An Act to amend the Criminal Code (controlling or coercive conduct)

This bill was last introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2021.


Randall Garrison  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Outside the Order of Precedence (a private member's bill that hasn't yet won the draw that determines which private member's bills can be debated), as of Oct. 5, 2020
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to create an offence of engaging in controlling or coercive conduct that has a significant impact on the person towards whom the conduct is directed, including a fear of violence, a decline in their physical or mental health and a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

March 10th, 2023 / 1:20 p.m.
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Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights examined the issue of coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate relationships to explore the possibility of considering such behaviour to be a criminal offence. This was done in connection with Bill C‑247, which was introduced in 2020. Members will recall that that bill died on the Order Paper when the government called an election that never should have happened because it did not change the make-up of the House whatsoever.

The purpose of Bill C‑247 was to add to the Criminal Code proposed subsection 264.01(1), which read as follows:

Everyone commits an offence who repeatedly or continuously engages in controlling or coercive conduct towards a person with whom they are connected that they know or ought to know could, in all the circumstances, reasonably be expected to have a significant impact on that person and that has such an impact on that person.

We are talking about a hybrid offence that would carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. It was proposed that the justice committee carry out a separate study to consider coercive behaviour within the meaning of what was then Bill C‑247.

It is important to be very careful when discussing intimate partner violence. It is a very delicate and sensitive subject. Violent or coercive behaviour has no place in intimate relationships and should never occur. We all know that the goal of eliminating it completely will unfortunately never be achieved. It will always exist to some degree, which is why solutions must be carefully thought out before we write them into any legislation that would amend the Criminal Code. We must help victims as much as possible, but we must help them in the right way. Drafting legislation that properly reflects the intent of Bill C-247 is an extremely complex exercise.

The report illustrates this quite well. Witnesses and experts have many reservations and have suggested a number of changes. Penalties for coercive behaviour cannot be set out in just a few clauses, as much as we would all like that to be the case. Some countries already have these or similar tools in their criminal codes. It would perhaps be wise to study their systems more carefully and try to understand how these ideas could be transposed and adapted here.

The Criminal Code is a set of laws that create limits for what is and is not acceptable in a society. These laws can evolve over time, and they differs from one place to the next. We can draw inspiration from foreign laws, but we cannot simply copy them. That is a shortcut that could go awry, although it might be done with good intentions initially.

The Criminal Code already has provisions for people who are victims of violence. Even so, the problem is that women are generally reluctant to report. As my colleague from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo mentioned, there are also evidentiary challenges when witnesses cannot be convinced to follow through with their testimony to get someone charged because they still have an emotional connection to that person.

The other problem, in the case of psychological violence and coercive behaviour, is that victims may not realize they are victims until they are really trapped. Another thing to consider is that people who behave coercively do everything they can to isolate their victim. Without their network, victims find it very hard to report this behaviour, especially when their self-confidence has been eroded. Slowly but surely, a web is woven around the victim. This can happen to anyone, no matter their gender, age or social class. There is no such thing as a typical victim, no model that makes it easy to identify these victims from the outside.

A lot of awareness raising and prevention need to be done before we can come up with legislation that is comprehensive and effective. That is one of the recommendations in the report. It also talks about raising judges' awareness.

It is important to note that the Government of Quebec plays a lead role in many ways with respect to public awareness and prevention. In Quebec, things are networked, and resources are interlinked: education, health, social services, justice and public safety.

We have used the team approach for quite some time, which leads me to share my own concerns about the steps mentioned in the debate on this report.

Criminalization comes up over and over again. That is what is behind the creation of a Criminal Code section, but we do not talk enough about rehabilitation or even assistance. That may not be unusual because, as I just mentioned, on our side the assistance would be provided by the Government of Quebec and the provinces, which are responsible for social services.

I would like to address the fact that the bill says barely anything at all about striking a balance between criminalization and rehabilitation. There is also very little mention of it in the report.

Both the victims and their assailants need help, but Bill C‑247 did not mention the balance that needs to be struck. There was no mention of the possibility of providing help and upstream prevention.

I would like to conclude my speech on a positive note because all the work that was done by the committee is still very important. This work needs to be a precursor to a deeper, more tangible reflection on the opportunities available to us to try to legislate on this type of behaviour and, ultimately, help the people who are the victims of it directly or indirectly. That is really its primary objective. These victims are also often collateral damage and we need to think of them.

March 4th, 2022 / 2:10 p.m.
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Chief Francis Lanouette Co-Chair of the Crime Prevention, Community Safety and Well-being Committee, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

Good afternoon.

As police officers, we know that by the time a domestic violence charge goes to court, it’s likely that the victim has been experiencing some form of violence or controlling behaviours at the hands of their partner for a significant amount of time.

Recently, our association expanded its focus on domestic violence to address the issue of coercive control. Our committee is collaborating on research to better understand this phenomenon from a police perspective and to develop the tools necessary to detect it. To improve the understanding of this concept by the policing community, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police offered a webinar on this topic.

Our association also proposes other avenues of intervention to achieve continued progress to help protect victims sooner, before physical or visible harm comes to them. First, we must address current limitations in the Criminal Code when it comes to intervening in cases of domestic violence. As a result, we support legislative changes including the addition of coercive control as a new offence under the Criminal Code, as suggested in our submission on Bill C‑247, which is now known as Bill C‑202.

We also support adopting Intimate Partner Violence Disclosure Acts, Clare's Law, throughout all provinces and territories in Canada.

In addition to legislative changes, we are also calling for the development of a Canadian Intimate Partner Violence Policing Centre, as previously mentioned by Chief Greenwood; the implementation of courts specialized in these matters that would be better equipped to support victims throughout the judicial process; continued education and awareness initiatives with the general population, and especially with youth; the development of multi-sectoral teams whose mandate is to assess the risk of homicide in cases of intimate partner violence.

On this last point, it should be noted that, in Quebec, such rapid response teams are already being deployed and a new law on electronic bracelet systems has been adopted. The Quebec experience could perhaps be expanded across the country.

In conclusion, we must provide officers with tools to help them recognize and address intimate partner violence, including coercive control, because when victims remain silent in the belief that there is nothing police can do, they also lose out on the opportunity to access support agencies, resources, and opportunities to change their situation.

Thank you for your attention.

Gender-Based ViolenceGovernment Orders

March 25th, 2021 / 10:05 p.m.
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Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Chair, in my speech I talked about support for my colleague from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke's private member's bill, Bill C-247, which would make coercive and controlling behaviour a criminal offence. Does the member support the bill and could she could tell us why?

Gender-Based ViolenceGovernment Orders

March 25th, 2021 / 9:25 p.m.
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Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Madam Chair, I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

I appreciate the debate we are having tonight to highlight this pandemic within a pandemic and to highlight the seven Quebec women whose lives were taken in the past few months and, of course, the 160 women whose lives were taken this past year.

Across Canada, front-line women's agencies and police report increases of intimate partner violence at 30% to 70%. We cannot continue to stand by as women's lives are ended, and their deaths cannot go without action. Often those women who are killed have suffered many violence acts prior, and a woman who is trapped without resources, financial or otherwise, to flee has too often been a victim of many different types of abuse, not only from her partner but from a broken system and those in power unwilling to do what is truly necessary to change it.

The New Democrats have and will continue to push to change that system and to act. That is why I am so proud to support the private member's bill from my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, Bill C-247, which would make coercive and controlling behaviour a criminal offence.

We know that intimate partner violence has been and continues to plague our society and that the pandemic has made this problem even more acute, as the numbers from Quebec show. Patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour are also forms of violence, but these patterns are often a precursor to overt physical violence. This behaviour being seen as a criminal offence would allow earlier intervention by police, courts and service organizations without having to wait for that actual violent incident to take place.

We know that our families, communities and country are stronger when women thrive. In Canada today, it is still all too common for women to experience discrimination and gender-based violence, particularly if they are members of marginalized communities.

In Canada, there are only a patchwork of plans, programs and supports. There is no comprehensive system in place. Shelters across Canada have been asked to do more with less year after year. Some shelters in Canada have reported not receiving funding increases in nearly a decade, but they took action. They made up the difference through their own fundraising efforts. They showed the leadership that women, children and non-binary people in their neighbourhoods needed.

On the front lines, time, resources and money are limited, but incredible community leaders and volunteers take on that fight daily, and I am so grateful for them. During the pandemic, numerous women's organizations emphasized the need for core operational-based funding. It is necessary for any organization to be able to shift during an emergency to provide the community-based programming they know is needed.

During the Harper government, a great deal of that funding to institutions was cut and any funding provided was made available only under specific project-based funding. Under subsequent Liberal governments, some funding has been returned, but not to the levels required and still through that same project-based funding model.

Women's organizations must have long-term, stable, core funding so women can access the supports and advocacy they need when they need it.

For five years, the government has touted a national action plan to end gender-based violence. Whether in committee or in the House, since being elected, I have taken every opportunity to ask the government when a plan will be formalized and brought forward. Sadly, women are still waiting.

We also need action and the implementation of the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We must implement all 231 calls for justice. This cannot be another inquiry that sits on a shelf and collects dust. Women do not need another report only to refer to when a government has been caught ignoring the problems women face, a report like the 2015 Deschamps report on sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces. The Deschamps report has 10 recommendations, yet only two have been implemented in six years.

Gender-based violence impacts all women of all different ages, racial backgrounds and cultural groups. Everyone is at risk and everyone is a potential victim. Those at high risk, something we have heard repeatedly during this pandemic, are people who are already vulnerable. Women living in poverty, women with a disability, immigrant women, and indigenous women and children are disproportionately affected by this form of abuse and violence.

I must conclude with this. The problem is clear and the solutions can be clearer. These disturbing numbers of the murders of women from Quebec and across Canada underline the necessity of ensuring that the House and the government take action that is both effective and urgent. That is what I will continue to fight for. That is what New Democrats will continue to fight for.

February 18th, 2021 / 12:20 p.m.
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Christopher Sheppard President, National Association of Friendship Centres

Thank you.

Atelihai, Christopher Sheppard, uvanga.

Good afternoon, committee. I'm Christopher Sheppard, president of the National Association of Friendship Centres. I want to recognize that I'm joining you today from Treaty No. 6 territory and the homeland of the Métis. I'm thankful for the welcome I've received while being a visitor on their land. I am joined by the NAFC executive director, Jocelyn Formsma, and we thank you for the invitation to appear before you today.

The NAFC represents over 100 local friendship centres and PTAs in every province and territory in Canada except Prince Edward Island. Friendship centres are urban indigenous community hubs that provide a wide range of programs and services for demographics of all indigenous people—first nations, Métis, Inuit, urban and 2SLGBTQ+—including programs for babies, families, children, youth, adults and seniors. We offer services in justice, health, violence prevention, housing, homelessness, economic development, employment and training, early learning and child care, education, indigenous languages and culture.

Collectively, we are the largest and most comprehensive urban indigenous service delivery network in Canada. In 2019, 93 friendship centres served approximately 1.4 million first nations, Inuit, Métis and indigenous people across over 1,200 programs in 238 buildings, and employed over 2,700 people.

Bill C-247 may be helpful in some situations for persons experiencing controlling and coercive behaviour. However, on our review of the bill, first nations, Inuit, Métis, urban indigenous and 2SLGBTQ+ people will still be reliant on the justice system to provide solutions if they choose to engage with this new section of the Criminal Code, should this bill pass. Further reliance on justice systems potentially subjects indigenous people to existing and continued broader issues of systemic racism barriers. We have numerous examples where indigenous people experience harm from systems in cascading and sometimes deadly ways. The success or accessibility of this potential new section of the Criminal Code is similar to other sections and relies on reporting of incidents and high levels of trust in these systems, which currently does not exist.

Without further action that is targeted at systemic racism in justice, housing, education and health systems, it remains likely that urban indigenous people will not be able to access the benefits that this bill hopes to achieve.

In a recent report on urban indigenous people and public service accessibility in Quebec, a survey was conducted regarding urban indigenous interactions with public services. The report submits that the survey results show that violence is widespread, but that services are greatly under-utilized. It is clear that both an apprehension of the public service system and a lack of familiarity with its services hinder urban indigenous people's access to prevention and intervention services for sexual and domestic violence issues. One participant is quoted as saying, “My ex was beating me and the police didn't believe me.”

Although this study was completed in Quebec, these issues are widespread across Canada and rely on the kind of disaggregated data that we need but currently do not have in order to give a clear picture of the urban indigenous situation. How are indigenous people supposed to report non-overtly violent acts while systemic racism and overt violence against our people persist?

NAFC submits that adequate programming to support urban indigenous people in understanding their rights as well as accessing their rights is crucial. Friendship centres remain a safe place for all indigenous people to access cultural programming and ultimately foster community connection. Friendship centres across Canada are offering wraparound programming every day, which allows victims of abuse to feel safe in disclosing abuse and to feel supported in reporting it to the police.

For accessing legal services and navigating the health system, it is essential that indigenous-specific supports like friendship centres receive adequate funding in order to be able to continually run these programs.

We conducted a literature review of reports and recommendations that they make regarding indigenous justice. The key themes that emerged are these. One is the need to train and educate non-indigenous people on indigenous history, heritage, culture, identity, laws and current realities. However, when reviewing publicly available federal responses, we found little in the way of mandatory or ongoing training on indigenous matters for any national or federal law enforcement entity.

Two is to increase funding to indigenous communities for public programs and organizations that benefit indigenous people. There are few funds available for justice-related programming.

Finally, increase participation of elders within the justice system, increase education and training for indigenous people on the Canadian justice system, and increase and promote proper use of Gladue reports and courts. We found that these activities are very sparsely implemented across the country. Urban indigenous people are continually caught in jurisdictional matters between federal and provincial governments; law enforcement and justice are no different.

The NAFC has offered and continues to offer its perspective, expertise and knowledge of urban indigenous communities and community members to inform the federal government and guide effective remedies, both now and as we continue on this journey.

We look forward to being a part of this conversation and to any questions you might have.

February 18th, 2021 / 12:10 p.m.
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Chief Francis Lanouette Co-Chair of the Crime Prevention, Community Safety and Well-being Committee, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

Good afternoon.

Thank you to the members for the opportunity to appear before this committee.

My presentation today will be delivered in two parts. The first will present the position of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) on the proposed legislative amendment. The second will support the CACP's position by demonstrating the limitations currently imposed by the Criminal Code when it comes to intervening in cases of intimate partner violence.

Chief Greenwood will address the prevalence of intimate partner violence in Canada and how the addition of a coercive control law could interrupt violent assaults, therefore protecting our victims sooner, before physical or visible harm comes to them.

Let me begin by stating that the CACP supports the creation of a new Criminal Code offence for coercive control between intimate partners. With this action, Canada reaffirms its commitment to do everything possible to make gender equality a reality.

As we focus on the new offence being proposed by Bill C-247, we would like to draw your attention to recommendations 1 to 4, found on page 10, of a brief prepared by the University of New Brunswick: support for the creation of a new criminal offence of coercive control; ensure the inclusion of former intimate partners regardless of living arrangements; a comprehensive description of coercive control behaviours; the implementation of a risk assessment tool for police officers so they can clearly identify the elements that constitute coercive control behaviours.

The University of New Brunswick conducted a workshop in Quebec last November, with the active participation of the CACP, as part of a research project on coercive control behaviours. I would like to share an excerpt of the testimony of a female police officer, a team sergeant, that clearly demonstrates the current limitations for police intervention:

The problem I see at our level is when there is no criminal offence. For example, there is no assault, no threat, no harassment, just to name a few, but there are clearly coercive control behaviours. We find ourselves in a kind of fog. We do not have concrete tools at our disposal, nor do we have many possible intervention options. This means that we often go back to the station with a case of family dispute or of assistance to the public when we know full well that something unhealthy was going on. However, our authority under the Criminal Code of Canada did not provide us with a legislative option to intervene. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for us to tell ourselves that we will be back to that address, with the hope that, at that time, there might be a legal reason to take concrete action and that it is not too late.

As you can see, our police officers have the victims' best interests at heart, but in the absence of a clearly established criminal offence for coercive behaviour between intimate partners, they cannot intervene adequately. This testimony clearly outlines the current limitations of the Criminal Code and the importance of implementing legislation in this area.

I now turn the presentation over to my colleague, Chief Kimberley Greenwood.

February 18th, 2021 / 11:25 a.m.
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Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

In your opinion, will Bill C-247 help children who are living in these abusive situations? Also, what more can we do to ensure that children are protected?

February 18th, 2021 / 11:10 a.m.
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Carla Neto Community Programs Manager, Women's Habitat of Etobicoke

Good morning, Madam Chair.

My name is Carla Neto, and I appear before this committee representing Women's Habitat of Etobicoke, a feminist organization serving victims and survivors of gender-based violence, and their children or dependants, since 1978.

We operate two distinct services, a 25-bed shelter for women and children escaping violence, and an outreach centre that works with women and children living in the community who are impacted by violence and poverty, many of whom are still residing with abusive intimate partners. Both sides support women to assess risk, develop safety plans, offer counselling to address the impact of abuse and trauma, and offer referrals to essential services such as housing, health care and legal services, parenting programs, as well as prevention and leadership programming for boys and girls.

I have worked in this sector for almost 30 years, working with children and women, victims and survivors of intimate partner violence, in which coercion and control are very much part of the dynamic of the abuse and terror they are subjected to.

We thank you for inviting us and commend you on your efforts in the study of this topic and the proposed creation of a new criminal offence of controlling or coercive conduct as outlined in the private member's bill, Bill C-247.

Historically, much emphasis has been placed on physically aggressive acts in intimate partner violence. In doing so, we often lacked the broader context of the relationship and missed the opportunity to see the role and impact of non-physical violence. Although we can't say that coercive control will always eventually result in physical abuse, it is fair to say that in our experience and work with victims and survivors of abuse, all physical abuse was preceded by and will continue to include coercive control.

Coercive control occurs within the context of complex dynamics in intimate partner relationships where one partner exerts power and control over the other. Coercive control is a pattern of controlling behaviours that create an unequal power dynamic in a relationship, making it difficult for the victims of such behaviour to leave the relationship, because it's less visible and therefore often seen as having lesser effect. It is also harder to identify by family and friends, but, certainly, it is equally damaging to the women and children subjected to it in the relationship.

Victims and survivors of coercive control describe their experiences as living under a constant, never-ending threat. Others describe feeling like captives trapped in plain sight. Those of us who are survivors of war recognize some of the same psychological effects and impacts in the victims and survivors of coercive control.

Coercive control in intimate partner violence has two main components, coercion and control. Coercion can be the use of force or threats of physical aggression to alter the victim's behaviour. Control is used to compel obedience by the victim by monopolizing vital resources, dictating preferred choices, limiting options and depriving the victim of essential supports needed to exercise a level of independence.

Coercive control is so effective because the victims see threats of punishment by abusers as credible, and they should. Many of the women we serve shared being stalked by their abusive partners. They also shared that threats included death, the abusive partner threatening suicide, disfigurement, removal or harm to their children, pets and family members, deportation and defamation, just to name a few.

The control victims experience at the hands of their abusive partners includes the removal of choice of decisions about their own reproductive health and rights, because the more children a woman has with the abusive partner, the greater control the abuser exercises in all spheres of her life, including using state-sanctioned structures such as the legal and family law systems to continue to coerce and control women through custody of and access to the children. Additionally, abusive partners use the manipulation of children, including threatening to kill their other parent, in this case the victim, if the children choose to reside with the victim in situations of child custody. It is common that children will even refuse to go to the shelters.

Isolation is another tactic, and, sadly, statistics show that in many of these cases where coercive control is coupled with physical violence, it leads to lethality.

Finally, we suggest that the strategies and efforts to address violence in intimate relationships and gender-based violence must be multipronged to address its complexity and dynamics: prevention through education, provision of supports for victims and survivors, supports for organizations that support the victims, meaningful investments and funding, and legislative changes.

Thank you.

February 18th, 2021 / 11:05 a.m.
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Chief Nishan Duraiappah Chief, Peel Regional Police

Good day, Chair Khalid and committee members. I'm very thankful for the invitation to participate in this discussion on controlling and coercive conduct within intimate partner relationships.

As you know, my name is Nishan Duraiappah. For the past 14 months, I've had the pleasure of being chief of Peel Regional Police here in Ontario, and previous to that I policed in another jurisdiction. For context, Peel region contains 1.4 million people and has the highest percentage of visible minorities within the greater Toronto area. It is inclusive of the cities of Brampton and Mississauga, and we are also responsible for policing Canada's largest international airport, which is Toronto Pearson.

In Peel region, our officers respond to over 1,000 calls for family violence and intimate partner violence per month. Family and intimate partner violence, collectively, remain the number one call for service for us. In 2020, this equated to over 19,000 calls for help.

Tragically, despite our best efforts, some of these calls result in homicides and serious assaults. Roughly 40% of all homicides in Peel region over the last two years have been because of family and intimate partner violence. This is a priority affecting communities in Peel and across this country.

Power and control are essential to the cycle of family and intimate partner violence. Peel police support the need to pursue additional mechanisms that interrupt that cycle. The new offence proposed by Bill C-247 is an opportunity to do so. We know that there are many incidents where the ability to intervene in controlling behaviour will be an added tool to prevent future loss of life and harm to a victim.

I understand that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, who support the establishment of this offence, will be providing remarks later.

Our goal here in Peel police is to find every possible way to mitigate risk, and the enforcement of coercive control can be a valuable tool. I'll briefly speak to risk mitigation tools, but I would like to emphasize that, despite the best offences being available to us, we continue to be concerned that repeat intimate partner violence creates the greatest challenge for us. The need for reform as it pertains to high-risk, repeat offenders is of importance to me.

On Tuesday, July 28 of last year, my officers responded to a shooting in the city of Brampton. Officers located a 25-year-old female deceased of a gunshot wound and a male with self-inflicted injuries. This young woman was Darian Henderson-Bellman. She and the accused male, Darnell Reid, had a relationship for about three years. During those three previous years, Reid was initially charged with domestic assault against her. He was released on bail with no-contact conditions and would go on to breach those conditions three additional times and be re-released on each occasion.

On his fourth arrest, police located a loaded handgun on his person. As a result, in May 2020 the Crown attempted to detain Reid based on secondary and tertiary grounds. He had continually threatened the safety of the public and had a history that he would not abide by any release plan or surety. The Crown, however, was unsuccessful and he was again released with a GPS monitoring device and two sureties.

For Mr. Reid, power and control were central to how he coerced the victim back into a position of risk, ultimately killing her on July 28, for which he was charged. This was despite all best efforts of police and the Crown and the prosecution of his existing offences. The release of high-risk repeat offenders who demonstrate an element of control and manipulate the vulnerable is of significant concern. I highlight this as a concurrent priority for many police leaders.

As it pertains to the newly proposed offence itself, as you know there are existing Criminal Code sections where it is an offence to use words or acts short of violence in very confined contexts. Police officers, no doubt, are optimistic that the new offence will provide proof of clear offence so that it is articulable and prosecuted.

Family and intimate partner violence and the outcomes we see are the result of complex circumstances that are as complex as the community we police. Peel police have developed a new comprehensive strategy of an integrated community safety plan built on programming and community development. It will comprise 48 officers working from a community-driven collaborative space. They will be working from a community hub to ensure that we integrate with community services and have immediate integration with service partners.

Through programs like this, enhanced legislation and the continuous pursuit of solutions that address family and intimate partner violence, we will be better equipped to make a difference in people's lives and save lives.

Thank you.

February 18th, 2021 / 11 a.m.
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Yasmine Youssef National Manager, Nisa Homes

Good morning, everyone.

Thank you so much for inviting us here today and for the work everyone is doing to ensure the safety of men, women and children across Canada.

As the Nisa Homes national manager, and with my colleague Reena, who is a mental health promoter, we appreciate speaking here today in support of Bill C-247.

February 16th, 2021 / 1 p.m.
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Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I will go back to Ms. Dhillon, if I may.

Ms. Matthews was saying that Bill C-247 would be a kind of additional tool in the fight against domestic violence. However, we already have criminal offences.

For example, you mentioned in your testimony that your husband threatened you with a gun. You understood that, if anything like that happened again, you could die. You were beaten and kidnapped by your husband, who did not let you leave the house. Those acts per se are already criminal. Assault, violence, threats and kidnapping are already offences in the Criminal Code.

How do you believe that creating another offence of domestic violence could change anything?

How could that have changed your situation if a section in the Criminal Code said that domestic violence is prohibited? Could the situation not still have happened in the same way?

February 16th, 2021 / 12:35 p.m.
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Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

My question is for Ms. Dhillon. I was moved by her testimony. She has survived through some terrible things. As I listened to her, I tried to imagine that my sister, my mother or my daughter was speaking. I found it very troubling.

The goal of Mr. Garrison's Bill C-247 is indeed that abusers can be charged with these different behaviours. However, as I have often said since we started considering this issue, provisions in the Criminal Code already consider harassment, violence, threats and such as offences. That said, I fully understand that domestic violence takes place in a specific context.

One question occurred to me as I was listening to you, Ms. Dhillon. I was trying to figure out not how we might have punished the abuser, but how we might have prevented it from happening.

Given your experience, can you tell us anything about what can be done so that situations like those you have experienced never happen again? Is it a matter of educating and training responders and the police? Should there be weekly or monthly visits by people with responsibility for these kinds of issues?

How can we detect a potential problem? How could I determine, by watching my friends and acquaintances, that one individual is possibly controlling and violent towards his wife? How can we find that out before anything happens? How can we respond so that it does not happen?

February 16th, 2021 / 11:25 a.m.
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Acting Executive Director and General Counsel, Women's Legal Education and Action Fund

Megan Stephens

I think it's really important that you are looking into this, because as I've said, the status quo is not working. I don't think it's the kind of thing that can be pushed through without a lot of careful contemplation and thinking through some of these operational, policing and prosecutorial challenges.

I think one of the difficulties is that currently as drafted there's a lot of good thinking in Bill C-247. It's very much a British law. It is taken from the British context and doesn't necessarily use the same language that we see in the Canadian Criminal Code.

I think what's important about the idea of criminalizing this is that it is looking more broadly at the course of conduct, not isolated incidents. Right now the criminal justice system prosecutes specific isolated incidents and typically violent incidents. That's not really how intimate partner violence or domestic violence happens.

There are other places in the Criminal Code where we already look at courses of conduct over time that happen in relation to people, the ability to exercise control over people. If you look at criminal harassment, there's language there about repeatedly impacting someone. If you look at the human trafficking provision or the procuring offence, they talk about exercising control, direction or influence over someone.

I think it is important for it to be a Canadian law that will be understood and applied in the Canadian context; that we look to some of those other offences and think about how the language there and the language from some other offences look more towards a course of conduct over time instead of necessarily an isolated incident. We think about how that might emerge. I think it also makes a lot of sense to think concretely about this. I talked about the objective elements of proof that would be required for prosecution.

It is going to be difficult to get people to understand and accept that something should be reasonably seen as having a significant impact on someone without proper training and education for people who do not experience that to understand what that means. That is going to be essential for everyone in the justice system. You need it in your police officers so they can understand the reports and unpack what is meant by this course of conduct over time. You need it in your prosecutors to understand that they can have a reasonable prospect of conviction. You're going to need judges to understand this as well. This isn't necessarily generally understood in the public discourse. It's going to be hard to operationalize this without having that knowledge and training to go along with it.

I think those are some of the key considerations that need to go into this, also thinking through how the requirement for subjectively having the complainant say they were significantly impacted by this; how that will play out in potential revictimization of witnesses, of complainants, during the criminal justice process. We've seen that too often in the context of sexual assault prosecution. I think it's a real risk in this context as well.

February 16th, 2021 / 11:25 a.m.
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Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses.

Ms. Stephens, you have noted operational challenges in incorporating coercive and controlling behaviour into the Criminal Code.

You spoke of the English experience. In England, we have seen the law now on the books for about six years, relatively few charges, but not that great in the number of convictions, which would perhaps speak to some of the operational challenges you mentioned.

Mr. Garrison has tabled a bill, C-247, which you referenced. You said in your view it would be unduly complicated. You spoke of the fact that there could be amendments to the bill that could perhaps improve it.

Could you elaborate on what could be done to perhaps strengthen this bill or is your broader point that we shouldn't be going down this road?

February 16th, 2021 / 11:20 a.m.
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Megan Stephens Acting Executive Director and General Counsel, Women's Legal Education and Action Fund

Thank you so much.

My name is Megan Stephens. I'm the acting executive director and general counsel at the Women's Legal Education & Action Fund, LEAF. I am grateful for the opportunity to appear here today from Tkaronto, The Dish With One Spoon Territory, as part of your study on coercive and controlling behaviour.

For 36 years, LEAF has worked to advance the equality rights of women and girls through litigation, law reform and public education. LEAF has long advocated for the need to improve the justice system’s response to gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence or domestic violence.

I want to start by thanking you for taking the time to study coercive control. This work is really important, because intimate partner violence remains a pervasive and widespread problem in this country.

We know the status quo is not working. One in three women in Canada experience domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence. The risks of such violence are greater for women who live with multiple intersecting inequalities, including indigenous, Black and racialized women, women with disabilities and migrant women.

We also know that over the course of the last year, as much of the world's attention has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been another shadow pandemic playing out as lockdowns have isolated women with their abusive partners. Frontline workers in shelters and transition homes across the country have reported increases in physical violence, as well as a dramatic rise in reports of coercive control being used by partners.

Coercive control may be a relatively new concept to many of you, but it has long been recognized by both frontline service providers and academics as lying at the core of intimate partner violence. While there are many different working definitions of coercive control, it's generally understood as a course of intimidating, degrading and regulatory practices used by abusers to instill fear and threat into the everyday lives of their victims. Importantly, it's a highly gendered practice that often seeks to maintain or expand the gender-based privilege of a male partner.

While I commend you for this study, I also want to underscore the importance of proceeding carefully in your work. In my submission, it would be a mistake to rush to criminalize coercive control without thinking through the potential unintended consequences of criminalization. While such a move might be symbolically powerful, we have unfortunately seen too often how the criminal justice system can be weaponized, revictimizing those it seeks to protect.

There are, in my respectful submission, important operational, policing and prosecutorial challenges associated with the proposed criminalization of coercive control, all of which require careful consideration.

In terms of the operational challenges, it will not be easy to transplant the concept of coercive control from clinical and academic contexts into the criminal law. The concept covers a broad range of conduct and is the subject of multiple definitions—as many as 22 by one academic’s recent count. If coercive control is to be criminalized, the elements of the offence should be clear and draw on terminology and language used elsewhere in Canadian criminal law. Adding an overly complicated new offence to the Criminal Code won’t help survivors.

I am concerned that Bill C-247, which draws heavily on the British legislation, is in its current iteration unduly complex and would require some modification.

Assuming you could operationalize an offence of coercive control, there will also be challenges in ensuring that police officers are able to understand and identify reports of coercive control. Extensive training would be essential for police across the country. Even with the training, the U.K. experience suggests that many police are still struggling to see coercive control as worthy of criminal charges.

Another more significant policing challenge is that many survivors, particularly those from marginalized or vulnerable communities, face real barriers to reporting, including a distrust of police. Real work is needed to restore the trust of survivors in police and the justice system more generally.

Finally, as someone who spent more than a decade working as a Crown prosecutor before joining LEAF, I think there would be significant challenges associated with the prosecution of coercive control.

I am especially concerned about the potential impact of prosecutions on complainants. As drafted, the offence requires proof both that the accused’s actions could reasonably be expected to have a significant impact on the victim, meaning that it was objectively reasonable to have that impact, and that they have in fact had such an impact, meaning that complainants will need to give evidence about how they have been affected by the conduct.

This could lead to the revictimization of women as they navigate the criminal justice system, having to testify about their experiences, having their credibility impugned, and opening them up to invasive requests for access to their medical or therapeutic records to call into question whether and how they have been impacted.