‘We’re tapped’: Report says Alberta women at high risk of being killed, more turned away at shelters

Jan Reimer (Executive Director, Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters) released annual provincial data on domestic violence and women’s shelters in Alberta on Wednesday December 4, 2019. These statistics show the extent of the ongoing domestic violence in Alberta and the impact of shelters on the lives of families using these services. Larry Wong / POSTMEDIA NETWORK

The number of women, children and seniors turned away from shelters across Alberta nearly doubled over the course of a year, according to a report released Wednesday.

The 2019 report by the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) shows there was 23,247 turn aways due to a lack of capacity, an increase of nearly 40 per cent from the last report. The number of women, children and seniors sheltered remained around the mid-10,000 mark.

Ebony Rempel, the director at Odyssey House in Grande Prairie, said this year they had to turn more women and children away because there simply wasn’t enough room.

“It’s really frustrating and we’re tapped,” she said. “Now that we’re in this age of #Metoo and #Timesup, we want to ensure families are safe. We’re at a point now where we are turning away more people than we’re able to support. We need to do better.”

Rempel stressed shelters offer more services than just a bed. She said women can always come to the shelter for support or access them through the crisis line.

The report also states nearly 2/3 of women entering shelters — roughly 65.9 per cent — are at severe or extreme risk of being killed by their partner.

ACWS executive director Jan Reimer said this is the highest the risk level has been in eight years.

“We’re continuing to see more and more women at extreme risk of being killed,” she said. “That has to be really troubling for every Albertan. We know that we have so much more we need to do.”

Shelters conduct what is known as a danger assessment to establish the likelihood of a woman’s intimate partner killing them. Over the past few years, the percentage assessed at the severe and extreme danger levels has remained in the low 60s, with this year being the highest reported yet.

According to the report, more women are being strangled and threatened with a gun.

Reimer wanted to stress that shelter programs work, which is highlighted in the report by showing 96 per cent of women and seniors not returning to their abusers after their stay at a shelter.

ACWS says Alberta has one of the highest domestic violence in the country. The province is looking to take steps to address domestic violence through Bill 17, also known as Clare’s Law.

The bill received royal assent in October but isn’t expected to come into force until next year. The main highlight of Clare’s Law would be to give people the right to ask if their partner has a history of domestic violence, in defined circumstances, and allow police to provide relevant information to people at risk without an application.

Reimer added she believed Clare’s Law will help and shelters could play a big role in its implementation.

Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney said she’s still reviewing the report and wouldn’t comment on any of the specifics. She did say it was alarming to hear women were at such a high risk of being killed.

“It is certainly something that this government takes very seriously,” she added. “We’re committed to helping vulnerable Albertans, including victims or potential victims of domestic violence. Of course, it is a concern for us.”

She mentioned the recent budget did maintain funding for shelters at $51 million and Bill 17 is expected to be proclaimed in spring 2020.

— With files from Janet French