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June 28, 2000New measures aimed at domestic violence
Cellphones for victims
With the day's headlines blaring details of yet another attack on a battered wife, the Ontario government moved yesterday to fortify protection for victims of domestic abuse.
The Conservative government will spend up to $50-million to beef up victim assistance programs and establish electronic links between shelters, rape crisis centres and the justice system, said Jim Flaherty, the attorney- general.
The measures came one day after Zahra Zeinali, 39, was wounded by a rifle blast to the face from her estranged husband Javad, whom police later found shot in the head, killed by his own hand.
That attack followed the death last week of 35-year-old Gillian Hadley of Pickering, who was murdered by her husband Ralph despite a court order that he stay away from his wife.
Mr. Flaherty was not willing to speculate on whether the new measures could have saved Ms. Hadley's life.
"I think we have to do everything we can, leave no stone unturned, to address the issue of domestic violence," Mr. Flaherty told a news conference at Toronto police headquarters.
"At the same time, it's unlikely we're ever going to be successful in eradicating domestic violence, but that doesn't mean you don't do everything you can."
Mr. Flaherty's plan includes:
- Legislation in the fall to make the province's Office for Victims of Crime a permanent fixture to advise the government on policy and speak on behalf of victims;
- Expanding a program to guide victims through the justice system;
- Doubling the size of an existing crisis assistance program that helps victims get out of immediate danger;
- Expanding tenfold the Support Link program. The program currently provides to abused women 300 free wireless phones -- preprogrammed to dial 911.
About $30-million of the new funding is primarily for technology to link shelters and rape crisis centres with police, prosecutors, judges, probation officers and corrections officials so that victims can be kept aware of the legal status and movements of their attackers.
Women's advocates would have preferred to see that money channelled directly into front-line supports for victims who don't enter the court system.
"I'm not saying it's not a good idea, I'm just saying it's not what we need right now," said Eileen Morrow, co-ordinator of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses.
"Most women do not call the police, and I am concerned that we're focusing only on the victims this government thinks are worthy of support: victims who call the police, victims who go to court."
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