Lanark County, rural Ontario lead charge against intimate partner violence as Bill 173 advances

Advocates and politicians from across the province supported the passing of Bill 173 in Toronto on Wednesday. – Submitted photo

A bill that got its start in Lanark County passed its second reading in the Ontario legislature on Wednesday, April 10, signifying a significant step forward for those working to end intimate partner violence.

In a pivotal session on Wednesday, Ontario’s political leaders gathered at the provincial legislature in Toronto to discuss Bill 173, known as the Intimate Partner Violence Epidemic Act of 2024.

This legislation mandates the official declaration by the Government of Ontario of intimate partner violence (IPV) as an epidemic. The legislature witnessed a remarkable display of solidarity as survivors, advocates, and those impacted by violence came together, filling the chambers with over 200 supporters in a poignant demonstration of support for the bill. Advocates from Lanark County were in attendance. 

The bill has rural roots, and got its start right here in Lanark County. In September 2015, in neighbouring Renfrew County, three women, Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam were murdered by a man known to them. Subsequently, an inquest held in June 2022 gathered insights from thirty experts over three weeks, culminating in 86 recommendations, the first urging Ontario to declare IPV as an epidemic.

Erin Lee, executive director of Lanark County Interval House and key witness in the inquest, played a pivotal role in advocating for this bill. Lanark County became the first municipality to declare IPV as an epidemic in December 2022. After the initial declaration, momentum spread across the province, with nearly 100 municipalities and, in August 2023, Canada itself echoing the declaration. Despite initial hesitance from Ontario, the province’s recent endorsement of Bill 173 marks a significant shift.

After passing its second reading on Wednesday, the bill will now advance to committee for further scrutiny. Kirsten Mercer, the lawyer who represented EVA Renfrew County in the inquest, hailed the development as a victory for all Ontarians, emphasizing the urgency to translate this support into tangible action.

Lee, while acknowledging the progress, noted that the journey ahead remains arduous. With 131 femicide cases reported in Ontario since the Renfrew County Inquest, the urgency for immediate action resonates deeply among advocates. There is a collective call for swift implementation, as committee reviews could potentially prolong the process.

”We need to keep the pressure on because we’ve heard from survivors the injustice they continue to experience and we have to act now,” Lee said. “We need to hope politics doesn’t stop more action from being taken and we need to hold our politicians to account.”

To show solidarity and support for Bill 173, advocates urge community members to engage with their local Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs), underscoring the imperative for decisive action against intimate partner violence.

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