Letter addressed to the Honourable David Lametti regarding the Recent Tabling of the Justice Committee Report on Coercive and Controlling Behaviours
May 25th 2021
The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
House of Commons,
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Re: Recent Tabling of the Justice Committee Report on Coercive and Controlling Behaviours
Dear Minister Lametti,
I am writing to you in light of the April 27th announcement that the Committee on Justice and Human Rights tabled their report entitled, THE SHADOW PANDEMIC: STOPPING COERCIVE AND CONTROLLING BEHAVIOUR IN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS and to follow up on my recent statement in support of the report.
Although I am pleased to learn that the Committee tabled the report, and to see that many of the points raised in my Office’s submission are included in the report, I note that no government response is requested. As such, I feel it incumbent upon me to continue to bring awareness to the issue of coercive control and to emphasize the critical need for Canadian legislation to recognize coercive controlling behaviours within intimate relationships as a criminal offence.
You will recall I initially wrote to you about this issue in June 2020 after my Office commissioned a research paper entitled: ``Understanding coercive control in the context of intimate partner violence in Canada: How to address the issue through the criminal justice system``; and on February 4th, 2021, I appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to testify about the need for legislation criminalizing coercive and controlling behaviours, and submitted a brief outlining my Office’s recommendations.
As discussed throughout my Office’s work on this topic, the Canadian legal and justice systems must be more responsive to the lived realities of victims and survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). These realities often involve fewer overt acts of physical aggression and violence, and more repeated patterns of intimate terrorism in the form of psychological abuses and coercive control. These behaviours are rarely isolated incidents and often lead to more violent forms of abuse, such as physical and sexual abuse. Experts have also identified coercive and controlling behaviours as important precursors for femicide worldwide. Special consideration must be given to children in these situations who are highly vulnerable and likewise experience immense fear or even violence as a result of these behaviours. This is especially timely considering the recent changes to the Divorce Act- including the recognition of coercive control-further emphasizing the critical need to address this issue with legislation and training of criminal justice personnel.
Despite the covert and repetitive nature of coercive and controlling behaviours, the criminal justice system’s response has been to prosecute single or isolated incidents and typically violent incidents. Coercive control instills fear and compliance in an intimate partner, and ultimately eliminates their sense of freedom and sense of identity in the relationship. These behaviours are not captured in Canadian criminal law at present.Given the current context of rising IPV during the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to recognize coercive and controlling behaviours as a serious and criminal form of IPV is both timely and dire. As such, there is a need for an equally urgent response from Canada’s justice system to ensure momentum is not lost.
I commend the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for calling for legislative action to criminalize coercive and controlling behaviours. Doing so will be precedent setting, reflecting the seriousness of psychological and financial abuse and coercion and the wide-ranging detrimental effects on victims.
In particular, I urge you to consider moving forward with Committee Recommendation 2, which reads as follows: “That the Minister of Justice engage with his provincial and territorial counterparts to initiate a taskforce of experts with a mandate to review existing federal criminal legislation using a gender-based analysis plus and other inclusive measures and make recommendations concerning the drafting of government legislation regarding a coercive and controlling behaviour offence in the Criminal Code, considering Bill C-247 as possible language for such an offence, and related measures to meet the needs of victims. This taskforce should report to the Minister within 12 months of formation.”
I stand in support of victims and survivors of IPV, the service providers and anti-violence advocates who support them and Canadians everywhere calling for legislation, which would serve as a vital step toward taking a more victim-centered approach to justice. For too long, victims and survivors of IPV have gone without adequate legal protection. No longer can these deliberate abusive behaviours be tolerated in Canada and I reiterate my recommendation that coercive and controlling behaviours be criminalized in Canada.
I look forward to your response and to continuing to work with you to bring about positive change for victims and survivors of crime in Canada.
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
Dear Ms. Illingworth:
Thank you for your correspondence of May 25, 2021, concerning coercive control.
As you note, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights completed its study of controlling or coercive control within intimate relationships and tabled its report in Parliament on April 27, 2021. As part of this study, the Committee reviewed Private Member’s Bill C‑247, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (controlling or coercive conduct). This bill proposes to create an offence of engaging in controlling or coercive conduct that has a significant impact on the person towards whom the conduct is directed, including a fear of violence, a decline in their physical or mental health, and a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities. I am reviewing the Committee’s report and recommendations in more detail, as are departmental officials.
The Criminal Code prohibits intimate partner violence through a range of offences, including assault, sexual assault, uttering threats, criminal harassment, and homicide. Abusing a spouse or a child in committing an offence is an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. These existing laws were strengthened through An Act to Amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts (former Bill C‑75), which came fully into force on December 18, 2019. The Act requires courts to impose a reverse onus at bail for an accused charged with an intimate partner violence offence if they have a prior conviction for violence against an intimate partner. It also requires courts to consider whether an accused is charged with an intimate partner violence offence when determining whether to release or detain them, and allows for the possibility of seeking a higher maximum penalty in cases involving a repeat intimate partner violence offender.
Responsive family laws are critical to keeping victims safe when there has been violence in a relationship. An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act (former Bill C‑78) received Royal Assent in June 2019, and amended federal family laws. The majority of the amendments to the Divorce Act came into force on March 1, 2021.
One of the key objectives of this new legislation is to address family violence, which is a devastating reality for many Canadians. Changes to the Divorce Act include a broad, evidence‑based definition of family violence that specifically identifies coercive and controlling behaviour. For the purposes of the Divorce Act, family violence is defined as conduct that is violent or threatening, that constitutes a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour, or that causes a family member to fear for their own safety or for the safety of another person. Within this definition, family violence includes physical, sexual, psychological, and financial abuse; harassment and stalking; and threats to kill or harm an animal or to damage property, or actually causing that harm. In the case of a child, it also includes direct or indirect exposure to such conduct. Behaviour does not have to be a criminal offence to be considered family violence under the Divorce Act.
As Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, I am committed to continuing to examine our existing measures to respond to family violence. For this reason, I appreciate the time you have taken to share your recommendations on this important issue.
Thank you again for writing.
The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada