Sault Police board adopts declaration of intimate partner violence epidemic

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Sault Ste. Marie Police Services Board will integrate intimate partner violence declaration made at city council this week into its community safety and well-being plan

Sault Ste. Marie Police Services Board has voted in favour of adopting this week’s unanimously approved resolution made at city council to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic and integrate it into the city’s Municipal Community Safety and Well Being Plan. 

The plan, legislated by the Police Services Act, is designed to mitigate social risks that lead to crime and negatively impact the quality of life for community members.

Speaking to members of the police board during a meeting held Tuesday, Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Chief Hugh Stevenson said that raising awareness through the declaration of an epidemic could potentially help battle intimate partner violence locally.     

“It hopefully allows us to acquire additional funding for research in our universities, in our ministries, to see how we’re doing it now, how we can do it better — and how we can prevent what happened in the last few months,” he said. 

The adoption of the city’s declaration comes a little more than a week after a horrific mass murder-suicide that claimed the lives of five people, including three children aged six, seven and 12. Sault Ste. Marie Police Service told members of the media last week that officers had responded to a call of intimate partner violence (IPV) against gunman Bobbie Hallaert in the days before the killing.

The police chief told board members that he also wants to see a portion of any additional funding stemming from the epidemic declaration made available to help IPV victims, the vast majority of whom are women.    

“We’ve made some strides over the years, but we clearly haven’t got to where we can be where women feel safe in their homes when they’re living with an abuser,” Stevenson said. “I’m very comfortable that all levels of government will listen to this designation of epidemic.”  

Stevenson, along with North Bay Police Service Chief Scott Tod, have made a recommendation to the board of directors for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police to lobby provincial government to declare IPV an epidemic in Ontario. 

Ontario has rejected calls from an inquest into the deaths of three women at the hands of their former partner to formally declare intimate partner violence an epidemic.

The jury at a coroner’s inquest into the 2015 deaths of Nathalie Warmerdam, Carol Culleton and Anastasia Kuzyk in Renfrew County made that recommendation last year, along with 85 others aimed at preventing similar tragedies.

“I do believe a lot of us in the industry — in law enforcement and public safety, in shelters, in victims, in researchers — all know that we have to do more,” Stevenson said. “We have to do more as a society, and not one individual institution — all of us.”

The police chief, when asked, didn’t rule out changes to protocols related to how Sault Ste. Marie Police Service responds to IPV incidents in light of the recent epidemic declaration locally.   

“It would be unreasonable for any chief to go through what we did and not re-examine everything,” Stevenson told reporters following Tuesday’s board meeting. 

The father of one of the victims in last week’s mass shooting is also looking for changes to be made.

Brian Sweeney — whose 41-year-old daughter, Angie, died in the first shooting incident on the night of the tragedy — recently spoke with SooToday’s Kenneth Armstrong about his plan to prevent the same thing that happened in Sault Ste. Marie from happening anywhere else in the country, and intends on urging higher levels of government to listen to his recommendations.

The chief of police told reporters Tuesday that members of his police service are in contact with Sweeney. 

“I could never appreciate what he is going through, because I’ve never had that level of loss in my life. But I will make the commitment that we will always keep our eyes and ears open to alternative ways of doing this, so that this does not happen again,” Stevenson said. “I’ve seen his material, and I look at it with the lens of, you know, we have to follow the law. But it doesn’t mean that there’s options down the road for legislators to look at what he is proposing and look at how we can change what we’re doing.

“My heart goes out to him, his family, and the second family that lost the children. It’s devastating as a father, and a soon-to-be grandfather.”

There have been 7,859 IPV-related calls made to Sault Ste. Marie Police Service between 2018 and 2022 and another 621 IPV-related calls made between January of June of this year, according to statistics found on the police service’s website

– with files from Kenneth Armstrong and The Canadian Press

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