The Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter will be full during the holidays — a tangible sign of the province having one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country.
While it will be a bittersweet Christmas for the mothers and children spending the festive season in the shelter after fleeing domestic abuse, executive director Rayann Toner’s thoughts also go out to the two out of three women who are turned away from the shelter, due to a lack of space.
Last year, the shelter received 2,008 crisis calls, but only had shelter spots for 513 women and 185 children.
Toner said her staff always try to connect women who can’t be accommodated with other Alberta shelters if they have room.
But if the abused women have to continue living in the community — either with their abusive partners, or away from them — members of an intensive case management team will help them navigate through dangerous waters.
“They will do a risk assessment for danger, help do some safety planning, and provide emotional support,” said Toner.
Team members will also assist with filing for court protection orders, connect the women to victim services and other parts of the criminal justice system, as well as various community agencies.
An annual study by the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters found that abused women in the province are facing a greater severity of violence — and this lines up with what the local shelter is experiencing, said Toner.
Nearly two-thirds of the women who completed a danger assessment questionnaire at Alberta shelters were deemed to be at “severe” or “extreme” risk of being killed by their intimate partners. More reported having their lives threatened, or being held at gunpoint.
Data indicates that Alberta has one of the worst domestic violence rates in Canada.
While 10,128 women, children and seniors found shelter in 2018-19, more than twice as many (23,247) were turned away due to a lack of shelter spaces. This is a 38 per cent increase from the previous year.
It’s a sobering situation, said Toner, whose shelter is looking at expansion options.
She noted this country has so many missing or murdered aboriginal women that there are calls for a national action plan. “It’s a genocide…”
While Alberta’s tough economy and stress around the holidays are cited as possible causes of the rise in domestic violence, she believes much of it stems from the larger issues of “misogyny, power and control.”
Some men don’t want to accept women as equals, she said. “It’s a human rights issue and a timely subject.”
Toner believes the problem can be solved through more societal education, so she’s heartened that more men are now joining the campaign against domestic abuse.
A sizable crowd is anticipated at a 4:30 p.m. candlelight vigil held Friday at Red Deer’s City Hall, marking the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre of 14 women.