Taking it to the Hill

The federal government’s Status of Women Committee is currently conducting a study on intimate partner and domestic violence in Canada, in which it is examining:

  • the causes of intimate partner violence (IPV), including toxic masculinity, specifically in teen relationships;
  • how to improve supports and protections for women and girls in unsafe environments;
  • how to eliminate barriers facing women and girls who want to leave unsafe situations;
  • strategies to prevent IPV and to educate survivors and perpetrators, and
  • the criminalization of coercive and manipulative behaviours, as well as other public policy tools that could be used to eliminate these behaviours.

As the committee said in announcing its study:

“The committee looks forward to hearing from Canadians on this important topic. The committee will release a final report with recommendations that will propose steps that the Government of Canada could take to help eliminate intimate partner and domestic violence in Canada.”

It’s not clear how this work will dovetail with work being led by the Minister for Women and Gender Equality in Canada, Marci Ien, to develop a national action plan to end violence against women and gender-based violence, but it is encouraging to see an interest in this important issue from multiple government bodies.

The committee is presently conducting hearings to assist it collect information for its study. Luke’s Place was invited to appear as a witness on Friday March 25th. Below are the remarks I made to the Committee. You can watch the proceedings, which allows you to also see and hear the question and answer exchange between committee members and witnesses.

Speaking up

Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today on this important issue. I am the Legal Director at Luke’s Place in Durham Region. We provide direct services to women who have left abusive relationships and are engaged with the family law process and work at the provincial and national levels, conducting research, developing resources, providing training and engaging in systemic advocacy.

We welcome the work of the Status of Women Committee to study intimate partner violence in Canada which will, we hope, lead to ongoing government initiatives to both respond to that violence with appropriate services for survivors and develop strategies to reduce and end violence within families in this country.

I encourage you to read the joint submission from Luke’s Place and NAWL, the National Association of Women and the Law, to see all of our recommendations to the Committee.

Key themes

In my remarks this afternoon, I will focus on several key themes:

  • Any measures to address and end the violence that happens within families must apply an intersectional and gendered analysis. While people of all genders can be victims and perpetrators of IPV, research shows that those who identify as women are disproportionately affected, especially in situations involving coercive controlling abuse or homicide. When attempts to address IPV do not reflect this gendered reality, they are not helpful and, in some cases, cause further harm.
  • Potential measures need to take into account the voices of survivors as well as advocates and community-based experts who have decades of subject matter experience and expertise.
  • When new laws or policies are under consideration, time must be taken for proper consultation with all those who will potentially be affected —   victims, survivors, service providers, legal system actors and so on – so as many perspectives as possible can be included. As well, there needs to be a consideration of unintended negative consequences: acting too quickly can result in a law or policy that leads to further harm for those it is intended to protect.
  • When looking at ways to address and end IPV, all levels of government must commit to work together. For example, increased cohesion and consistency in family laws and their enforcement across all jurisdictions would be of great assistance to survivors of IPV.
  • Important as education for all those who respond to situations of IPV continues to be, it is also time to build accountability systems to ensure that what has been learned is being applied. Ways of ensuring all members of the judiciary have education on IPV is critical if legal responses are to improve.
  • Increased access to justice for survivors of IPV is essential. This includes, but is not limited to, access to effective legal representation regardless of ability to pay, expansion across the country of programs such as Ontario’s Family Court Support Worker program, and a rethink of criminal law responses, including mandatory charging and vigorous prosecution policies as well as present approaches to bail.
  • The criminalization of coercive control, Clare’s Law and the use of electronic monitoring systems in cases of IPV, among other ideas, are all interesting possible public policy directions that warrant a cautious approach coupled with careful consideration.

I encourage the Committee to consider the recommendations contained in the Women’s Shelters Canada Report to Guide the Implementation of a National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Gender-Based Violence for further and more detailed suggestions.

Thank you very much for your time this afternoon. I welcome any questions or comments you may have.

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