Breadcrumb trail

February 29, 2024

Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime

Remarks to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on the Study of Bill C-332, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (controlling or coercive conduct)

Honourable Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me.

We gather today, on the traditional, unceded, and unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. In honouring the leadership, strength, and wisdom of Indigenous peoples, we are reminded of the profound importance of respect, autonomy, and protection of the rights and dignity of all people. These principles guide our discussion on coercive control.

We gather today, on the traditional, unceded, and unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. In honouring the leadership, strength, and wisdom of Indigenous peoples, we are reminded of the profound importance of respect, autonomy, and protection of the rights and dignity of all people. These principles guide our discussion on coercive control.

Intimate partner violence, or IPV, is an epidemic. It transcends geographic, economic, and cultural boundaries, affecting millions of people. The 2018 Canadian Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS) found that since the age of 15, around 6.2 million women and 4.9 million men in Canada had experienced IPV at some point in their life.1

Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof. Coercive control violates these fundamental rights, permeating experiences of IPV, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and criminal harassment. It requires intervention.

Bill C-332 would criminalize repeat or continuous patterns of coercive control, providing more tools for police to intervene in patterns of abuse. The current incident-based approach to IPV focuses on physical incidents. This can leave police feeling powerless to intervene in some cases where they believe a person is being harmed, or worse, hoping for a future incident of physical violence so they can protect the victim.

There are many things we can learn from the criminalization of coercive control in Ireland, Scotland, and England and Wales.

  • The evidentiary burden on survivors can be heavy.
  • Access to electronic devices and communication records is often required to build a case.
  • Training for police, prosecutors, and judges is critical.
  • Risk assessment tools for coercive control can help to identify patterns of behaviour.

In Canada, recent amendments to the Divorce Act recognize the harmful impacts of coercive and controlling behaviour, but proceedings in family court can be messy. Early in 2024, the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) sent a letter asking the Government of Canada to amend the Divorce Act to ban claims of parental alienation in family disputes because of the harmful impact on women. The letter was endorsed by more than 250 feminist organizations across Canada. I am concerned that the criminalization of coercive control could become equally problematic in family court.

Even so:

domestic homicide reviews in Canada have identified coercive control as a risk factor in several cases of intimate partner homicide with no previous physical violence; when a survivor leaves an abusive and controlling partner, the criminalization of coercive control may allow them to access provincial compensation programs to help meet their immediate needs.

I know the Committee has previously studied this topic and heard from our Office, in addition to experts in the field. I support the criminalization of coercive control, but it must be accompanied by systemic changes. I urge the Government to respond to the calls of the Mass Casualty Commission by declaring gender-based, intimate partner, and family violence an epidemic, and to commit to primary prevention.

Here are some final thoughts:

  • Justice Canada developed the HELP toolkit 2 for lawyers after the Divorce Act was amended to include coercive control. It could be updated to reflect changes to the Criminal Code.
  • Use the definition of intimate partner under section 2 of the Criminal Code.
  • Remove the two-year limit after separation.
  • Strengthen victim rights to improve gender equality.

Thank you for inviting me to share my views on this issue.


1 Cotter, A. (2021). Intimate partner violence in Canada, 2018: An overview. Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics: Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2021001/article/00003-eng.htm

2 HELP Toolkit: Identifying and Responding to Family Violence for Family Law Legal Advisers (justice.gc.ca)