Mayoral debate: How to build a London that’s safer for women, girls

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A mayoral candidate shared her own experience of abuse at the final debate before London’s local elections, an event on Wednesday night that focused squarely on tackling violence against women.

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Sandie Thomas, a London pastor and founder of a black community center, revealed she was threatened with knife points while pregnant. She highlighted the experience and provided a response on how difficult it can be to get out of an abusive relationship.

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I did it,” she said. “Now I want to help others do the same.”

Visibly emotional as she revealed her own story, Thomas took a moment to collect herself as tissues were handed to the stage by a spectator. She later received applause from the audience gathered in a theater at King’s University College on the Western University campus.

Josh Morgan speaks at a mayoral debate in London at King's University College, Western University, on Wednesday, October 19, 2022.  He was joined by fellow candidates from left, Khalil Ramal, Sean O'Connell and Sandie Thomas.  (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)
Josh Morgan speaks at a mayoral debate in London at King’s University College, Western University, on Wednesday, October 19, 2022. He was joined by fellow candidates from left, Khalil Ramal, Sean O’Connell and Sandie Thomas. (Mike Hensen/The London Free Press)

The debate, hosted by London authorities dealing with violence against women, asked the candidates about their plans to create a safe city for women and girls. That pledge is a pillar of the Council’s strategic plan, but politicians have taken few significant steps to underpin it.

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Four mayoral candidates participated in the debate: Josh Morgan, Sean O’Connell, Khalil Ramal and Thomas. They shared a wide range of ideas to improve safety, from better lighting at bus stops to more affordable housing for women fleeing abuse.

There was only a veiled hint of London’s position at the center of an alleged 2018 group sexual assault that shook the hockey world and ousted the board and top executives of Hockey Canada. A woman is suing eight unnamed hockey players, including members of the 2018 Canada junior world team, claiming they sexually assaulted her in a London hotel room after a Hockey Canada fundraiser.

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You have to call this out, you cannot stand by and let these things happen. Men need to stand up and tell other men that the way they treat women is disgusting,” Morgan said, making only a vague reference to hockey players abusing women.

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The most politically revealing moments of the debate came when three out of four candidates shared their desire to boost London police resources. Everyone but Thomas spoke about the need for more police.

“You should know that if you call, you’ll get an answer,” said O’Connell, a repeat candidate for mayor.

Ramal stressed that women’s organizations should play a role in training police officers to better respond to domestic violence calls.

The next city council will have to deal with a huge request from the police shortly after taking office to hire 52 new frontline officers to meet escalating demands. It would require a large cash injection, between $3 million and $6 million, as these new hires move up the police payroll.

The police’s operating budget last year was $120.5 million. They make up 18 percent of the city’s annual budget. The average London household pays $558.46 to the police in property taxes each year.

Voters in London and in communities across the province go to the polls on Monday.

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