Family violence remains high in Saskatchewan

  • June 7, 2024

Recognizing the uncomfortable rise in the provincial family violence and intimate partner violence rate, the Government of Saskatchewan recently responded by announcing a $42.6-million monetary boost over three years to 34 community-based groups that specialize in aiding those harmed by interpersonal violence and abuse.

Catholic Family Services of the Battlefords is one of the beneficiaries. Executive director Kim Morrison said she welcomes any additional funding that could enable the non-profit to hire more staff and acquire more resources. The 33-year-old organization combats these societal issues by offering support services to women experiencing domestic violence and children exposed to savagery. And its counselling program works to help male and female perpetrators change their ways.

The need for the funding comes at a time when familial violence is on the rise in Saskatchewan. In 2019, the family violence rate in Saskatchewan per 100,000 population was 671. According to the 2022 data published by Statistics Canada last November, the total grew to 730 cases. The intimate partner violence rate in 2019 was 693; in 2022, it was 732. Both 2022 Saskatchewan rates are 200-per-cent higher than the Canadian rates for family violence (337) and intimate partner violence (346). The intimate partner violence frequency nationally in 2022 matched the peak from the year before. The family violence rate slightly declined from the high of 338 in 2021.  

Morrison offered a hypothesis as to why the domestic violence problem is more manifest in Saskatchewan.  

“It generally comes down to unresolved trauma,” said Morrison. “Here in Saskatchewan, we have intergenerational trauma. There is a long line of impacts here from colonialism. That approach of power has caused a lot of separation between people and their cultures, from positive parenting techniques and from knowing how to deal with family (problems) in healthy ways. This is exacerbated by the residential school experience that happened here and the day school experience.

 “Also, other cultures that have come to Canada historically have emphasized physical or corporal punishment,” continued Morrison. “There is a historical shift we’ve been trying to bring into place over the long term. It has shifted. It is no longer seen as socially acceptable or just something that happens.”

Catholic Family Services of the Battlefords and other organizations are working to disseminate the message that it is possible to unlearn the thought pathways and behaviours that cause violent behaviour.

A close look at Statistics Canada’s victims of police-reported family violence and intimate partner violence study reveals that before COVID-19, the level of Canadian family violence per 100,000 people was 321, and the degree of intimate partner violence was 331. Morrison said the pandemic lockdowns intensified destructive conduct.

“It is a shift that is still lasting,” said Morrison. “Families were forced into close quarters in a highly stressful situation that only occurs every 100 years. What happens internally is a buildup of tension, stress and pressure that a person doesn’t know how to relieve healthily. They take it out on someone. Usually, they think the person is causing that, but it is just a trigger that releases that internalized pressure.

“There is nowhere else they can release it, so it is released in the home, and there is nowhere for the other people to escape.”

Nationwide, the numbers aren't as daunting as Saskatchewan's. Many provinces are defying the national trends. Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island boast family violence and intimate partner violence occurrence rates lower than the national benchmarks. And though work remains to be done, Alberta appears to be on track to outperform the nation eventually. Compared to 2019, the Prairie province’s family violence rate has dropped from 374 to 361 per 100,000 and the intimate partner violence standard fell from 398 to 388.

Patricia Vargas, the director of children, family and community services for Catholic Social Services in Edmonton, applauded the “changing paradigm” in her home province as “more women are not staying in abusive relationships. They are seeking a way out.”

Some of these women and children who have been abused receive refuge, emergency services and specialized support at Catholic Social Services’ Lurana or La Salle shelters.

While Catholic Family Services of Battleford and Catholic Social Services in Edmonton play a professional role in reducing interpersonal violence, Vargas said it would be helpful if people strived to become better educated. There are aspects of intimate partner violence of which the general public is unaware, suggested Vargas. It is not solely an outcome of heated situational disagreements. It can be a deliberate, ruthless manipulation tactic.

“This abuse is used as a tool to control somebody,” said Vargas. “People get treated as objects and possessions. It becomes dangerous. As the partner tries to leave and seek freedom, the person becomes more and more brutal in trying to keep them in the relationship.”

Visit https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/stop-family-violence/services.html to find family violence resources and services in your area.

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