Courts Protect Victims of Domestic Violence
Canadians will be pleased to learn that Parliament recently passed Bill C-233 which contains a number of pragmatic and effective changes to Canada’s Criminal Code bail laws which will help enhance the protection of victims of domestic and intimate partner violence. On April 27th, the Bill received Royal Assent. This is the final step in the legislative process and now the changes, as specified in the Bill, will have the full force of law.
The Bill was introduced by Anju Dhillon, a Liberal member of parliament from Quebec, which has been a leading jurisdiction in combatting domestic violence (DV) by creating programs and providing funding for the deployment of Electronic Monitoring (EM) services to ensure improved supervision of offenders and enhanced victim protection.
I first became aware of the public safety enhancement potential of Electronic Monitoring back in the 90s as the Executive Officer of the Canadian Police Association. Even back then, we were promoting legal public safety reforms, especially in relation high risk repeat offenders, and improving safety for vulnerable victims.
I’ve continued this work since that time, including at the Provincial government level which has the constitutional jurisdiction over the ‘administration of justice’ (including having prosecutors conduct bail hearings), and in working directly with different EM technology providers that provide the necessary tools and, to varying degrees, work with law enforcement officials to deliver an effective monitoring system and even enhanced victim alerts.
The company I currently assist, SafeTracks GPS Canada, provides such advanced GPS technology systems and special DV victim alert systems in Quebec and throughout Canada. We feel strongly that victim alert systems is an issue that needs to be addressed by all levels of government, the Courts and society at large. As such, it is important to note that C-233 is very much a step in the right direction.
The Bill is carefully drafted to increase the likelihood that Electronic Monitoring is used as a condition of release for persons charged with DV offences. It does this in a Charter-compliant way by expressly specifying it as an available condition of release and by specifying that DV offences are no longer subject to the presumption of release without specific conditions as mandated by the Trudeau government’s Bill C-75.
Bill C-233 also amends the Judges Act to promote training of judges in relevant DV issues to help improve judicial awareness of such issues and the need for special measures to protect victims of DV, and a reporting requirement on the provision of this training.
As welcome as this legislation is, it is also important that adequate funding be provided by both the Federal and Provincial governments to ensure these improvements are actually made available to ensure the delivery of these enhanced DV victim and public safety improvements are achieved.
While Bill C-233 appropriately facilitates the use of EM as a condition of bail release in DV cases, it understandably requires the Crown to seek that condition – which obviously won’t happen if EM programs are not publicly funded.
We all need to keep an eye on this funding issue so that Bill C-233 empowers DV victim protection, which is so clearly essential to address a critical public safety need. As the EM technology system provider SafeTracks GPS Canada correctly notes, our strategy should be “Being proactive today, not reactive tomorrow.”
Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown Prosecutor who has also served as the founder of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, Executive Officer of the Canadian Police Association, Vice Chair of the Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, Director of Operations for Investigative Project on Terrorism and as a Security Policy Advisor to the governments of Ontario and Canada. He was an Adjunct Professor in the former TRSS Program in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, and is a current security advisor to SafeTracks GPS Canada.