Mr. Speaker, yes, my much better half, as my colleague from behind me said, and there is no argument from my colleague from Winnipeg. She is much better looking. I do not know if there would be an argument on that either. He just threw up his hands, for the record. She is much smarter, much wiser and much more charming, and I am indebted to her for the work she does. She has told me stories about women who come to her terrified in this setting.
If we look at the Criminal Code, section 810, which I believe the intimate-partner violence report references with regard to peace bonds, was dealt with historically through a peace bond. For people out there watching, a peace bond means that a person has a reasonable ground to fear another person. It does not even need to be in an intimate-partner setting. It can be in any setting.
Peace bonds are often used as part of a plea bargaining process when the original charge is assault. However, the peace bond process is like a trial. The police have to submit a report to Crown counsel, and Crown counsel, in British Columbia anyway, will approve that charge. When I say “charge” I mean counsel will approve the allegation. Then there is disclosure. It is essentially a full-blown trial for this hearing about whether or not a person has reasonable grounds to fear someone. However, let us say something happens January 1, 2021. That matter may not get to trial until January 31, 2022, for instance, which is a full 13 months. I believe the maximum duration or the typical duration of a peace bond is 12 months. This is generally quite inadequate.
I do not know if other jurisdictions have this, but in British Columbia, a person who has grounds to fear someone can, on sworn evidence or on affidavit evidence, go to the full court under provincial legislation and get a court order prohibiting contact. I did not practise law in this area so I am just paraphrasing here, but that is my understanding. This court order is done ex parte, which means there is no notice to the person who is the subject of the order.
For anybody who may be watching on CPAC or anywhere else, be aware that some provincial legislation may allow a person to go to court, literally today or tomorrow, to sign an affidavit, which is a sworn document, and have their lawyer present it to a judge. Once that document is served on the person whom there is a reasonable ground to fear, that person can no longer have any contact with the person who signed the affidavit. If they do, they will be subject to a Criminal Code offence.
Coercive behaviour is, in my view, part of what sometimes in justice circles we call the “cycle of violence”. Members may have heard me say there is an “offence cycle”, as people do not just go from zero to 60 such that one second they are not offending and the next second they are. There are often antecedents, and one of those antecedents or precursors, if you will, might be drinking too much. It might be dysfunction in the relationship. It might be manipulation itself. Those things will almost always, from what I have seen, precede an offence, such as uttering a threat, or assaultive behaviour, which is the laying on of hands without consent, sexual assault or anything like that when it comes to the intimate-partner violence.
When we are talking about an offence cycle, it is my view that controlling and coercive behaviour really is the offence cycle. What we are trying to do here, as the report addresses, is ensure that the offence cycle itself is criminalized based on the report. We can never forget that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.
I hope the House will indulge me as I share some anecdotes from my experience. They really go back to the cycle of violence. They play into this notion of controlling and coercive behaviour. Up to this point, we have been talking about coercive and controlling behaviour in the context of what precedes the offence, but controlling and coercive behaviour occurs after the offence as well.
Typically when there is an allegation of assault or of uttering threats, an accused person will be put on conditions under the Criminal Code. However, those conditions get enforced variably. Some people in law enforcement take them more seriously than others, and frankly, some accused persons take them more seriously than others.
Let us say we have somebody on a condition to stay away from their intimate partner, who is the victim in this instance. Then, regardless of that condition, the accused person gets to that intimate partner, either directly or indirectly. When I worked at the prosecutorial office, we would see about one person a day, in a relatively small community, walk up to our counter and say they want to drop the charges. It was almost always an intimate partner who would say that. I do not think I am really stretching to say that it was one intimate partner a day. We would often have to explain that it is not their decision to drop the charges. This is not the United States, where someone can say they want charges or they do not. The Crown, His Majesty in this case, makes that decision.
I was always really bothered by that, as people were clearly victimized. Sometimes, if it was my case, I would bring them in and talk to them, and they would say they want to drop the charges. Sometimes we would actually have to play their 911 call. For those who have not listened to a lot of 911 calls, they are pretty harrowing. If someone is calling 911, they are calling for a reason. They are scared because there is an emergency.
We would see somebody who had clearly been victimized and had been part of this coercive behaviour over the course of months listen to their 911 call from six months earlier, when they said they were petrified or they had just been abused by their partner. Then they would say they want to drop the charges because they love this person, they do not want to see them punished or they are fearful. These are the things the report gets to. I am mindful of the fact that these are underlying problems. As it has often been asked, how do we deal with these underlying issues? I am not going to say that this is not a huge issue.
Another thing I would often ask an intimate partner in this setting is if they had children. Let us say their daughter is the one who made the 911 call. Would they be giving them advice to take the action they are taking? A number of them would be taken aback by that, and that was the point.
Again, we do not want the cycle of violence to continue. However, if we look at justice system participants, look at statistics or just sit in court, it is really difficult to see that oftentimes, it is the same people, the same abuser and the same complainant. If there are three sets of charges, one from January, another one in April and another one in July, we are fooling ourselves to think that this conduct was only about the assaultive behaviour that occurred in January, April and July. There were intervening events typically marked by what the report calls “coercive behaviour”, so there is certainly a reason to address this.
Criminal law does not capture this issue. This is something my colleague from the NDP stated. I believe he has a private member's bill on this point, and I look forward to discussing and debating it, because criminal law does not really capture this.
It does not capture another thing. I am probably not letting the cat out of the bag her too much, but it is something I am looking at for a private member's bill as well. Right now, if a person assaults their intimate partner, they get the exact same charge as a person who assaults somebody at a bar, at a pub or on the street. It is in section 266 of the Criminal Code. It just goes down as an assault. Our Criminal Code, in its charging section, does not distinguish between assaulting an intimate partner and assaulting a stranger, assaulting a best friend or assaulting anybody else. There is no distinction.
It is the same with uttering threats. The person who is most likely to get threatened, in my view, anecdotally, is an intimate partner. Again, the Criminal Code does not distinguish between uttering a threat against an intimate partner and uttering a threat against a person on the street or something like that.
What troubles me about that is the sentence, therefore, is the same. If we are going to say that this is an insidious event that occurs far too frequently across all sorts of socio-economic groups and that we are going to come down on it, why do we treat assaulting one's partner the same way as we treat assaulting somebody at the pub? It makes sense that we should be treating it more seriously, and we would be treating it more seriously by making the penalty more serious.
It is great to say this is more serious, but if the penalty is identical, Parliament is communicating that it is not, itself, any different. We can talk about it, but when the rubber hits the road, what is the law on the books? We can have aggravating features in the Criminal Code, but I call on the House to make that change, particularly to the assault section under section 266, the uttering threats section under section 264.1, the assault causing sections and the aggravated assault section.
If anyone wants a parallel, simply look at the peace officer domain. There is a discrete section regarding assaulting a peace officer. Anyone who assaults a peace officer has committed an assault, but Parliament has chosen to say that, if anyone assaults a peace officer, it will be a discrete offence. We do not do that when it comes to intimate partners. Given what this report tells us, it is something that I believe the House should do. When we look at intimate partner violence as a leading element of homicides, which I believe from my criminology days was about 50%, that is something we should be addressing.
I will now get to some of the recommendations in this report. Recommendation 1 talks about acknowledging the significant harms and that these harms are not captured in the code itself. Recommendation 2 makes a further statements to that. Recommendation 3 talks about calling on “the federal government, the provinces and territories to implement measures to combat the challenges presented by the justice system for victims of coercive and controlling behaviour and intimate partner violence”.
What we often see is the cycle of violence continuing through what is often called secondary victimization. The primary victimization is the offence itself. The secondary victimization occurs based on that person walking through the justice system. Far too often, victims of intimate partner violence are having to navigate the justice system on their own.
I want to recognize victim services workers. They are often volunteers, some of them paid and paid far too little, who work for police organizations, especially in small towns. Those victim services workers are invaluable. They are so helpful to people in these settings, by attending courts. The amount of work they do and the quality of work they do has to be recognized. They are often the unsung heroes, when it comes to victims getting to court. They are often there for marginalized people, for vulnerable people and for people who are experiencing coercive control on a daily basis.
At the end of the day, we all have a role to play. My view was that when an intimate partner violence file came across my desk, I would try call the victim as early as I could, because this is simply a different type of offence. The victims are incredibly vulnerable. They are most vulnerable after a breakup, and when there is a no-contact condition, that could lead to significant violence between them.
Recommendation 4 talks about increasing funding and adequate levels of support and counselling.
I am not sure if my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester has already tabled his bill but, if not, I believe he will have a forthcoming bill about whether we should be taxing counselling services.
To me, counselling services are already expensive. I imagine people pay anywhere between $100 and $300 an hour for a counsellor. If we are going to address trauma at its root, that addressing should be done in a manner that is affordable. The government should not be getting in the way of that by adding costs to it. These events themselves can often be traumatic, not only traumatic at the time but also, as I said, in the process that a person goes through.
This leads me to recommendation 5, which talks about training, and that training being trauma-informed. We have the provincial legislation I referred to, but we do need to talk about this when it comes to training. Judges must be trained.