Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate today on Bill C-75, introduced on March 29, 2018. The bill has now been studied by the justice and human rights committee and returned to the House. I am optimistic that we can move this important piece of legislation forward today. Bill C-75 includes important amendments that reflect the government's unwavering commitment to tackling gender-based violence.
Last June, the government launched a federal strategy to prevent and address gender-based violence across Canada. The 2017 budget included $100.9 million over five years and an additional $20.7 million per year thereafter to fund this important strategy, which would ensure there is more support for vulnerable populations, such as women and girls, indigenous people, LGBTQ2 community members, gender non-binary individuals, those living in rural and remote communities, and people with disabilities, among many others.
Budget 2018 announced a further $86 million over five years and $20 million per year in ongoing funding to enhance this strategy. The three pillars of the strategy—prevention, support for survivors and their families, and promotion of a responsive legal and justice system—will better align these and existing resources to ensure that current gaps in support are filled.
Bill C-75 complements these initiatives and further supports the third pillar of the federal gender-based violence strategy by promoting a more responsive legal and justice system. It specifically targets intimate partner violence, which is one of the most common forms of gender-based violence. Intimate partner violence includes things like sexual, physical and psychological abuse, as well as controlling behaviours. Bill C-75 proposes to define “intimate partner” throughout the Criminal Code to clarify that it includes a current or former spouse, common-law partner and a dating partner.
This clarification is sorely needed to reflect the current reality, which is that so many of the individuals accused of violence against women before the courts are in fact dating partners, as opposed to spouses. According to data from Statistics Canada, victimization by an intimate partner was the most common form of police-reported violent crime against women in 2016. Based on police-reported data from 2016, we also know that violence within dating relationships was more common than violence within spousal relationships.
The new definition of intimate partner violence would apply in the sentencing context, where judges would have to consider any evidence of abuse against a former or current spouse, common-law partner and dating partner as an aggravating factor. Higher maximum penalties for repeat intimate violence offenders would also be available to sentencing judges under this legislation.
In addition to the reverse onus on bail, Bill C-75 would add two new factors that a judge would have to consider before making an order to release or detain an accused. Bail courts would have to consider an accused's criminal record, something that already routinely occurs but is not mandated, as well as whether an accused has ever been charged with an offence that involved violence against an intimate partner. These factors would ensure that judges have a more complete picture and are fully informed of any prior history of violence that could threaten the safety of a victim or the public at large.
In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that the type of violence most often experienced by victims of intimate partner violence was physical force, which includes more serious harm, such as choking. The reforms proposed in Bill C-75 would further enhance victim safety by clarifying that strangulation, choking and suffocation constitute a more serious form of assault under section 267 of the Criminal Code, punishable by a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment, instead of a simple assault, which carries a maximum penalty of five years. It would also ensure that sexual offences involving strangulation, choking or suffocation are treated as the more serious form of sexual assault, which imposes a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment if the victim is an adult, and life if the victim is a child, under section 272 of the Criminal Code. This would depart from the existing penalty for simple sexual assault, which is a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment under section 271, or 14 years when the victim is under 16.
Unfortunately, under existing law, courts do not always recognize the seriousness of these types of assaults, which often occur in the context of intimate partner violence. These aggressive acts cannot be underappreciated or dismissed as simply reflecting a perpetrator's anger management problem. Strangulation and choking pose a much higher risk to safety than other forms of assault, because they deprive a person of oxygen, with potentially fatal consequences, despite the fact the person might not have any visible injuries. The proposed amendment would better reflect the gravity of the harm inflicted.
While strong laws are a necessary part of tackling gender-based violence, it is important to understand how this legislation complements existing programs and initiatives that, together, ensure that the justice system is working at its full potential.
Over the past couple of years, the government has been working closely with the provinces and territories to improve the criminal justice system's response to gender-based violence. For example, since 2016, the government has provided funding for projects designed to improve responses to sexual assaults against adults. This funding has been made available through the federal victims fund to provinces and territories, municipal governments, first nations, and criminal justice and non-governmental organizations.
The funding is supporting pilot projects in Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador to provide independent legal advice to victims of sexual assault, and the Government of Ontario to further enhance its existing project. Alberta has developed a similar program that is being administered and funded through the provincial ministry of the status of women.
Strong criminal justice responses to gender-based violence, including measures that aim to enhance access to justice for victims, as well as the proposals in Bill C-75, are especially significant right now in the wake of the #MeToo movement, as so many sexual assault survivors are coming forward to acknowledge and share their experiences of sexual violence. Indeed, a November 9, 2018 report by Statistics Canada indicates that the number of police-reported sexual assaults sharply increased by 25% following the beginning of the #MeToo movement in October 2017. The harrowing accounts shared by survivors have shed light on the many social and economic barriers that sexual assault victims have faced and continue to face, with devastating consequences for individuals, their families, and their communities. As more stories of sexual assault are told, we must ensure that the victims and survivors are treated with compassion and respect and that the criminal justice system responds appropriately.
I firmly believe that the proposals to enhance the safety of victims of intimate partner violence in Bill C-75 are a necessary response to this horrific societal problem. I am proud to be part of a government that takes violence against women seriously, as I know all of us in the House do, and one that remains unwavering in its commitment to ensuring that the victims of gender-based violence and their loved ones are treated with the utmost respect and dignity. I hope members will all join me in supporting this bill.