MONTREAL -- Quebec Premier Francois Legault says that, as the leader of the province, he's horrified by the news of 24-year-old Romane Bonnier's death in downtown Montreal on Tuesday.

"I cannot believe that it happens here in Quebec," Legault said.

"Of course, as a premier of Quebec, I don't like to see that and hear that."

Bonnier, a singer, was stabbed to death in broad daylight on a street a block away from McGill University as many students and passersby watched.

Her ex-roommate and onetime boyfriend, 36-year-old Francois Pelletier, has been charged with first-degree murder.

Months ago, as Quebec was already seeing a very sharp rise in the number of femicides -- murders of women for gender-based reasons, usually by romantic partners or exes -- Legault condemned such violence in strong terms.

"There is nothing masculine... about violence towards women. On the contrary, it's exactly the opposite. I find that to be very cowardly," he said at the time.

On Thursday, he sounded shaken, saying the province is trying to find solutions but it's difficult to know what to do.

"I think it's terrible, especially what happened with this woman on the street," he said, responding to a question about two fatal stabbings this week in Montreal (the other of which killed a 16-year-old boy).

"We already announced a lot of additional money for... women that suffer at home. They can live in new places," he said. "But, of course, it's not easy to make sure that it doesn't happen."

NEW PROGRAMS, BUT FEW ANSWERS

The last two years have seen a huge surge of such tragedies, helping prompt Quebec to create its first-ever emergency fund that women can use to pay for things like taxis when they need to escape violence.

Bonnier was the 17th woman to die so far in 2021 in Quebec in a domestic or gender-related murder.

The 16th died just three weeks ago, when 44-year-old Anna Uitangak was found unconscious in her home in Puvirnituq, in Quebec's northern Nunavik region, according to media reports at the time.

This year is on pace to be even worse than last year, which reached a shocking total of 21 such murders.

In 2019, by comparison, there were 11. The previous yearly average was generally about 12 per year.

Despite Legault's strong words, his government has also faced heavy criticism on the issue. He took heat for largely leaving domestic violence out of this year's budget, with the province quickly correcting that with an additional $222 million announced this April, partly for women's shelters.

Legault said Thursday that the province has introduced some other new programs to try get women out of danger.

There's a gun-related program in conjunction with police, he said, to "put in place a special group that will try to reduce the use of [certain] guns."

EMERGENCY FUND NOW AVAILABLE 24/7

He didn't mention another program that was introduced last week, when the province announced an emergency fund to help people flee domestic violence.

Advocates had called for the fund, saying women face the most serious risk of attack when they try to leave a partner, and they sometimes lack money for things like a taxi or a night in a hotel that would help them get quickly to safety.

“That point… is the most dangerous point," one Montreal shelter director, Melpa Kamateros, told CTV News.

The new fund will be administered by SOS lines and service providers already in touch with the women, such as police officers and shelters, who will be able to contact the emergency financial assistance administrators and release money seven days a week, at any time of the day or night.

Some other provinces have created similar emergency funds and seen them used heavily.

In Alberta, in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, money from the fund was provided to about 3,550 people trying to "escape an abusive relationship," Alberta provincial spokesperson Justin Marshall told CTV. Total costs were $3.5 million.

In its announcement last week, Quebec didn't provide the total amount of the fund. It said it would begin with availability only in Laval and Montérégie before being rolled out to the rest of the province.


--With files from The Canadian Press