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Supporting the health and wellness of people around Nipissing

'Some men come home and if they let off steam through violence then that's something you just have to live with. Those are all myths. Our counselling here helps women primarily to sort through that type of myth'

Rooted is all about the people and the places that make us proud to call our community home.     


Infamously, it’s one of the worst days in Canadian history. On December 6th 1989, 14 women were murdered, ten others were injured, it is known as the École Polytechnique massacre. A gunman entered the university and proceeded to shoot women in classrooms, corridors and the cafeteria, claiming he was “fighting feminism.”  

And 33 years later it is a moment that still has a profound effect on our country.  

“Every year since then, there has been a The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, and Nipissing University has a march, and organizations like ours really try to get the word out so that people are aware of the terrible effects of violence against women and how it can so easily be forgotten and ignored,” says Alan McQuarrie, the Executive Director of the Community Counselling Centre of Nipissing. 

 He goes on to say, “The 16 days of action is one way of really ensuring that if people remember and are aware of domestic violence, they're doing something about it.  It's really a movement to end gender-based violence and that would be our ultimate goal; to eliminate violence against women.” 

Beginning today, (November 25th) you are encouraged to wear purple to kick off the 16 Days of Activism campaign, and post on social media with the #16Days to raise awareness about gender-based violence. A host of other events take place over the next few weeks with the details here.

It culminates with the march at Nipissing University on with participants asked to meet in the Nipissing University front foyer at 5:30 pm. 

The Community Counselling Center of Nipissing offers a number of programs for families, adults and children with programs centering around addictions and helping people reduce the harm associated with addictions. 

“As well as people who've experienced trauma in their lives so that would include people who've experienced intimate partner violence or sexual assault.  We have programs for both men and women in those areas,” says McQuarrie.   

He says the education piece is a big part of what they do.  

“Especially because we're in a northern rural environment and in many cases, some families are living far away from services and it's important that services exist to support people. We know that domestic violence is a real challenge in rural areas because women have fewer places to go and also in small communities, everybody knows everyone, so it can be harder to make that break if women are seeking to escape violence.  

McQuarrie says there are three shelters in North Bay that work and support women with domestic violence but not all women in those situations seek the help they need.  

“Some women choose to stay in their relationships and that's actually a fairly high percentage of women who are experiencing intimate partner violence. They choose to stay in the hope that they can change their partner, but regardless of why they stay, it might be economic dependence or it might be just because they love their partner, they don't want to leave. That's where a center like ours is important, where women can come in, meet with us face to face or virtually and we can help them do a structured risk assessment to look at what kind of violence is occurring and how it affects the woman.”  

McQuarrie says sometimes women who are in relationships develop distorted views of their risk and they can actually be in very high-risk situations and they might not even notice.  

“We'll talk to them about some of the realities of intimate partner violence and the myths that people can pick up along the way and sometimes those myths are culturally based. We’re told that we should stick with our partner and just sort of tough it out, that you ‘don’t really have it that hard.’ Some men come home and if they let off steam through violence then that's something you just have to live with. Those are all myths. Our counselling here helps women primarily to sort through that type of myth.” 

McQuarrie says 79% of reported violence is against women, while men can also experience violence in intimate partner relationships. However, he says the issue is in the lack of funding to support those men. 

“There's no government that funds any kinds of support for men and it's really sad because we have these guys calling us before the police have ever been involved before there are any charges and they're saying ‘things are getting out of hand and I need help’ and we have to say we just don't have the resources to be able to help,” says McQuarrie.  

McQuarrie says they can also help with addiction issues.  

“People who are insecurely housed tend to have higher risk rates when it comes to substance use. What is really alarming is that no street drugs are safe, so people who may be casual users of substance, it may be recreational or it might be helping them cope or self-medicating in a sense if they're using a street drug supply, they're putting themselves at really high risk because often street drugs are contaminated with substances like fentanyl or that can have a really high risk  

McQuarrie says they’re looking to help people make them aware of those risks  

“We don't take an abstinence-based approach, we will help educate people about how you can reduce the harms associated with substances and support people in any of their plans as they move toward sobriety and a healthier lifestyle. Nipissing has one of the highest rates of overdose in Ontario and so because of that it's it is a huge issue for us and we work very closely with the North Bay Regional Health Centre, with CMHA Nipissing and with other related service providers to provide a seamless approach for people so that they can get the help they need,” he says.  

McQuarrie says they are looking to close the gap that exists in resources across the board by finding partnerships within the community.  

“We have close partnerships with the domestic shelters or Amelia Rising. We will refer clients between each other and we'll also work together on information campaigns that go out to try to increase awareness for women so that they know where they can go and where they can get support.” 

The Community Counselling Centre of Nipissing has been in service now for 50 years and McQuarrie says they have about 30 people on staff but they see about 3000 people a year.  

“We've got a really large base of people who are accessing services and many times these are people who don't want to go out of the city to get addictions treatment, they don't want to leave their job, they don't want to leave their relationship. They want to be able to come in to get services and support in a confidential way without really disrupting their lives so that's one of the benefits of a local mental health organization,” says McQuarrie.  

 He says the Centre had to adapt over the last five decades to meet the needs of its clients.  

“We've seen the collapse of the local non-profit credit counselling services right across all of Ontario. We're also seeing increased volumes of referrals so that stigma of mental illness and mental health is starting to fade away. Employee Assistance Programs are becoming more commonplace. People are becoming aware that mental health is a very real thing and people are starting to think ‘it actually affects me and or maybe I've gone through serious bouts of depression and I never knew what it was’ and it might be a case where someone can turn to addictions or substances to cope. As people become more aware, more literate in mental health issues they're more likely to reach out.” 

McQuarrie says that means they have more people reaching out but they also have new ways of providing those services.   

“We have gone virtual and that's as a result of the pandemic, but people in general are much more comfortable meeting on Zoom and what we're finding is, that will open doors for people who didn’t reach out before. For people who couldn't get childcare or they don't have transportation in the bad weather or they live many miles away and they can't afford to come in. Or it might be the case where they don't have any internet but they've got a phone, so we've adapted to make it much easier for people to access the services in the hopes that people can connect, even if they can't come in face to face,” says McQuarrie.  

He adds they are currently seeking new volunteer board director members as well.  

“We always like to have a good mix of people on the board and we're currently recruiting for a vacant position that we have on our board, someone with financial background who could potentially monitor our accounting or auditing.”  

McQuarrie says, “We could not do that without volunteer board members who guide us, who set the strategic direction for our organization and it's a really important contribution to our community.” 

If you have a story idea for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]  

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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