I would like to thank the committee for inviting me to speak. I thought I had 10 minutes, so I will have to be faster than I'd like.
First of all, the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter is Canada's first rape crisis line. We opened in 1973, and we operate a transition house for battered women and their children. We receive about 1,300 new calls per year and house about 100 women and their children who are escaping violent men. We offer advocacy and accompaniment to police, court, and hospital, as well as oftentimes to immigration and welfare.
In the course of their stay, we assist women with finding housing, obtaining a lawyer for family law matters such as custody and access, making a police statement, finding day care, and almost everything they need on a daily basis. Also, if needed we find translation and assist with immigration and refugee issues.
Vancouver Rape Relief is a collective of paid and volunteer members. Our membership includes former battered women, women who have exited prostitution, and sexual assault survivors. Our members vary in age, race, and class.
Our 40 years of front-line work informs our understanding of all forms of male violence against women, including wife assault, incest, rape, sexual harassment, and prostitution.
We have been widely consulted for our expertise and our understanding of male violence against women, locally, nationally and internationally. For example, we've also been contributing our expertise on violence against women in provincial and federal consultations, most recently to this committee on trafficking and prostitution, and for Bill C-51.
We also participate widely in the women's movement. Since 1997, we have held an annual all-day event in the form of a public conference in memory of the Montreal massacre. Rape Relief has led in-depth facilitated discussions on key issues regarding male violence against women. The participants include local, national, and international equality-seeking women's groups and feminist front-line women's service workers, and the event is highly attended by members of the public and other feminists in the city.
In 2011 we were part of the global Women's Worlds conference in Ottawa, and with CLES—Concertation des luttes contre l'exploitation sexuelle—we organized an international trilingual discussion among women experts who discussed prostitution as male violence against women. We hosted discussants from first nations and from 15 countries around the world.
We also work in coalition with other anti-violence workers and organizations, such as the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, the Canadian Network of Women's Shelters and the BC Society of Transition Houses.
Vancouver Rape Relief has advanced and pursued public cases where there is a women's equality interest. For example, Rape Relief was a party with standing in the institutional and expert hearings for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We're part of a national coalition of front-line workers that has been granted intervenor status in the appeal of Bradley Barton, who was found not guilty for the murder of Cindy Gladue. Our oral submission will be heard in the Supreme Court of Canada on October 11.
What does our front-line experience tell us? Most women who have experienced male violence do not engage with the criminal justice system. Roughly 30% of the women who call us have done so. That is high, because most rape crisis centres are only dealing with sexual assault, for which the numbers are lower. However, because we're dealing with battered women as well, sometimes the police are called for them by neighbours and other people. They're not the only ones calling, so that makes our numbers a bit high.
Oftentimes the women we work with in the transition house have the police called on them, but if they themselves call, they don't see their cases get to court, and even fewer of those cases result in criminal convictions. Our work shows that most of the women who've stayed in our house and who have tried to use the police don't get more than a police file number. It's uncommon for there to be any arrest or charges. It's extremely unlikely that there will be a conviction.
Women don't have faith in the criminal justice system. They don't have faith that it'll work in their favour because history has shown that it doesn't. Although we welcome some of the changes in the bill, it must be acknowledged that these changes will affect a small portion of women who have experienced male violence.
I'm hopeful that some of the measures will have a positive impact. We believe that protecting women's equality rights does not have to come at the expense or violation of men's charter rights. We do take the position that it's battered and sexually assaulted women who rarely find justice or have their charter rights upheld. We argue that the existing laws must be applied as they relate to battered and raped women.
We recognize that it's poor, racialized, and indigenous men who fill the prisons, not because they commit more crimes against women but because the criminal justice system unfairly criminalizes these populations and lets rich white men off the hook. It's a poor, racialized, and indigenous woman who is most likely to be arrested if the violent man calls the police on her.
We don't believe that prisons successfully reform men, and we don't call for longer jail sentences. However, communities do not hold men accountable for the violence men commit. Therefore, women will continue to need the criminal justice system for protection, and we feminists must fight for women's access to the rule of law.
We welcome some of the changes in the language, such as the change from “spousal” to “intimate partner” and the expansion of the definition to include former partners and dating partners because it better reflects the range of relations women are in outside of marriage. This change also allows for a broader and deeper interpretation of the continuing power that abusive men exert over women after the relationship has ended since a woman is most at risk in the first 18 months after leaving an abusive man. We see that men use violence towards women at all different stages of a relationship, including after it ends, so the change to “intimate partner” violence is good because it could mean a higher chance of him being held responsible for his behaviour.
However, this language change does nothing to correct the fundamental flaw in this bill. Nowhere in this bill is male violence against women acknowledged. It is understood worldwide that male violence against women is a social reality that cannot be denied. This bill does nothing to reflect or acknowledge the fact that the perpetrators of violence are overwhelmingly men and that the victims of that violence are women.
The change to the reverse-onus bail in cases of male violence is an encouraging step to help reduce the number of men who immediately reoffend and attack their female intimate partners. It's a positive step because the onus is on him to prove why he should be let out if he has a history of domestic violence. It sends a message that violence against women is a serious crime.
It is, however, unfortunate that this reverse onus will not apply to those men without a criminal record for domestic violence. This includes convicted persons who have received an absolute or conditional discharge. In a case in which I was working with a battered woman, her abuser was a lawyer. He argued to the judge that he needed to go to the States to visit family. Even though he admitted that he was guilty, she granted him a conditional discharge. If he batters again, which he likely will, he won't be held on this reverse onus.
We think that eliminating the mandatory use of preliminary inquiries is a positive step. We know from our own experience of accompanying women to court that preliminary inquiries are used by the defence as an attempt to discredit the women's testimonies by pointing out minute discrepancies between their police statements, their preliminary inquiry evidence and their trial testimonies. As a recent example, in a trial I attended last month, the woman was testifying, and she said in her pretrial, “I think I wore a cardigan,” in one statement, and in another statement she said, “I was wearing a cardigan.” The defence cross-examined her gratuitously on the difference, implying that because she didn't use the exact same wording, she was lying. This misuse of preliminary hearings in sexual assault trials is common, and we're glad to see its use limited.
Bill C-75 makes strangulation a more serious level of assault, equal to assault causing bodily harm. Since strangulation is an indicator of the likelihood of increased and more severe violence, including wife murder, this change better reflects the seriousness of the crime—