Posted on Thursday, November 8, 2018 at 3:30 p.m.
The fight to end violence against women is just getting started
Émilie Maheu, a 26-year-old woman and mother to a 22-month-old daughter, was killed last month in Alexandria in an alleged case of domestic violence. Her family, her friends and her community were shook to the core over this tragedy; an example, too close to home, of violence against women that begs the question: What is being done to prevent the next tragedy?
Émilie Maheu went missing on October 11, last seen around 1 p.m. leaving her job at a chiropractic office in Alexandria. She was found dead two days later in a field south of the municipality. The OPP have since charged Maheu’s ex-boyfriend and father of her daughter, 25-year-old Brandon Smeltzer, with first-degree murder.
The community of Alexandria rallied together to hold a vigil for Maheu, on October 24. The vigil was an opportunity to honor the young mother, whose daughter Élizabeth is just 22-months-old, and to support her family, friends, colleagues and neighbours shaken by this tragedy.
“My girl would be so happy to see everything that is being done for her,” said Émilie Maheu’s father, Claude Maheu. “She was such a good person. Émilie was so close to her beautiful daughter Élizabeth. Thank you so much to the community for supporting us like this.”
The vigil was co-organized by Nathalie St-Denis and Dr. Suzanne Filion, in collaboration with many community organizations dedicated to the cause, as well as by local businesses. "We could clearly feel the shock in the community in the past week," said Dr. Suzanne Filion, Psychologist and Director at Hawkesbury and District General Hospital and co-organizer of the vigil. “It’s visceral. Uniting tonight is a concrete gesture that helps us all to slowly digest the reality of this situation.”
Dr. Suzanne Filion, during the vigil, also stated that every six days in Canada, a woman is killed by her spouse or ex-spouse. And there are many other statistics that are just as revealing and tragic. In Canada, half of all women have been victims of at least one act of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. It is also estimated, according to the Canadian Women's Foundation, that one in ten women in Canada is currently a victim of violence.
With such statistics available, what is being done to prevent the next tragedy? Not enough, according to Anne Jutras, the vice-president of Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes (AOcVF) and the executive director of the Centre Novas-CALACS francophone de Prescott-Russell. "It is still very difficult to get the message across about violence against women. It's like it's still a taboo subject, people don't want to talk too much so they don't have to face the reality that it's happening here, because I think there are still a lot of people who don't think it's happening here," she explained. “We had an example with Emilie Maheu's death, it was domestic violence. It happens here, it happens in our backyards, in our homes and we have to talk about it.”
The same week that Maheu was found dead in Alexandria, the Ford government announced their abandonment of an expert panel dedicated to addressing violence against women in Ontario, called the Roundtable on Violence Against Women. This committee was established by the previous Liberal government in 2015 and was composed of experts from about 20 organizations working to provide the province with policy advice on violence against women issues.
"It's very, very disappointing," noted Jutras. “It was a table to which organizations involved in violence against francophone women in Ontario also had a place. The table was used to give information and share ideas with the government, and now the government no longer has its feet on the ground on this matter.”
According to Jutras, this lack of action on violence against women does not only come from the provincial government. She says that the Centre NOVAS is constantly trying to get more involvement and action from local elected officials, but sees no results. "The community rallied [for Émilie Maheu], the Centre NOVAS supported the organizers of the vigil, they mobilized to do something for Émilie, but the mayors didn't show up," said Jutras. “We all [other community organizations] have a hard time getting them to come to activities or take a position or even to help us financially so that we can develop projects or do what we need to do to break the taboo. There is no support there.”
This is also one of the reasons as to why the loss of the provincial committee is so disappointing. “It gives the lead, or permission, to other governments at other levels to do the same and to disengage from this problem, from the effort of equality between men and women, and to say that it is not important,” she said. “Now that the provincial government isn’t doing something, the municipal governments can now say, ‘We don't have to do anything either’”.