Thank you, Chair.
Thank you to the committee for inviting me here today. It is nice to see you all again.
My name is Jennifer Dunn. I am the executive director of the London Abused Women's Centre, or LAWC, here in London, Ontario.
LAWC is a feminist organization that supports and advocates for personal, social and systemic change directed at ending male violence against women and girls. Our centre is non-residential. We are an agency that provides women and girls over the age of 12 who have been abused, assaulted, exploited, trafficked or experienced non-state torture with immediate access to long-term woman-centred counselling, advocacy and support.
On April 8, the Honourable David Lametti said, “Community safety is what we want. These reforms will...make [it] happen.” We do partially agree with the honourable minister. Community safety is what we want. However, we do not believe Bill C-5 is what will make it happen, the way it is. There are two issues that I want to address today. One is conditional sentencing. The other is mandatory minimum penalties. I'll start with conditional sentencing.
With Bill C-5, the court may, for the purpose of supervising the offender's behaviour in the community, order that the offender serve the sentence in the community. Some of the offences listed in Bill C-5 are sexual assault, criminal harassment, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, material benefit and abduction of a person under 14. Women and girls are five times more likely than men to be victims of sexual assault, and sexual assault is a violent crime on the rise in Canada. With conditional sentencing, many women will be stuck in the community with the offender, which places them at even higher risk.
A conditional sentence does nothing to stop an offender from continuing to commit violence. Women need the courts to see this. A conditional sentence for these offences undermines the seriousness of these crimes.
I have a quote here from a woman I am proud to work with. Her name is Caroline. She is a peer support worker and a survivor. She said:
I know a case where two men got 4 years and for trafficking, that’s nothing when women face a lifetime sentence after being trafficked, many women will never get over it and at minimum those women face years and years of counselling and constantly watching their back.
We know from our work that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Victims and perpetrators live in the same communities. An offender being placed back into the community with a conditional sentence is not always the answer.
The second issue I want to address with you today is the repeal of mandatory minimum penalties for some offences in the Criminal Code. I urge the committee to think about the most marginalized individuals when considering if this is good enough. Repealing some mandatory minimum penalties over others does not help with public safety. Women are not protected by the law unless all mandatory minimum penalties are considered.
For example, a mandatory life sentence for women who end up convicted of murder in situations where they were reacting to male violence is inappropriate. Each year 40% to 50% of women sentenced to life in prison are indigenous, and 91% of them have histories of physical and sexual abuse.
Canada's longest mandatory minimum penalty, the mandatory life sentence for murder, has resulted in countless miscarriages of justice for women. It has been proven time and time again that there is not a full understanding of the impact of violence against women in the criminal justice system.
When listening to the previous sessions of the study, I also heard more than once that there are cost savings with Bill C-5. I would ask if cost savings should actually be a point of concern when we are discussing the lives of women. We need systemic change. We need to protect women. Women deserve to live free from violence. The courts need to see that women are easily placed at more risk.
On Wednesday in the Senate, while speaking about a different bill, Bill S-205, Senator Pate said the following:
...let’s ensure that we address the issues, attitudes and ideas that fuel misogynist violence in society and our criminal, legal and penal systems, while simultaneously implementing the sorts of robust social, health and economic support systems that can truly assist women to avoid and escape violence.
This could not be more true for Bill C-5 as well.
In conclusion, we know that Bill C-5 is an attempt to tackle systemic racism in Canada's criminal justice system, but the committee must remember that many of the victims of these offences are also part of the most marginalized and vulnerable. The government has a responsibility to make decisions based on the best interests of all.