Third reading of Bill C-233, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Judges Act (violence against an intimate partner)

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond moved third reading of Bill C-233, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Judges Act (violence against an intimate partner).

He said: Honourable senators, I rise today to begin third reading of Bill C-233, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Judges Act regarding violence against an intimate partner.

As a reminder, this is not a government bill. It was introduced by the member for Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, Anju Dhillon, a family and criminal lawyer. She is supported by Pam Damoff, the member for Oakville North—Burlington and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, and by Ya’ara Saks, the member for York Centre and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

This trio of dedicated women secured the unanimous adoption of this legislation in the other place. I’m proud to work with these members of Parliament on this bill. I believe that for too long signs of domestic violence were ignored by the legal system. This has been due to an inadequate understanding of the long-lasting impacts of domestic violence on the other spouse and the children, including risks to their health, development and even life.

I also want to thank you, colleagues, for your support, and to acknowledge some individual contributions.

First, I thank the critic, Senator Manning, who has acted as a friendly critic. Incidentally, I support his Bill S-249, which proposes to establish a national strategy to address intimate partner violence.

Second, I thank Senator Hartling for her second reading speech on the bill and insights on the difficult issues of intimate partner violence, domestic violence and coercive control in family contexts.

Third, I thank the members of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, who agreed to promptly review this bill following the review of Senator Boisvenu’s Bill S-205. That legislation also proposes amending the Criminal Code to promote the use of electronic monitoring devices in cases of intimate partner violence.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to Dr. Jennifer Kagan-Viater and her spouse, Philip Viater, a lawyer. Both are devoting tremendous time and energy to change false perceptions and wrong assumptions in our legal system to prevent, as much as possible, tragedies like the one that happened to them on February 9, 2020.

On that day, Dr. Kagan-Viater’s four-year-old daughter, Keira, lost her life during a period of access granted to her father, a person described as violent and controlling. This access occurred despite her mother’s numerous attempts to warn all those intervening in their divorce proceedings of the risk, including several judges.

With Bill C-233, we will send the following message to Canadian society in memory of little Keira: A violent and controlling husband is always a danger to the spouse and the children.

As Senator Hartling said, “Any act of intimate partner violence is an act of violence against the whole family, especially children. . . .”

The violence link was ignored by the legal system because these intervenors were untrained in connection with domestic violence and the associated risks.

Hopefully, recent changes to the Divorce Act, along with this bill, will change attitudes within the legal system towards domestic violence. This change of attitudes should prevent or at least significantly reduce tragedies of family violence.

Honourable senators, let me now briefly review the contents of Bill C-233.

I would remind senators that this bill centres on two proposed legislative amendments.

First, the bill proposes to amend the Judges Act to strongly encourage the Canadian Judicial Council to provide continuing education on matters related to intimate partner violence and coercive control.

The ultimate goal is to have trained judges who are aware of the need to consider indicia of violence before deciding matters of custody and access rights.

This part of Bill C-233 is often described as “Keira’s Law,” in memory of the little girl I spoke about briefly earlier, who died over three years ago.

This part of Bill C-233 specifically targets federally appointed judges, not provincially appointed judges, by amending the Judges Act. The Judges Act, as you know by now, provides for the remuneration and benefits, education, training and the treatment of complaints related to the conduct of federally appointed judges, as I explained last week when I spoke to Bill C-9 and earlier today when Senator Cotter also spoke to that bill.

Of course, federally appointed judges are only one component of the legal system and, to a certain extent, a minor part of it.

In reality, domestic violence is an issue often dealt with by police officers, social workers, family therapists, provincial judges and Crown prosecutors, all regulated by provincial laws.

However, by adopting an amendment to the Judges Act, Parliament will not only strongly suggest the need for continuous education of federally appointed judges on domestic violence and coercive control in intimate partner and family relationships; it will also send a powerful signal to the provinces and the territories and to all those involved in the legal system to take the same approach. We can no longer ignore domestic violence and its tremendously negative impact on children.

As matter of fact, Dr. Kagan-Viater, Mr. Viater and many groups involved in the issue of domestic violence are campaigning for provincially adopted measures. Doctor Kagan-Viater told me that Queen’s Park is considering amending provincial laws to ensure that training is provided to provincially appointed judges, Crown prosecutors and police officers.

Second, Bill C-233 adds a provision to section 515 of the Criminal Code that specifically calls upon judges and lawyers, before making a release order in respect of an accused who is charged with an offence against their intimate partner, to consider whether it is desirable, in the interests of the alleged victim’s safety and security, to have the accused wear an electronic monitoring device.

Of course, it is only possible to order an accused to wear an electronic monitoring device if such devices are available in the region in question.

As I mentioned in my speech at second reading, it is important to consider recent developments in this regard in several provinces. In Quebec, for example, recent legislative and regulatory amendments and the allocation of five years of funding made it possible to gradually roll out a system for supplying equipment and continuously monitoring those accused or convicted of offences related to intimate partner violence.

I would remind senators that the first 18 months post-separation is when incidents of violence and even femicide are most likely to occur. This is the high-risk period targeted by the proposed addition to section 515 of the Criminal Code. Under that amendment, the court may, at the request of the attorney general of the province, impose as a condition of release that a person accused of an offence related to intimate partner violence be required to wear an electronic monitoring device. It could be a device that monitors the accused’s movements to ensure that the person is in fact where they should be, or it could be a geolocation device that ensures that the accused is abiding by the terms of the no-contact order imposed by the court.

As Senator Boniface so rightly pointed out, intimate partner violence in rural and urban areas poses unique challenges and requires the implementation of adequate internet access or other appropriate means of communication.

Besides access to means of communication for the purpose of monitoring, we must also, as Senator Boisvenu stated, give violent men access to care and prevention programs.

Above all, as other senators, including Senator Pate, have stated, we must address the root causes of this violence.

I would like to borrow the analogy Senator Hartling used. As she said so well, ending intimate partner violence is like building a house. We need a foundation, as well as walls and a roof.

We need a comprehensive strategy that focuses on prevention, screening and rapid intervention.

This bill represents progress and another step in the right direction. It may be incomplete, but it is very useful.

Mindful that the comprehensive approach is required, the members of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee have attached to their report the following observation:

In line with witness testimony regarding the urgency of addressing this issue in our society, this committee urges the government to also invest greater resources in initiatives that enhance financial, social and health supports that help ensure: capacity and resources for emancipatory anti-violence supports, centres, including women’s shelters, financial supports, more responsive and respectful treatment of victims by police and prosecutorial authorities, and effective interventions to interrupt and address misogynist and racist violence, including with aggressors.

In the design of a global approach to intimate partner violence and domestic violence, the Government of Canada and the governments of the provinces and territories should seriously consider the Spanish model. I referred to it at length during my second-reading speech.

This includes specialized courts; specialized trained police officers; an effective public awareness campaign on domestic violence; an information platform maintained by police officers and the various institutions that care for abused women; and an electronic surveillance command centre connected to what was then the department of health, social services and equality, which is responsible for 24-hour monitoring of the bracelets in use in Spain.

Honourable senators, I know how important it is to this chamber to move forward on an issue as sensitive as intimate partner and family violence.

Therefore, I invite you to pass this bill swiftly so it can be implemented as quickly as possible, which will help save lives. There must not be another Keira.

Thank you for your attention, meegwetch.

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