An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Judges Act (violence against an intimate partner)

Sponsor

Anju Dhillon  Liberal

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

Status

In committee (House), as of May 17, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-233.

Elsewhere

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.

Status of WomenCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 17th, 2022 / 10:05 a.m.
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Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women in relation to Bill C-233, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Judges Act (violence against an intimate partner).

The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House with amendments.

I also have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, entitled “Recommendations following the study of Bill C-233, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Judges Act (violence against an intimate partner)”. It states:

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee has considered Bill C-233, an Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Judges Act (violence against an intimate partner), and wishes to make the following recommendations to the Government:

That the committee considered issues and consequences around the availability of cell service in the use of e-monitoring and recommends the Government of Canada move as soon as possible to ensure access to cell service is available across Canada, and that the committee feels strongly and recommends that when developing training for new judges, the issues of intimate partner violence, coercive control in intimate partner and family relationships, and social context be included.

May 6th, 2022 / 2:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Dominique Vien Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I thank you, ladies, for being here this afternoon.

I don't have many questions for you. However, I do have one that relates to one of your answers, which surprised me a bit.

Ms. Davis-Ermuth, in response to a question from one of my colleagues about the application of the new provisions of Bill C‑233 and how all of this was going to be verified on the ground, as well as my question earlier this afternoon about how the effects of these new provisions were being analyzed, you responded that Statistics Canada was going to be doing that work.

Did I understand correctly?

May 6th, 2022 / 2:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

This is my final question.

You've seen Keira's law, which is Bill C-233. I'm wondering if you can tell us if you believe that this bill would help children and women in these situations in the future. Would it help empower women when it comes to divorce and when it comes to an abusive partner?

May 6th, 2022 / 2:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Michelle Ferreri Conservative Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Okay. Thank you so much.

I have what I feel is a delicate question. Obviously, I think this whole committee is very passionate about this, and we've come together because we know how important this bill is. I think sometimes when we're super-emotional, we can forget about something that can happen, perhaps negatively, as a result of a bill.

Just to ensure.... I've had a lot of questions and feedback from male victims of intimate partner violence and male victims of domestic abuse as well. Do you see this Bill C-233 and the education being applied to judges protecting all people, regardless of gender?

May 6th, 2022 / 2:05 p.m.
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Shannon Davis-Ermuth Senior Counsel, Criminal Law and Policy Section, Policy Sector, Department of Justice

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today to the reforms proposed by Bill C-233, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Judges Act (violence against an intimate partner).

I would like to begin by acknowledging that I am joining you from my home and place of work that is situated on the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee and the Algonquin Anishinabe nations.

I propose to provide a brief overview of the bill's reforms with reference to the relevant existing legal frameworks, and then my colleague, Melissa Moor, and I will be happy to attempt to answer any questions you may have.

As you know, the bill proposes two sets of amendments, one to the Criminal Code's interim judicial release, commonly known as bail provisions, and one to the provisions in the Judges Act for continuing education seminars. I will address each in turn.

Amendments to the Criminal Code would require a justice of the peace to determine whether an accused charged with an offence against his or her intimate partner should be required to wear a remote monitoring device as a condition of bail, commonly referred to as a “bond”, when requested by the Attorney General.

Currently, the Criminal Code allows courts hearing bail applications to impose any conditions they deem necessary, as long as they are justified, in any of the following cases: to ensure the accused's presence in court, for the protection or safety of the public, including victims, and [Technical difficulty—Editor] so as not to undermine section 515(10) of the Criminal Code.

In particular, they may impose any conditions they consider necessary to ensure the safety of victims or witnesses to the offence, which may include the requirement to wear a remote monitoring device as a condition of release for any offence, including offences against an intimate partner. The electronic monitoring of accused persons on bail is a matter of administration of justice, and therefore a provincial and territorial responsibility. The use of such a device varies across the country. Some provinces and territories provide electronic monitoring programs and pay for the device, while others require the accused to pay for it.

Now I will turn to Bill C-233's Judges Act amendments, which would add intimate partner violence and coercive control to the list of continuing education seminars for judges that the Canadian Judicial Council may establish. That list of continuing education seminars already references “matters related to sexual assault law and social context, which includes systemic racism and systemic discrimination”, as enacted by Bill C-3, which came into force in 2021.

“Coercive control” is a term coined by sociologists to refer to a pattern of controlling behaviour that takes place over time in the context of intimate partner or familial relationships 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 in which abusers exercise control.

The concept of coercive control has been used in both family law and criminal law contexts. In the family law context, the concept was recently added to the Divorce Act's definition of family violence. Although there are no specific offences of intimate partner violence or coercive control in the Criminal Code, numerous Criminal Code offences of general application can address this type of conduct, such as homicide, assault, threats of death or bodily harm, sexual assault and criminal harassment.

That concludes my remarks. I welcome any questions you may have.

Thank you.

May 6th, 2022 / 2 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Good afternoon. We are starting our second hour of debate and discussion on Bill C-233.

For our second panel, I would like to welcome members of the Department of Justice. We have Melissa Moor, counsel of the judicial affairs section, public law and legislative services sector, as well as Shannon Davis-Ermuth, senior counsel, criminal law and policy sector.

You have five minutes together. When you see me start rolling my pen, if you could start wrapping it up, that would be fantastic.

I'm going to pass the floor over to you. I'm not sure who would like to get started, but I'm passing over the floor to the Department of Justice. You have five minutes.

May 6th, 2022 / 1:55 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Awesome.

On behalf of the status of women committee in the first hour of the debate on Bill C-233, I would like to thank Anju Dhillon and Pam Damoff for coming forward and presenting today.

To Jennifer and to Phil, thank you so, so much. I can't agree more with Pam about the work you have done and the advocacy you're done in memory of Keira. We're all there. Thanks for letting us join your train and making sure that we change things for all Canadians. Thank you so much.

We are now going to suspend for a few seconds. We will be welcoming the justice department.

You can hang up. Once again, thank you so much for joining us.

We are suspended.

May 6th, 2022 / 1:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Ms. Dhillon and Ms. Damoff, thank you very much, once again, for introducing Bill C‑233. I also thank Dr. Kagan-Viater and Mr. Viater for being here.

I would like to remind you that talking about this issue is not new. Dr. Kagan-Viater, you pointed out that violence is not always physical, but it always hurts. There was an ad campaign that ran at the time that made an impression on me as a young woman. It was my partner who was behind the campaign, who thought of it. I thought it summed up what coercive control is all about.

If I understand correctly, the electronic bracelet might not have saved your daughter. You recalled that it was more the training of the judges that was at issue in this case. That is my understanding.

For survivors and victims of intimate partner violence, the important thing is that there are no other victims, but also to give women back their confidence so that they want to report these situations, feel that they will be listened to and that their situation will be given all the importance it can have.

Dr. Kagan-Viater, I would like you to talk about the impact that better training of judges will have, and the fact that women will be encouraged to report these situations.

May 6th, 2022 / 1:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Dominique Vien Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Of course.

In closing, Madam Chair, I would like to ask a question of our colleague Ms. Dhillon.

Instead of a sunset provision, would it have been appropriate for Bill C‑233 to include a provision that would provide for an analysis of its implementation? So we could have looked at what it would have achieved in three or five years, perhaps?

May 6th, 2022 / 1:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

You are absolutely right.

In fact, I am proud to say that one of the specialized court pilot projects will be implemented here in Granby, in the heart of my riding.

The thinking behind the implementation of specialized courts is precisely based on the question of the training of judges. It is essential that they be better trained.

I just want to point out that coercive control is only addressed in relation to the training of judges and that, as you say, the amendment to the Criminal Code that is proposed in the bill that has been tabled does not address the criminalization of coercive control. I heard you say that this was the beginning of a reflection. Yet a recommendation to that effect has been made by many experts, on numerous occasions, to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

At this point, what is the reason you have not incorporated the recommendation to criminalize coercive control into Bill C‑233?

May 6th, 2022 / 1:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Ms. Kagan‑Viater and Mr. Viater, I would like to start by offering my deepest condolences. As a recent mother of a little girl myself, I can only imagine the pain you must have felt as parents. This shows how intimate partner violence affects not only the partners, but the whole family. We have had several witnesses say it before the committee. My thoughts are with you.

Ms. Dhillon, thank you very much for introducing Bill C‑233. You've heard me talk a lot about coercive control, as has Ms. Damoff.

I had the opportunity to meet a survivor who was receiving the stories of other survivors as part of her blog Les mots de Myra. If we look at all those stories, it becomes clear that the notion of coercive control affords a much broader and holistic view of the domestic violence issue. You've heard me talk about this many times.

I'm pleased that you are introducing Bill C‑233, and it will come as no surprise to you that my party and I will, of course, be supporting it.

In a sense, the bill follows in the footsteps of what the Quebec government recently put in place. It's in line with what's been done in the National Assembly. We were looking forward to seeing Ottawa get there. However, Quebec has already moved perhaps a little more quickly. In short, I want to tell you that we very much support this new public policy, which is consistent with Quebecers' values.

However, I must stress that this improved legislation will not solve all domestic violence issues. It's not a quick fix. Several witnesses cautioned the committee against thinking that one measure, like the anti-approach bracelet, for example, is going to solve everything by waving a magic wand. Many witnesses have told us we are going to need to add several other measures to curb this violence.

We know that the Quebec government has already announced plans to implement the anti-approach bracelet as part of a set of 14 other measures under way to curb intimate partner violence.

To ensure the continued implementation of these measures, I want you to know how important it is that health care funding to Quebec and the provinces continue to increase to maintain adequate services for victims of domestic violence. Several witnesses have mentioned it. Many organizations can provide support to victims, and their services must go hand in hand with measures like the anti-approach bracelet.

Many witnesses have emphasized how critical these organizations are. What are your thoughts on it?

May 6th, 2022 / 1:15 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Perfect. Thank you so much.

At the beginning of 2020, when I was the shadow minister for women and gender equality, I remember people calling me at home, saying, “We need to find a safe place for this woman.” It was just absolutely tragic.

Jennifer, I want to pass it over to you.

First, as a mom, I don't even know how words can say it. “Sorry” is not enough, but I'm thinking of you each and every day. As we're going through this bill, Bill C-233, your beautiful little girl with those ringlets comes to mind each and every day.

I just want to ask you this. You had 53 court orders, and nothing was done. People were giving out these court orders that said the man can't come over, your ex-husband can't come over, it just can't happen. Every single time he defied these court orders. What happened? What was the next thing you were able to do? What sort of enforcement was done? What did the police do? What resources did you have?

May 6th, 2022 / 1:05 p.m.
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Dr. Jennifer Kagan-Viater As an Individual

Thank you very much.

My name is Jennifer Kagan. I'm a mother and physician, and I will introduce my husband, Mr. Philip Viater, who is a father and family law lawyer.

I'm here to speak with you today about Bill C-233, the judicial education component of which is named informally in honour of my daughter, Keira Kagan.

Today I want to thank MPs Dhillon, Damoff and Saks, as well as all of you on the committee, for inviting us here to speak. It is really an honour.

It is obviously difficult for me to come today to speak about this, but it is very important, and this bill is going to save lives.

Essentially, I will tell you my story and why my story is not an anomaly but instead is emblematic of a broader problem in the way the family court system handles domestic violence cases and is reflective of a lack of judicial understanding of domestic violence and coercive control.

I was a victim of domestic violence in my previous marriage. It was a short marriage, and I was subject to multiple types of domestic violence, which included isolated episodes of physical violence as well as coercive control.

I had a young daughter and I was able to safely escape the abuser, but when I sought protection for Keira in the family court system, I found that the court system was not equipped to protect a small child. I was before, I believe, between 10 and 12 different judges, none of whom had an understanding of domestic violence and coercive control. During my trial, when I went to the stand to talk about the abuse I had experienced, I was cut off by the judge and told that abuse is not relevant to parenting and he was going to ignore it.

Keira was put unsupervised into the hands of a very dangerous individual. As was mentioned previously by MP Dhillon, Keira was killed in a murder-suicide in February 2020. She and her father were found dead at the base of a cliff in Milton, Ontario.

Out of this, we don't want any other child or family to have to go through what we have had to. Each year, 30 to 40 children in Canada are killed by a parent. One child is too many. When we look at family court failures, we see that Keira was failed by the family court system and that other children are being failed. Children who experience domestic violence in their lifetime will have a myriad of issues, including physical and psychological health problems. Domestic violence is a public health crisis that demands urgent action.

We are of the strong view that judges require education in domestic violence and coercive control; hence the judicial education component to Bill C-233.

A woman is killed somewhere in Canada every 1.5 days. This warrants urgent action, and we are grateful to the MPs for bringing this forward so that no other child has to experience a violent and premature end to life at the hands of a parent, which is preventable.

We are very hopeful that the education will be done in consultation with survivors of violence and the organizations that support them. We would certainly welcome a conversation with the judiciary to discuss domestic violence education and what that education should contain. In my view, it obviously needs to include coercive control but certainly also risk assessment, risk factors for lethality and data from Canadian domestic violence death review committees, which look at what those red flags and warning signs are.

I'm going to turn it over to Mr. Viater.

Thank you so much again. It's really an honour to be here.

May 6th, 2022 / 1 p.m.
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Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

First of all, I'd like to thank you, Madam Chair and the FEWO committee, for moving so quickly on this extremely important issue. It means a lot. From the bottom of my heart, you have my gratitude, all of you. Thank you so much.

I'm very excited today to present Bill C‑233, which I sponsored. I must admit that I'm extremely moved by the widespread support it has received. Even in my wildest dreams, I'd never have dared to imagine my legislative initiative would receive such extraordinary support, be it from victims of domestic violence, my colleagues, human rights groups or the media.

This bill was drafted with one idea in mind, to better protect and save the lives of vulnerable women and children who are victims of domestic violence

Bill C-233 aims at enacting two amendments, one in the Criminal Code and the other in the Judges Act. It seeks to introduce electronic monitoring to the Criminal Code in some circumstances at the judicial temporary release of an accused, as well as training of federal judges on the phenomenon of domestic violence and coercive control.

Since I began practising criminal and family law, I have seen how difficult it is for victims of domestic violence to break out of the cycle of violence and abuse. Many victims were reluctant to speak out about the hell they were experiencing for fear of not being believed in the system, or retaliation from an abusive partner, or financial insecurity.

Some of my colleagues who are lawyers lost clients at the hands of a violent and harassing ex-partner. Others represented violent clients who would not keep away from their intimate partners despite orders from the court, a behaviour leading to the loss of human lives.

The same findings came up in the status of women committee, where I was parliamentary secretary and a member subsequently. The testimony of victims, experts and allies painted over and over the same gruesome reality of so many victims being affected by domestic abuse, including their children. One emerging conclusion when it comes to violence between intimate partners is that the risk of violence and death for abused victims and their children does not end with the separation of the couple. On the contrary; in a lot of cases, within 18 months of the said separation, there is a higher risk for the partner, most of the time the woman, as well as the children to be attacked in a violent way.

In the very few jurisdictions in the world, such as Australia and Spain, where electronic monitoring was implemented as a means to better protect such victims of domestic abuse, there was a notable decrease in violent crimes, as well as femicides and filicides.

In other words, in some problem cases where the abuser refuses to stay away from the victim or does not agree with a separation imposed by the partner, an anti-approach bracelet can inform authorities and the former partner of non-compliance with the judge's conditions and therefore save lives or prevent violent crimes.

Given that a woman is murdered every two and a half days, which translates into 144 to 178 murders a year often committed by an intimate partner, clearly our country needs technology like this to prevent such tragedies.

It is therefore obvious that our nation needs this type of legislation.

It's imperative that this law make it possible for a judge to order that an anti-approach bracelet be worn when an individual poses a risk to the safety of their intimate partner and children, and only when deemed necessary.

Doing so will allow provincial judges as well as municipal judges to order such conditions when deemed necessary.

While I was preparing to present my private member's bill, my good friends and colleagues from Oakville North—Burlington and York Centre, respectively Pam Damoff and Ya'ara Saks, asked me to meet with Dr. Jennifer Kagan-Viater and her spouse, Philip Viater, who are strong advocates when it comes to requiring completing seminars on domestic violence and coercive control.

I did have the chance to have an exchange with them, and their personal story shook me to the core. In February 2020, Ms. Kagan-Viater lost her four-year-old daughter Keira at the hands of her father in an apparent murder-suicide. The telltale signs were present prior to this tragedy; however, the court that gave the father unsupervised access rights to Keira tossed this from evidence, considering that abusive and violent behaviour towards Keira's mother should not be considered a risk to the child.

The findings show quite the opposite.

Children's safety can be and is at risk when a parent is abusive towards the other parent and has joint custody or unsupervised rights to the couple's children.

With that in mind, with support from two valued allies and the colleagues I mentioned earlier, I drafted a provision in Bill C‑233 which, if the bill passes, will require that judges complete domestic violence training.

Thank you very much.

May 6th, 2022 / 1 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

I call this meeting to order.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to meeting number 18 of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Pursuant to the order of reference of Friday, April 29, 2022, the committee will begin its study of Bill C-233, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Judges Act (violence against an intimate partner).

Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely by using the Zoom application. As per the directive of the Board of Internal Economy on March 10, 2022, all those attending the meeting in person must wear a mask, except for members who are at their place during proceedings.

I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses and members.

Please wait until I recognize you by name before speaking. For those participating by video conference, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. Please mute yourself when you are not speaking.

For interpretation, for those on Zoom, you have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either “floor”, “English” or “French”. For those in the room, you can use your earpiece and select the desired channel. All comments should be made through the chair.

Concerning the drafting of amendments, I would like to remind members to contact Alexandra Schorah, the legislative counsel, as soon as possible, should there be any amendments to the draft.

It is now my honour to welcome our first panel on this—I'll be honest—very important bill. Obviously, I have a little bias there. As the chair, I will be very honest on this one.

Today we will be speaking about Bill C-233 and welcoming a special guest, Anju Dhillon, who is the sponsor of this bill.

Thank you very much for this bill, Anju.

We also are proud to have Pam Damoff, the seconder of this bill, who has been supporting this bill through its entire time through the House.

Today it's my honour to have both Jennifer Kagan-Viater and Philip Viater here today as we're discussing this really important law.

I am going to be honest right from the beginning. We usually like to keep things right on time. I know that the first hour of this panel is very, very important to the committee, so I will be lenient with time. When you see my arms flapping, though, please try to have it done in the next few seconds, if you don't mind.

I am now going to pass the floor over to Anju Dhillon.

Anju, if you would you like to start with your presentation, we will provide you with five minutes.

Thank you very much.