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.