Every two-and-a-half days in Canada, a woman or girl is killed, and that’s a “persistently stable” rate of murder. That means it hasn’t changed since the University of Guelph’s Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability (CFOJA) started monitoring the situation three years ago. In their third annual report, the CFOJA noted that despite the pandemic, or because of it, femicide rates remain unchanged in our country.
“What the COVID-19 pandemic has done is bring to light for many the ‘other pandemic’ that has existed in Canada for much longer – the pandemic of male violence against women and girls,” said Dr. Myrna Dawson, lead author of the report and director of U of G’s Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence.
Dawson acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has rallied more funding for women’s shelters and agencies addressing domestic abuse, if only on a short-term basis, but she can’t say if that funding has helped prevent femicide deaths or had an impact on addressing their underlying cause.
“What we should be asking, then, is not whether deaths have increased, but rather whether the emergency funding can be turned into much needed, more consistent, and sustained funding in a future non-pandemic environment?” Dawson said in the report. “This would allow those working with women, children and families experiencing violence to more effectively respond because they have adequate resources to do so.”
As to the other pandemic question, whether or not lockdowns and quarantines have created more conditions for abuse and femicide, that’s also a complicated question to answer.
“There will always be random fluctuations in rates of violence and homicide from year to year so, if numbers are higher in 2020, we cannot know for sure if this is due to COVID-19 or to random fluctuations,” Dawson said. “Longer-term trends are needed before the impact of COVID-19 can be accurately examined.”
Even without the pandemic context, the report still paints a grim picture. Last year, 160 women in girls were killed violently in Canada, and when a perpetrator was identified, a man was accused of the killing 90 per cent of the time. A high portion of women and girls in non-urban areas are killed versus urban areas by a rate of 54 per cent to 46 per cent, and in the cases where the perpetrator was identified, it was often either a current or former partner of the victim ( 50 per cent ) or a male family member (26 per cent).
The report also outlines the stark differences between femicide and homicide. Women and girls are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner or family member, they’re more likely to be killed in a private location, more likely to be killed in non-urban areas, and more likely to be killed with excessive force than men.
“The role of misogyny – and male entitlement – continues to play a role in women’s deaths. Yet, still today, we continue to witness resistance to acknowledging this role,” added Dawson. “This is why we use the term ‘femicide’ to underscore that women and girls are killed because they are women and girls – because of their sex or gender, because of a hatred toward women. It is this misogyny at all levels of our society that the CFOJA wishes to highlight.”
According to the U of G, the CFOJA was established in 2017 to create a national focus on femicide in Canada by documenting incidents as they occur. Much of the information for the report has to be culled from media reports since official police and government information does not provide the full context of the killings. “Access to reliable and valid data is crucial to building and sustaining prevention or intervention initiatives,” Dawson said.
You can read the full report in either English or French by clicking here.