A Message from the Chair of the Board
This year saw Counterpoint finally get back to some sense of normalcy after the pandemic, and brought both positive developments, as well as continuing challenges to our important work.
Reflecting back it feels that this year has been one of our most active in terms of raising awareness of the importance of anti-violence work with men and community action about the need for sustainable PAR programs. This year saw us undertake a major campaign about the need for increased funding to ensure not only the sustainability of PAR programs, but also to allow our programming to respond to new emerging issues.
We are continuing to see a real change in the issues that many PAR participants are facing. The levels of poverty, homelessness and substance abuse we are hearing about are unprecedented and this reality brings significant new challenges to the work.
Financially, this year we experienced difficulties due to a funding deficit, with the Board having to consider options for our future that included closing our doors. This experience will not be easily forgotten. However, the crisis did bring us together in a new way. The energy and commitment of Board members and staff to fight for sustainable and accountable PAR programming was a transformative process, leaving the organization with renewed commitment, ideas, and optimism.
Thanks to the work of many PAR providing agencies across the province, collective action made an impact! In the spring, ALL PAR providing agencies received a one-time grant. Although it was not sufficient to cover our full Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) program deficit, it was meaningful and showed MAG was listening to those of us doing this work. It also demonstrated that MAG was not willing to see PAR programs close down for lack of funds. As we said at the time, “It was an important first step!”
This past year has also seen innovative new program initiatives enabled by COVID-related funding! Federal dollars, funnelled through the Canadian Women’s Foundation, supported Counterpoint to carry out innovative research projects. The results of two research initiatives (one focusing on high-risk response and the second on women survivors being charged with domestic violence offences) are informing an action strategy to push for systemic changes to the criminal system that will better protect women survivors.
Supporting My Sisters, a community development initiative supported by this funding, is an exciting addition to Counterpoint women’s program. women partners of PAR participants have created a vibrant peer support network.
Counterpoint is continuing to demonstrate leadership within the wider community through our unique training program, “Creating a process of change for men who abuse”. In addition to our usual nine-week training programs, we developed individualized training for an agency in Hamilton that had recently taken on a PAR contract. MAG has shown strong support for our training, promoting it to PAR program staff across the province. We look forward to continuing to work with MAG to provide this critically needed opportunity to learn together and share our expertise with PAR facilitators and community workers. This expanded training program has also become an important revenue stream for Counterpoint.
Our incredible staff continued to be positive and energetic as they worked through the many changes that took place over the past year. We began the year with facilitators doing virtual programming and, in some cases, doing individual phone sessions. Over the year, as the COVID situation changed, facilitators pivoted back to in-person group programming. The pandemic experience has reminded us all (Board and staff) of the power of in-person groups, while also demonstrating that virtual work has some unique benefits by allowing greater access for some individuals. For this reason, we are still offering virtual groups for those who find it difficult to attend in person, but are moving to focus primarily on in-person programming. We continue to assess the best balance of in-person and virtual work for all aspects of the organization.
Another positive outcome this year has been the strengthening of connections among PAR providing agencies across the province. A small group of us from various regions, worked together to advocate with senior leadership at MAG for increased funding and program review and updating. This work resulted in the formation of a MAG “PAR Service Table”. This group is currently chaired by MAG and has PAR reps from across the province, along with MAG staff. Intended as a reference group for MAG in policy and programming related to PAR, Counterpoint and the Native Child and Family Services were selected to be the two agencies representing Toronto. We look forward to seeing the Service Table become an authentic voice of PAR programming that can influence policy, programming, and funding to ensure women survivors are effectively protected and PAR programs are as effective as possible.
We experienced a new challenge in the Toronto provincial criminal courts this past year, , when the five courts that operated across the city were closed and moved to one huge high rise building next to City Hall. This move, coming on the heels of the pandemic, has only increased the chaos and confusion at the provincial court level. We have been vocal in our concern that safety of women and accountability of the system is being lost in the disruption that this move has caused. We are continuing to work along with other PAR agencies to push for systemic changes that will create a criminal court response to intimate partner abuse that will be will be effective in protecting women survivors and accountable.
As in years before, I want to end my comments with the greatest appreciation and respect for the staff of Counterpoint, who continue to do this critically important work through crisis after crisis. I am constantly inspired by the amazing work that they do, in protecting the safety of survivors and facilitating change in men who have been abusive! Whether it is doing their ongoing PAR programming, participating in the training program, the research initiatives, or implementing new women’s programming, the staff approach this work with energy, enthusiasm, and hope!
As one who has been directly involved in Supporting My Sisters, I also want to conclude with a heartfelt message of respect and admiration for the women with whom we work: women who maintain their humour, compassion, and strength, in the face of abuse and violence from their partners, and often indifference from systems meant to support them. There are so many issues to work on and change to bring about safety for women and to end gendered violence. However, the victories we have experienced this past year leave us optimistic and energetic in moving forward!
Chair of the Board