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VIDEO: 'It just rips your heart out,' Ford says of phone call with father of mass shooting victim

Premier Doug Ford said on Thursday his government will 'dig deep' and 'add some teeth' to an NDP bill asking for intimate partner violence to be declared an epidemic

This article was first published by SooToday, a Village Media publication. 

Premier Doug Ford spoke to the father of a Sault Ste. Marie murder victim by phone on Wednesday after his government said in the Ontario legislature it would support — and expand on — an NDP bill about intimate partner violence.

Ford was in Kitchener on Thursday for an unrelated announcement when he responded to a question from CBC's Aastha Shetty about Bill 173, which seeks to have intimate partner violence declared an emergency in the province.

Shetty asked why the Ford government is sending the bill to committee for study if it will mean further delay. 

Ford responded: "Yeah, they are tragedies. But we have to give this some teeth. We're going to bring it over the Justice Committee. And it's something that we have to deal with. It's one thing to pass legislation, nothing happens. Let's put some teeth into this, bring it to the Justice Committee and drill down. But it's a very serious issue."

The premier then recounted the phone call he made on Wednesday evening in response to a request by Brian Sweeney, father of Angie Sweeney — one of four people killed in Sault Ste. Marie on Oct. 23 by gunman Bobbie Hallaert. Although they were not directly related, Sweeney has said publicly that he thought of the three child victims in that shooting as his own grandchildren.

"You know, I talked to the father last night at nine o'clock in Sault Ste. Marie, Brian, that lost four, four people in his family. You want to talk about a hard conversation? You talk to a father that lost daughters, kids. Oh, my goodness. It just rips your heart out," said Ford. "That's the difference. You can hear these stories, but listen to the families that is affected. It's, it's terrible. The three young grandchildren that got murdered. Terrible. Just absolutely terrible."

Ford then doubled down on his promise to expand on the bill. 

"We have to dig deep into this. We, by the way, we've we put $1.4 billion towards gender violence. So it's not a lack of money. We're pouring money into it. But there's one thing to pour money, pass legislation. But let's put some teeth into this. It's really heart-wrenching when this this happens to the families. It has to stop. It tears the community apart too," he said.

SooToday was unable to reach Sweeney for comment on Friday, but spoke to Renee Buczel of Angie's Angels — the group created by family and friends of Angie Sweeney in the days after her death to affect change.

"I do have to give Mr. Ford credit," Buczel said of the call between the premier and Brian Sweeney. "He spoke with him. He said he's on board and he's looking for this change, right? So I'm cautiously optimistic."

Buczel watched online from Sault Ste. Marie as Angie's name was read aloud in Queen's Park, one of many victims whose names are now part of the permanent record at the Ontario legislature.

"When we say her name and we talk about it, it just brings that much more awareness," Buczel said. "Knowing that her name is being said and it's actually making change — we're hearing it."

Dan Jennings is the father of Caitlin Jennings, a 22-year-old woman killed last July in London, Ont. He made the trip to be in the gallery at Queen's Park on Wednesday when his daughter's name was read into the Hansard, the permanent historical record of everything said in the legislature.

"There was nothing more powerful than hearing Caitlin's name being read," Jennings by phone on Friday.

Jennings was one of almost 200 people who packed the gallery at Queen's Park to support the bill as it was debated and eventually passed a second a vote. He said he had mixed feelings about being among so many other victims' families who were in attendance.

"It was empowering but it was also very depressing because there was so many people going through what I had to," said Jennings. 

Although the Ontario PC government did say it would support the bill, Jennings said he was disappointed that neither the premier or Sault MPP Ross Romano were in attendance during the debate and vote. He was also disappointed that, due to the rules of the Ontario legislature, he and his wife Michelle were unable to wear their Caitlin's Heard t-shirts with his daughter's face on them.

With support promised by the provincial government on Bill 173, Jennings said he is going to focus his attention on the federal coercive control bill, Bill C332. On Monday, Sault Ste. Marie City Council offered unanimous support for it.

"Our word is getting out and we're one step closer," said Jennings.

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