A University of Alberta expert says the deaths of two Edmonton police officers highlight the need for more government investment in domestic and gender-based violence prevention.
“If we want to prevent future tragedies like the one that we saw [March 16], we have to start taking the problem of domestic violence seriously,” said Lise Gotell, a Women's and Gender Studies professor.
Const. Travis Jordan, 35, and Const. Brett Ryan, 30, were killed in the early morning of March 16 at an apartment building near Westmount Mall, during a call to a domestic dispute involving a 16-year-old and his mother. Edmonton Police Service Chief Dale McFee told a news conference the 16-year-old shot the officers, then shot his mother, before killing himself. The mother, 55, was taken to hospital, and as of March 17 was considered to be in serious but stable condition. Police did not identify the boy or his mother.
Gotell believes multiple orders of government need to renew and expand investments in domestic and gender-based violence prevention to avoid similar tragedies.
“My point here is that we need a government that takes the problem of domestic violence, and also sexual violence, much more seriously (and) engages in strategic policy approaches, because we're all paying for this,” she said in an interview. “We're paying for this with the lives of Albertans.”
A study published by the Canadian Department of Justice in 2014 estimated the economic cost of family violence country-wide as nearly $7.5 billion per year.
“Researchers consider these costs to be underestimated because it is challenging to account for all the public, private and individual costs of family violence,” the study reads.
“Although studies on the economic impact of violence can be difficult to compare — since costs are considered and calculated differently — results all indicate that these costs are significant and are not going down.”
At Stop Abuse in Families (SAiF), a St. Albert non-profit organization specializing in domestic violence prevention and victim supports the number of calls received tripled early on in the pandemic, and have continued to rise.
A statement from SAiF's team of clinicians said despite an overall increase in calls, the organization receives few calls from parents disclosing abuse at the hands of their children.
“Parents remain quiet because they fear losing their child or being blamed for the behaviours of the abuser,” SAiF's statement said. “Parents who are being abused by their child often do not seek help because the fear of losing their child is greater than the fear of being hurt by their child.”
“Parents who do reach out struggle to obtain support as there are long waiting lists, limited resources, and/or they are afraid to be ostracized or judged by family members and friends.”
When asked how supports and services for parents experiencing abuse or violence at the hands of their children differs from the support and services victims of intimate partner violence need, SAiF's clinician team said a more wrap-around style of service is best, and identified the need for individual counselling as well as child support.
“Elders often indicate that the abuse from their child started early on in life and continued to escalate as the individual aged and the parent had less emotional and physical capacity to protect themselves.”
Gotell said the social and economic costs of family and gender-based violence are evidence of a systemic problem, one which will need significant investments to overcome.
“We need our government to be investing in this problem,” she said. “The government needs to invest in it, and what we've decided to do in our province is to push that problem down to underfunded non-profits and, quite frankly, on to the work of women who work in shelters and in sexual assault centres for very inadequate rates of pay.”
“We need a government that recognizes the problems, that recognizes that it's a gendered social problem, [and] doesn't treat this merely as an issue of crime control.”