it at your book club, parent council meetings, your religious institution or service club meetings.
  5. Look at CSWBPs from other communities that have included GBV.

While the provincial government doesn’t mandate what communities should include in their safety and well-being plans, it does strongly encourage the inclusion of four areas for action, all of which provide openings for talking about GBV:

  • Social programming
  • Prevention
  • Risk assessment
  • Incident response

Some of the themes you might want to include in your CSWBP are:

  • Background information about GBV in your community: statistics, patterns, unique issues
  • Information about services that are already available
  • Service gaps
  • Common challenges for survivors and those who cause harm
  • Strategies for responding to GBV so then safety and well-being of the entire community are enhanced

You will probably want to include specific actions that you think your community needs to take to improve its response to GBV. These need to have clear and measurable outcomes so you can assess whether progress is being made.

Getting GBV into your CSWBP is a big first step and, once you have achieved this, you should celebrate your accomplishment. Then, you can get back to the ongoing work you still have to do:

  • Continue building connections with municipal politicians and others who have the power to implement the CSWBP
  • Make sure the community knows that your safety and well-being plan includes GBV
  • Monitor implementation by tracking activities to see if your outcomes are being achieved

Community safety and well-being plans on their own won’t end GBV, but they can play an important role in helping raise public awareness, making survivors feel less isolated and encouraging greater collaboration at the community level.

As a member of the Renfrew County community said at the time of the CKW inquest:

“To survive, you have to live in a community that takes responsibility for your safety.”

For more information about including gender-based violence in community safety and well-being plans, see our advocacy toolkit.