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Bill C-75: Vancouver Rape Relief’s submission to the Senate Committee on Legal And Constitutional Affairs

By Hilla Kerner
May 8, 2019

Bill C-75: An Act to amend the Criminal Code

I will speak about some of the provisions regarding male violence against women in the domestic setting, also known as domestic violence, and about preliminary inquiries in relation to sexual assault trials.

Sixty-four women were killed in Canada in 2017 by their current or ex-male partners. From the beginning of this year, 188 women called their transition house alone seeking safe shelter for themselves and their children.

We know from our own front-line work that men can be very dangerous from early on in the relationship [inaudible] as dangerous once women left them. Therefore, we support the expanded definition of intimate partner and the clarification that it includes current or former spouse [inaudible] partner or dating partner.

Men know that they can beat and rape women with impunity. It’s the relatively small number of men who are charged for the violence they commit that are the exceptions that prove the rule. Too often even men who face charges and convictions are so profoundly convinced of their entitlement over women’s bodies that they will harm women again.

Therefore, we support the provisions that require courts to consider peer intimate partner violence charges when determining whether to release the accused or impose bail conditions, and a provision that creates a reverse onus at bail for an accused charged with a violent offence involving an intimate partner, if they already have a prior conviction for violence against an intimate partner.

We’ve been responding to hundreds of women who are victims of sexual assault every year. Some of them will choose to report the attack to police. Even though they have us as feminist advocates beside them, it is very rare that their case will ever get to court and that the rapist will ever face a trial.

According to Statistics Canada most cases reported to police will never end up in court. I must note that in British Columbia the threshold is higher than most provinces, since the Crown is instructed to only proceed with cases that have a substantial likelihood of conviction.

In the very few cases that reach trial, we saw how preliminary inquiries were used by the accused defence, not as a tool to determine whether there is sufficient evidence but as a way to discourage the complainants by prolonging the process and conducting brutal cross-examinations. Therefore, we are very much in support of the proposed amendments in Bill C-75 that would restrict preliminary inquiries to adults accused of offence liable to life imprisonment.

This bill came to be under the leadership of Jody Wilson-Raybould when she was a Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. We know Jody. Our house where we operate our rape crisis centre and transition house is in her riding. We appreciate her attempts to bring forward bills that will improve the criminal justice response to women victims of male violence and will increase its ability to hold violent men accountable.

However, law reforms alone will not get us there. We need a complete transformation of all levels of the criminal justice system. We need a civilian oversight of police investigations into cases of sexual assault that will include front line feminist advocates. We need an open and ongoing review that will not simply result with sexual assaults being classified under different codes but instead restore investigations being done and appropriate charges being brought forward.

We want Crown decisions not to proceed with charges or to stay charges in cases of male violence against women, whether it’s sexual assault, wife battering and sexual exploitation, to be made publicly available.

Last, we want a genuine application of the open court principle, a fundamental concept in democratic society that allows the public to hold judges accountable. We need all judgments in sexual assault trials, oral and written, to be transcribed and posted online and available for public scrutiny. Only transparency and accountability will transform how the criminal justice system responds to violence against women. Only if we hold large enough numbers of abusive men accountable, will we create a culture that deters all men from harming women. Thank you.

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