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Grieving Sault dad travelling to Queen's Park for debate on intimate partner violence

Dan Jennings will bring his daughter Caitlin's story to the Ontario legislature this week for the debate on Bill 173, which calls on the province to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic
Dan Jennings, with then-fiancée, Michelle Gilpin, speaks to Sault Ste. Marie its Council about his daughter Caitlin Jennings, who was killed in London, Ont. in a case of intimate partner violence. The pair will travel to Toronto this week to hear in person the debate in Queen's Park about whether IPV should be declared an epidemic in the province.

A Sault man who last year lost his daughter to intimate partner violence is bringing her story to Queen’s Park this week for the debate on whether the issue should be declared an epidemic.

Caitlin Jennings, 22, was found dead in a London, Ont. home on July 5 of last year. David Norman Yates, a 50-year-old construction worker, was arrested at the scene and London Police said the two were known to each other. The charges against Yates have not yet been tested in court.

In the wake of her tragic death, Dan Jennings has become an advocate for initiatives at all levels of government to put a stop to intimate partner violence (IPV) through the Facebook group he set up in his daughter's name: Caitlin's Heard.

In October he addressed Sault Ste. Marie City Council, asking councillors to make the declaration as a municipality. He has also been a vocal advocate for the federal Bill C-332, which seeks to add coercive control to the Criminal Code.

On Wednesday, Jennings and his wife Michelle plan on being in the gallery at Queen’s Park for the debate on provincial Bill 173, which has only one line: "The Government of Ontario shall recognize that intimate partner violence is an epidemic in Ontario."

Peggy Sattler is one of the NDP members of provincial parliament who introduced the bill. She represents the riding of London West, the city where Caitlin was killed.

”It was so fitting that the one of the MPPs is from London,” said Jennings. 

He reached out to Sattler after learning about the bill and was asked to provide a statement about his daughter and received information on how to RSVP for the sitting. Jennings said he is using his pain to bring change to the laws in this country to prevent IPV from affecting others.

“I want her to be remembered as a person and not just a statistic,” Jennings said about his daughter. “I want to show the human side, that’s why I have to be there.”

Reached by phone on Friday, Sattler told SooToday the bill has only one line because that is the first of 86 recommendations from the Renfrew County Inquest in response to the 2015 killings of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam.

”The reason that recommendation was first was because the province needs to do that in order to come out of the shadows and identify intimate partner violence as the public health emergency that it is,” said Sattler. “Making the official declaration of an epidemic mobilizes the the resources, the policy tools and all of the actions the government can take can then be focused on preventing intimate partner violence — because we know that it is preventable.”

The bill is co-sponsored by fellow NDP MPPs Lisa Gretzky, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Jill Andrew.

Jennings' story and the experiences of other victims' families and survivors from across the province are being included in the process.

So far, the provincial government has decided to not make the declaration. Sault MPP Ross Romano was not available for an interview for this story, but in December told SooToday the Ontario PC government is working on meaningful solutions on prevention and education strategies to combat IPV. 

“I know anybody can pull out a dictionary and look up what the word epidemic was and I thought let’s start there,” said Romano at the time. “When you actually look at what the definition is of epidemic, it is a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.”

Romano appeared to be directly quoting the Oxford Dictionary’s primary definition for the word epidemic. He did not reference the secondary definition: “A sudden, widespread occurrence of an undesirable phenomenon.”

At the time, Romano noted the Liberal federal government has also not made the declaration, which it still has not done in the months since.

As party whip, it is Romano's responsibility to ensure Ontario PC MPPs vote according to their party's official policy, unless members are allowed to cast a conscience vote, also called a free vote.

Sattler said intimate partner violence and sexual violence are public health issues that need to be addressed.

”Almost one hundred cities have made the formal declaration that intimate partner violence is an epidemic and the province has got to step up and recognize and acknowledge that it is — and then start taking action to prevent it,” she said.

Sault Ste. Marie made the declaration during a meeting of city council on Oct. 30, 2023. Jennings spoke at that meeting while holding a photo of Caitlin.

He hopes that Bill 173 will make its way through Queen’s Park and be supported by all parties.

”I wish they would get off the idea of epidemic being being medical,” said Jennings of the Ontario PC objection to the wording. ”Look what happens with all the medical costs because of IPV — all be all the trips to the hospital all the injuries the mental health —  that is a medical cost right there. So it's a medical issue. That's what they're not seeing.”

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