I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 17 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Welcome to our two new members, Ms. Élizabeth Brière and Mr. Randeep Sarai. We're very excited to have you here on this committee.
Good morning and welcome.
Today’s meeting is hybrid, but I understand that there are no members in the room, which is excellent. We will be enforcing strict measures if you do choose to go into the committee room at a later time. I'm glad that nobody is there today. We're all virtual, expect for Mr. Clerk. I will be keeping an eye on your physical distancing measures.
In order to ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules which I'm sure most of you know already. Interpretation is available to you via the interpretation selection at the bottom of your screen.
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Before we begin, we need to adopt our minutes for the meeting we had last week.
Mr. Fortin, is this a point of order?
It won't take very long.
Everyone received the notice of motion on December 2. Everyone has read it. It merely involves having the committee report to the House the recommendation that it establish a special committee on the judicial appointment process.
I can read the whole motion, but it will take a few minutes, and I think everyone read it. It's up to you, Madam Chair, but I would like the committee to adopt it this morning.
Ideally, we would deal with it right away and hear from the witnesses afterwards.
I understand that, but Mr. Virani has moved to adjourn debate on that motion. It's a dilatory motion, so that means there is no debate after the motion has been moved and I, as chair, must call the vote right away. If the motion is defeated, then obviously we'll continue to debate your motion.
(Motion agreed to: yeas 6; nays 5)
The motion carries, and debate on Monsieur Fortin's motion is adjourned until a later time.
It is now my pleasure to introduce our witnesses from the Department of Justice and the Department for Women and Gender Equality. From the Department of Justice we have Nathalie Levman, who is senior counsel in the criminal law policy section of the policy sector; Stéphanie Bouchard, senior legal counsel and director; and Claire Farid, director and general counsel.
From the Department for Women and Gender Equality we have Lisa Smylie, who is director general of the research, results and delivery branch.
Welcome to the witnesses.
We will have two opening statements of five minutes each and then we'll go into our round of questions.
We'll start with the Department of Justice.
I am the director of the family and children's law team at Justice Canada. Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words about the inclusion of the concept of coercive and controlling behaviour within federal family law.
Changes to the Divorce Act that will come into effect on March 1, 2021, include a broad, evidence-based definition of family violence that specifically identifies coercive and controlling behaviour.
For the purposes of the Divorce Act, family violence will be defined as conduct that is violent or threatening, that constitutes a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour, or that causes a family member to fear for their own safety or for the safety of another person.
Behaviour does not have to be a criminal offence to be considered family violence under the Divorce Act. In contrast to the criminal law's focus on determining guilt or innocence, the purpose of the definition of family violence in the Divorce Act is to assist in the determination of the best interests of the child with respect to parenting arrangements, that is parenting time and decision-making responsibilities.
The amended act sets out a list of factors that judges must take into account when considering the impact of family violence on parenting arrangements. It specifically requires judges to consider whether there is a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in relation to a family member. Courts must take into account all factors that are relevant to the best interests of the child, and must give primary consideration to the child's physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being.
Coercive controlling violence is more likely than other forms of intimate partner violence to continue and to escalate after separation. Risk often increases after separation because the abuser feels a loss of control. Perpetrators of coercive and controlling violence may be unable to differentiate their role as a spouse from their role as a parent. They may use the children as a way to maintain control over their former spouse. As a result, based on an overall analysis of the best interests of the child, courts may order remedies such as supervised parenting time to protect family members.
Thank you. I would be happy to take any questions.
, I'm going to give my remarks that my colleague, Nathalie Levman, was supposed to provide. They're still trying to connect her to the committee. We apologize for the inconvenience.
I am the director of the policy centre for victim issues within the criminal law section at Justice.
Thank you for welcoming us to your study of controlling or coercive conduct within intimate relationships.
Coercive control in the context of intimate partner violence refers to a pattern of controlling behaviour that takes place over time and serves to entrap victims, eliminating their sense of freedom in the relationship.
A broad range of controlling conduct may be employed but the focus is on how a pattern of such conduct serves to subjugate, not the individual incidents wherein abusers exercise control.
Specifically, coercive control is concerned with the cumulative impact of the abusive conduct on the victim.
Legal systems have been struggling with responding to intimate partner violence, and other forms of family violence, for decades.
Criminal law has traditionally responded to incidents of violence and other forms of abuse, not patterns of behaviour. A broad range of offences apply in the intimate partner violence context, depending upon the conduct at issue, including assault, sexual assault, uttering threats, intimidation, forceable confinement, fraud, making harassing phone calls, trespassing at night and mischief.
The Criminal Code also requires sentencing courts to treat abuse of the spouse or a child in the commission of an offence as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
Additionally, as of 2015, non-consensual distribution of intimate images is also a criminal offence. Abusive spouses may also engage in this type of conduct to exercise control.
Criminal Code amendments enacted through former Bill in 2019 strengthened the criminal law's response to intimate partner violence by imposing a reverse onus on bail for repeat offenders, clarifying that abusing a current or former spouse, common-law partners and dating partners in the commission of an offence is an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes, and allowing a higher maximum penalty in cases involving repeat intimate partner violence offences.
In recognition of the fact that abusive conduct may involve a series of behaviours that can literally have an impact on victims' sense of physical or psychological safety, Parliament enacted the criminal harassment offence in 1993. This offence is designed to respond to the impact of a series of interrelated incidents on victims, in particular in the context of family violence, so the offence applies more broadly. It criminalizes engaging in specified conduct that causes a person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their physical or psychological safety, or that of a person known to them.
The focus of this offence is on the cumulative impact the conduct has on the victim, not individual incidents of abuse.
Criminal harassment may be charged alongside incident-based offences depending on the facts of the case.
Criminal Code peace bonds are also available to protect victims, including victims of intimate partner violence. Peace bonds may be imposed prior to the commission of an offence where any person fears, on reasonable grounds, that another person will cause personal injury including to their spouse or child, or will damage their property.
A wide range of conditions may be imposed, including no-contact orders, the breach of which is a criminal offence with the maximum penalty of four years imprisonment.
Ten provinces and all three territories have in place family violence legislation that complements these criminal law measures.
For example, this legislation authorizes emergency intervention orders, which can grant the victim the right to remain in the home and use the family vehicle. Conditions may also be imposed to restrain the abuser from communicating with, or contacting, the victim or members of the victim's family.
In terms of victim support, the federal victim strategy seeks to give a more effective voice in the criminal justice system to victims and survivors of crime in Canada. A key component of this strategy is the program development and delivery through the Justice Canada victims fund. A range of supports are available through this fund to victims of intimate partner violence. In particular, since 2016, the Government of Canada has made funding available through the victims fund to the provinces and territories in support of pilot projects to provide independent legal advice to victims of sexual violence.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to all of the witnesses for being here with us today on this very important topic.
As part of my law practice, I practised family law for many years, so I'm well aware of these issues. We should all know that physical and verbal violence in intimate partnerships negatively effects all genders and all children whether they are the victims or witnesses.
I'm glad to see that the best interest of the child test remains. We know through medical procedures like brain scans—things we never had available when I was first practising law—that being victimized or witnessing violence can be detrimental throughout one's life. This is something that the courts did not really recognize when I first started practising in this area. They thought once the separation happened between couples it just all went away, which is not the case at all.
One of my concerns with COVID-19 and the lockdowns and from what I'm hearing within my own riding is that people—and I'm thinking specifically of a couple of women at the moment—who are caught in these relationships are not really aware of what is available to them. In other words, they're not sure what is locked down. Are safe houses locked down? Are women's centres locked down? Can they go? Are they safe?
I'm not sure that between our federal and provincial governments there's been enough done to let them know that there are options. I'm wondering if the witnesses can comment on how COVID may be being used by abusers to exploit the inability of women to call for help or to escape their situation due to lockdown. Can they comment on what they feel the awareness is generally among those who are victims, as to what supports are available?
Thank you for raising a really important issue. It's something that's been talked about quite extensively in terms of the impact of COVID-19 on gender-based violence more broadly, and in particular, as you pointed out, intimate partner violence.
The research and data that we do have from the COVID-19 [Technical difficulty—Editor] shows that, much like crises more broadly, the pandemic is increasing rates of intimate partner violence and gender-based violence. A study by Statistics Canada early in the pandemic found that one in 10 women was either very concerned or extremely concerned about violence in the home during the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Statistics Canada's [Inaudible—Editor] from police services, there's been about a 10% increase in calls related to domestic disturbances. We know that's only the tip of the iceberg because about 64% of domestic violence does not get reported to police.
Community organizations across the country are reporting increases in domestic violence and intimate partner violence. For example, a study by Women's Shelters Canada in November 2020 found that 52% of their shelters across the country were seeing more severe, more frequent forms of violence than before the pandemic.
In another example, the Assaulted Women's Helpline in Ontario has seen substantial increases in calls since the beginning of the pandemic. We're talking about a magnitude of a 72% increase as of May 2020, compared to May 2019.
Canada is not alone in those trends. These have been reported globally in terms of indices in intimate partner violence, and we can imagine why. Women are isolated with their abusers, who, for example, are engaging in controlling behaviour, withholding technology, phones, controlling who they can speak to, cutting them off from friends, family and community organizers.
Perhaps I'll leave it there.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here.
I was fortunate enough to be on the board of directors of Escale de l'Estrie, a shelter in Sherbrooke that does amazing work to support women who are victims of domestic violence.
One thing is becoming clear: the ubiquitous nature of social media and instant communication technology has made it increasingly difficult for victims to find a safe space, away from the influence and control of their partners. Even if the partner is not physically present, he can always reach out to the victim.
Should the bill cover cyber-violence? I'm referring to direct cyber-violence—using technology to monitor, control or harass someone in their private life—and indirect cyber-violence, posting content about a partner online.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank the witnesses who are with us today. Domestic violence is an important issue, and any and all related factors are concerning, so I'm glad you're all here this morning.
I've looked at the overall situation, and the biggest question I have is this. How will the line between offences be drawn when it comes to domestic violence versus harassment versus coercive conduct? I realize Bill provides a definition. By the way, this morning, we are considering Mr. Garrison's motion, not the bill, but I appreciate that there is a connection and something of a definition.
Ideally, I would like to hear from all three of you, but since Ms. Farid is general counsel, perhaps she can answer. Nevertheless, you are all senior counsel, so I don't mind if one of you is especially keen to answer the question. What I'd really like to know is how the courts will distinguish between those three situations.
Ms. Farid, perhaps you can go first.
My colleague, Stéphanie Bouchard, already gave our comments and tried to make some of those distinctions.
You know, of course, that traditional criminal law focuses in on incidents, so it's an incident-based approach. That said, there have been some exceptions to that rule in terms of more modern offences. The criminal harassment offence is in fact a very good example of that. It aims to address the overall impact or cumulative impact of behaviour that takes place over a period of time. That's precisely what this coercive control offence being proposed by Bill —and which is also place in the United Kingdom, Scotland and Ireland—attempts to do. It is broader than our criminal harassment offence, but it takes a very similar approach to it in the sense that the legal test would be to look at the overall impact on the victim or the recipient of that type of conduct and to criminalize it and recognize that spousal abuse or intimate partner violence takes place over a period of time and often involves more subtle types of behaviour that serve to subjugate.
Evan Stark, who is one of the leading sociologists on this issue and has done a lot of research on it, talks about it being a kind of liberty crime resulting in the subjugation of the victim.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
As this is the first day of our study on coercive and controlling behaviour, I just want to take a second to put on the record how we got here. If we were doing a normal study of a private member's bill, as the sponsor of Bill I would get to make an introductory remark. Let me just say a couple of things briefly.
At the beginning of the pandemic I did a phone-around to the two independent police forces and two RCMP detachments in my riding. All four of those police commanders, when asked what the main thing was that they were seeing in the pandemic, first remarked on the increase in domestic violence calls. It was interesting that it was across the riding. It was interesting that it was the immediate response of all four.
When I had a discussion with them about how police felt about that, they very quickly raised their frustration that their ability to act was limited only to the most serious physical violence and their frustration at their inability to address issues of coercive and controlling behaviour, which quite often—almost always, in fact—are associated with more direct forms of physical violence.
I did a call-around, then, to the service providers for women's groups and women's shelter organizations in my riding and, of course, found the very same thing, that they reported a very sharp increase in demand for their services. Interestingly, they reported the same frustration. In the attempt to try to keep their clients safe, they were frustrated by the inability of the police to act until it was much later on in the relationship.
As a result of those conversations, I began to look at what more we could do as a society to address this problem. The British example was brought to my attention by Mitzi Dean, a local MLA who is now the Minister of Children and Family Development in British Columbia.
I drafted a private member's bill, Bill , which is modelled on the British law, so that we could look at whether this addition to the Criminal Code could help provide another tool for addressing the problems of domestic violence in this country.
The second part was to try to get more people to discuss and be aware of what's being called by some a “shadow pandemic”. I then decided to put forward a motion to this committee to conduct this study.
For me, the study has two parts. One is to raise the profile of this very significant increase in domestic violence and intimate partner violence during the pandemic. The second is to look for solutions, which may involve my private member's bill, but there may be other solutions that we could adopt that would help address this problem.
That's how we got here this morning, from my point of view, and I'm really pleased to have the department officials here to help us try to address this problem. I'm certainly looking forward to the wide variety of witnesses we will have coming forward in later sessions.
We've had an attempt by the federal government to come forward with a strategy to reduce and address gender-based violence.
Ms. Smylie, has that strategy taken into account the phenomenon of coercive and controlling behaviour?
As the member notes, the Government of Canada does have a federal strategy to address and prevent gender-based violence. To date, there has been over $200 million in investments and an ongoing commitment of $40 million per year.
In that strategy, we consider various forms of gender-based violence, including forms related to coercive and controlling behaviour. One of the key things that we're doing under this strategy relevant to this study is an investment of over $24 million in new data and research to date. Part of that is so that we can better understand the phenomenon and all of the various forms of intimate partner violence. It is so complex and for various reasons it's very difficult to measure.
We're also making investments in programs. To date, there's been almost $17 million and 54 projects across the country, which are helping service providers and organization better support survivors and their families. That includes survivors of the types of behaviours we're focused on, coercive and controlling behaviours.
Also of note under this strategy, the Department of National Defence has invested $1.5 million to date in family support services and military member services, as well as sexual assault centres in close proximity to Canadian Armed Forces bases.
Those are just some of the things under this strategy that we are doing. I think one more important thing, since it was mentioned, is that through the RCMP there's been an investment of $4.6 million in policing operations and support. They are undergoing cultural competency training to make sure that officers are able to support victims and survivors appropriately.
Thank you to all of the witnesses from the two departments for being here. We appreciate your time.
I want to pick up where Ms. Smylie left off. I think there's the pre-pandemic phase and then there's the pandemic phase. I'm struck by the lack of funding that was in place under the previous federal government and then how things turned from 2015 to 2019.
My understanding is that the funding increased from between $20 million per year for women and gender equality-seeking organizations to about $65 million per year. That's the first important point.
The second important point is that, I understand, the statistics show that in 2019-20, we invested nearly $66 million in 533 women's and equality-seeking organizations, which is critical. As Ms. Smylie reiterated, in this year alone that number will increase to $110 million.
The pandemic then enters. For a person like me, a lot of it is anecdotal, but I appreciate the statistics we're being provided now, which are very helpful in terms of the rise in claims and the rise in incidents of violence that are occurring. Funding is increased to the tune of an additional $40 million during the pandemic to address this present concern.
Ms. Levman, can you tell us whether the criminal tools we currently have are sufficient? We have heard a lot about the various different heads that are provided—harassment, mischief, trespassing, etc. Is a new criminal offence required that is more along the lines of a pattern of behaviour rather than in a specific incident from your perspective? If so, why is that?
The scholarship does address that. There are other articles as well that look at the implementation of the offence in the U.K. and talk about difficulties with gathering the evidence, including difficulties with law enforcement even being able to recognize that this is, in fact, what's going on, particularly, for example, when the incident comes to the law enforcement's attention because of one violent episode. They have to be able to situate that in a pattern of conduct that may have taken place over months or years. That can be a struggle. Of course, the evidence would come, as you're pointing out, from the victim herself. I will use gendered language because the statistics support me on that.
Before I turn it over to my colleague from WAGE, if I could move quickly to the other side, which is that there are also criminologists who are recommending some caution with respect to enacting and developing these types of offences, in particular from the U.K. and Australia. You may know that New South Wales is considering a private member's bill very similar to .
I would bring the committee's attention to an article called “The Criminalisation of Coercive Control: The Power of Law?”, which is in the International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy. I found that very informative and you may, too.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
You're always the one having to answer my questions, so I wouldn't want you to take it as harassment. The fact of the matter is you have insightful expertise.
On this issue, I think the challenge revolves around distinguishing between behaviours that the Criminal Code already covers and those that it does not. Take, for example, a conversation between spouses, although they may not be spouses, I realize. One or both sides are being stubborn, shall we say, and the conversation becomes fairly intense but does not rise to the level of a criminal offence. The discussion gets more heated, both sides dig in their heels and the situation turns into what could be called harassment. If things escalate, verbal or physical abuse could come into play.
I'm having a hard time figuring out at what point in that progression the behaviour would be considered coercive and controlling. I know you've been asked the question a lot, but I think it's hugely important. How is the line drawn between behaviour that is acceptable under the law, behaviour that is coercive and controlling, behaviour that is considered harassment and violence? That is my first question.
Before you answer, I'll ask my second question because the clock is ticking. I'd like to know your view on how each of the three situations—harassment, violence and controlling or coercive conduct—would be dealt with. If the behaviour were deemed a criminal offence, how would the sentencing differ in each of the three cases? How should each be defined so that the differences are clear and distinctive enough for a judge to navigate these types of matters easily?
If you don't think you'll have enough time to answer my questions now, with the chair's permission, I would ask, like my fellow members, that you get back to me in writing.
Please go ahead, Ms. Levman.
You're absolutely right. Coercive control, if it were an offence in Canada, we would see significant overlap. Even turning to—and I'll provide this to the committee as well—the U.K. Home Office's statutory guidance framework, it gives you a list of a variety of different conducts that should be considered risk factors or indicative of coercive control.
You'll note in that list that some of them are certainly criminal offences, uttering threats, violence and sexual-type offending. Even in Canada, we have the offence of non-consensual distribution of intimate images. That can be used to control other people. There are other types of conduct that really aren't criminal offences in and of themselves, but speak to an overall pattern of behaviour.
What we often see in the context of offences, which capture patterns of behaviour in terms of an individual case, is a variety of different charges being laid under different offences. That is quite common, and I would assume that would happen here. For example, depriving someone of their basic needs, isolating a person from friends or family, monitoring another person's time, a partner's time, all of this is considered by the U.K. to be coercive and controlling behaviour. If you were to couple that with uttering threats, with violent-type offences, then likely in a case like this, you would see a variety of different charges being laid.
I don't think there are necessarily clearly defined lines between offences. Certainly, we try to keep the conduct separate, conceptually, but there are overlaps among offences, and I would think there would be significant overlap with a case like coercive control. If we had that as an offence, and it were charged, I could see criminal harassment charges being laid, including assault, sexual assault and uttering threats, depending on the facts of the case.
I'm not sure if that answers your question, Mr. Fortin. You had three in there.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to all the witnesses as well today.
I was a firefighter for seven and a half years, and I responded to a lot of domestic calls as well. Today, a lot of my close family members are either officers or front-line paramedics. Back in the day, domestic abuse was a major issue, and I can only imagine now. In speaking with my family members and friends who are still on the front lines, it has absolutely gone over the top. They've charted right out. I speak to them quite often on this. So this is a very good discussion, and a very important discussion on so many fronts.
To the Department of Justice, there have been concerns over a lack of access to the courts during the pandemic. There is uncertainty for women fleeing abusive relationships that they will be able to get their kids. How has the justice department been responding to these concerns?
Perhaps I could speak to that particular issue.
As I mentioned, certainly in the family law realm, which is where parenting issues are generally addressed, as Ms. Levman mentioned there has been a different experience in different jurisdictions, primarily related to levels of COVID. In some jurisdictions, courts have operated without closing at all, whereas in others there has been quite an impact. Certainly there have been some innovations in terms of moving to virtual courts; there are many courts now dealing with many issues on a virtual basis. Certainly, we've heard of many parenting issues that have arisen during the pandemic, and some of those cases have been particularly challenging in family violence cases.
We have been in discussions with our federal, provincial and territorial colleagues to share best practices across jurisdictions in terms of how they are addressing some of those issues in the context of their services and courts to enable that information sharing. As I mentioned, the Divorce Act amendments, which for the first time recognize family violence in the Divorce Act, come into force on March 1 of this year.
I thank all my colleagues, as well as the guests. This is my first justice committee meeting, so I'm honoured to be here.
This is a deep subject for my heart. I have several women's shelters in my riding, including Nisa, as well as the Surrey Women's Centre, both providing excellent services to sometimes the most vulnerable people in our society: women at risk. I was very pleased to find a way to announce some funding for them right at the beginning of the pandemic, in April, which I think helped them, although, at the time, probably nobody could predict the staggering increase in level of cases.
Ms. Smylie, can you tell us what the government can do better to prevent some of this violence and reduce these patterns of control?
It's a very heavy question. Given the complexity of gender-based violence, there is no single thing that will fix this issue. One thing that the government is doing right now is advancing a national action plan to end gender-based violence. As you've all heard here today, the pandemic has reinforced the fact that we need a national action plan. We need coordinated action across the country, across the various sectors. It has certainly amplified its urgency.
To that end, the Government of Canada is working very closely with provincial and territorial governments to advance this national action plan to end gender-based violence. Starting in 2020, we engaged over 1,500 survivors, community organizations and other experts to answer this very question, “What do we need to do?”, and to develop the national action plan.
It's important to note that we met a really important milestone on this national action plan just a couple of weeks ago, on January 21 and 22, when federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for the status of women endorsed a federal, provincial and territorial ministerial joint declaration for a Canada free of gender-based violence. That joint declaration affirms a common vision, principles and goals for responding to gender-based violence.
That work continues and will be our road map for addressing this issue.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to the witnesses for appearing today.
So much has changed over the last year, of course, with COVID. I'd like to know, in your federal-provincial discussions or discussions with stakeholders.... In the course of our study I know we're going to be hearing from some witnesses who operate women's shelters. I represent a rural riding, and access to services there can be different from access in an urban centre.
I have two questions to whoever feels best placed to answer them. One concerns the impact of COVID on the services for stakeholders that you're dealing with. The second is whether there are special rural considerations that we should be considering as members of Parliament.
As I mentioned, since the start of the pandemic, $100 million has been distributed to over 1,000 shelters, sexual assault centres and organizations providing services to women and children experiencing violence.
This has allowed the organizations to keep their doors open to continue providing these critical services. In particular, it has allowed them hire more staff to tailor some of their services to the pandemic context. They tailor some of their services to online in order to increase access, knowing that people cannot necessarily come in to the organization.
These organizations remain open, and the funding has allowed them to do that and to ensure that they have staff capacity to support, as I said, over 700,000 women and children during this pandemic.
This is just a quick one for Nathalie Levman. It might not be quick.
We're talking about coercive control. That's part of the discussion we're having today, based on a motion from my colleague. There seems to be some uncertainty, at least on my part, based on some of the questions from some of the other members.
Is there a place we can go to get an exhaustive list of what will be captured by these things that fall short of what's currently in the Criminal Code? What's in the Criminal Code is already criminal, so we're talking about something different from that. I've heard some different examples, but where would be the most exhaustive list we could get of what would be seen as coercive control or things in a pattern of behaviour?
Thank you, Madam Chair, and hello, colleagues.
To the witnesses today, thank you for this conversation. It's a very important one on so many different levels.
My questions will be directed to Ms. Smylie.
The pandemic has been challenging for Canadians from coast to coast to coast. That would probably be the understatement of the year.
Isolation measures, such as remote learning, physical distancing, self-isolating and quarantining can put some children at risk of physical, emotional, sexual and domestic abuse and neglect. I'm wondering, based on your research and understanding, what could be done to identify and respond more effectively to children who are victims of abuse and neglect in their homes during this pandemic.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I want to focus on the link between coercive and controlling behaviour and more severe forms of physical violence. Often when we start this discussion, incidents are cited that some people might regard as trivial. They miss the connection and the pattern of behaviour that leads to further violence.
The most dramatic information I've seen is a study from Australia, which looked at homicides with intimate partner relationships. In a study of 112 of those homicides, they found that 111 cases involved coercive and controlling behaviour.
In a country like ours, where unfortunately, approximately once a week, a woman is murdered by an intimate partner, I think it's very important that we look for tools to intervene earlier.
Is there a possible role for this kind of criminal offence in intervening and preventing more severe forms of violence?
Perhaps I can take the liberty of adding a few comments to my colleague's.
I think your issue relates squarely to the importance of training and risk assessments. Some of that importance appears in the literature that the department will share with the committee for your review.
Regardless of the offences that are in place, if law enforcement cannot detect risk factors early on.... As you point out, quite rightly, sometimes those risk factors are considered what they call “low-level offending”, but even though they're low-level and may not even constitute a criminal offence—or even if they do, a less serious one—they may all the same be indicative of very serious offending coming down the line.
That's where training of police officers and risk assessment tools come in, and that issue is highlighted in one of the articles we intend to share with you.
I know I'm just about out of time, and so is the committee. I just want to return to something that was raised by Madam Findlay at the beginning.
That is the impact upon children in families in which a controlling behaviour takes place. Certainly I'm no expert, but I've begun to learn a lot about this, and I guess the biggest surprise to me was the very direct impacts upon children who witness this form of violence in their family relationships.
Perhaps I'll turn to Ms. Smylie—and anyone else—concerning the literature on the impacts upon children.
This is such an important conversation. I also thank you for your contributions. Ms. Levman wasn't here when I started, but thanks; it's good to see you again.
Just picking up on the negative impacts of all of this again for a moment first, although COVID measures have been important and necessary, I'm concerned about the unseen consequences. I say unseen, though maybe they're not unseen to those of you who are part of all this for a living, but they are generally in the public mind.
We are hearing, as members of Parliament, a lot of distress and concern about the fallout. It's fine for officials to say things such as “stay home”, but while home is a safe place for many, it's not a safe place for the people we're talking about—those who are subject to domestic violence in particular. Addiction and other issues such as that are factors.
We know in British Columbia, where I'm from, that the opiate crisis is very concerning, and deaths from it are up. We hear, at least anecdotally, that suicides are up as well. Pressures and stressors can make these situations even worse, but sometimes they are there just because of the way the perpetrator grew up or has been subject to in earlier life; we know that as well.
You've talked about a lot of money going towards research, data, surveys and analysis, but what about the education of the public in these areas? What would you suggest could be done to make the public more aware that this is something identifiable and that there are options for actions to get away and to heal?
What is being done in the public realm?
Thank you, Madam Chair. With that introduction, I feel a lot of responsibility here.
First, thank you to the witnesses, as others have mentioned, for the introduction to this very important topic. I used to be involved with the Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto, and I've seen some horrific cases that shouldn't be repeated. I learned a couple of things from that. One of the things I learned is that the people involved in the process are heroes and the system is severely underfunded—which is an issue that I suppose we can deal with later.
I have a couple of questions on topics that came up earlier. I know there has been discussion about the Divorce Act and the changes that are coming into force on March 1 with respect to coercive and controlling behaviour. I wasn't quite clear on the context of those changes. With some of what Ms. Farid was saying earlier, the translation went a bit awry, so I'm not sure if I'm asking you to repeat something you've already discussed.
My understanding of the Divorce Act is that divorce is no fault, so I'm not sure how to contextualize that issue. If someone could explain that to me for starters, I would be grateful.
I will take this opportunity now to thank the witnesses for your very compelling and very informative testimony and for answering questions. We greatly appreciate your being here. We look forward to receiving some of the written submissions we have identified through our members today, pursuant to the questions.
I also want to give a really big thank you to our IT people and interpreters for the challenges they dealt with today, and we still made this meeting work. I really appreciate it
Thanks go to the members also.
Just as a quick reminder before I adjourn, the remainder of the witness list per party is due by the end of the day today, so please make sure you get yours in.
Monsieur Fortin, I see your hand raised. Is it on a point of order?
Okay. We'll call the vote, then.
The motion, so that members are clear, is to resume the debate on Mr. Fortin's motion.
(Motion negatived: nays 6; yeas 5)
Thank you very much.
Now we're going to move on to the dilatory motion presented by Mr. Virani, in which he moved to adjourn the meeting.
(Motion agreed to: yeas 6; nays 5)
Thank you very much.
Thank you, members, and thank you for a wonderful meeting.
The meeting is adjourned.