Saskatchewan's political parties have received mixed grades on how they would tackle the province's domestic violence crisis.
Jo-Anne Dusel, the executive director of the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services of Saskatchewan, or PATHS, put three questions to all six political parties registered for this year's election.
Only the NDP and the Saskatchewan Party responded.
Dusel said if the party that forms the next government after Monday's election doesn't address domestic violence in a meaningful way, the province will carry on its disappointing distinction of high rates "not only of intimate partner and family violence, but the highest rates of sexual violence, of abusive elders, of child abuse."
Saskatchewan consistently has the highest rates of intimate partner violence among Canadian provinces.
"If this is not taken seriously or addressed in a meaningful way, it means approximately every three months, a woman is going to be killed by a current or former intimate partner," said Dusel.
The two parties that responded to PATHS were graded on their answers to each question.
The first asked whether the party would commit to develop a comprehensive provincial plan to address intimate partner and family violence.
"Intimate partner and family violence is complex," Dusel said. "Addressing the issue piecemeal, with an effort here or an effort there — you're never going to actually shift the very high rates."
The NDP scored an A for its response, and committed to developing an action plan to deal with interpersonal violence, which the Saskatchewan Party did not.
Dusel noted the Sask. Party cited some of the work it has done during its last 13 years in power, including actions stemming from the Domestic Violence Death Review recommendations. But she noted that doesn't equate to a plan and only a handful of recommendations were acted upon.
Dusel gave the Sask. Party a B– for its response, which also noted it would continue work on the issue if re-elected.
The absence of a comprehensive plan to tackle violence could be dangerous, Dusel said. For example, a well-intentioned public awareness campaign could actually create more challenges for an overburdened system if more resources aren't put in place to meet increased demand, she said.
Saskatchewan's shelters are already struggling to meet demand, Dusel said. That's why another question asked parties if they would increase operational funding shelters and services working to fight violence toward women, and commit to annual increases based on rates of inflation.
The NDP noted funding had not kept pace, but did not commit to increased funding if elected, and was given a C for its response.
Lack of adequate funding
The Saskatchewan Party got a D on the funding question.
"The Sask. Party states they review the needs each year, so for the last decade they have reviewed shelters' needs and found that meaningful increases were not possible or appropriate," Dusel explained.
She said shelters doing front-line domestic violence work haven't had a meaningful increase to operational funding in the last decade, even though basic costs — such as utilities, food and transportation — have gone up.
The combination of low wages and the difficult, emotional and demanding work have created low morale and high rates of turnover, she said, adding the problem has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's very difficult to attract new staff … when people with the same skills and training can get jobs within the public service and make, in some cases, nearly double the wage.
"Why would people want to work in a domestic violence shelter and experience all of the vicarious trauma for that wage?"
No promises for 2nd-stage shelters
PATHS also asked parties if they would provide ongoing operational funding to second-stage shelters — those that offer long-term support to victims of violence who are trying to escape violence at home, and provide a next step after a crisis shelter, where stays max out after a few weeks.
Both parties earned a "C" grade after indicating they would review the request.
"Saskatchewan is one of only two provinces in Canada that provide absolutely no operational funding to second-stage shelters," Dusel said.
She said the province's extremely low minimum wage and "inadequate social assistance" make it hard for many victims to gain independence, which often drives them back to their abusive partner.
Second-stage shelters are meant to help victims — and their kids — get back on their feet and find independence while also offering counselling and other healing tools.
Dusel said other provinces, like Ontario and B.C., have proven that domestic violence rates can be lowered if effort is made.
In those provinces, she said, "there is an effort by the government to actually address it in an evidence-based and co-ordinated collaborative fashion, and that simply hasn't happened here in Saskatchewan."
If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area, visit sheltersafe.ca or the Ending Violence Association of Canada. In Saskatchewan, PATHS has listings of available services across the province.