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Canadian Party Leaders: It’s Time to Talk About Domestic Abuse

Domestic and sexual abuse prevention should be centre stage on the campaign trail

Federal Election Policy Recommendations

The COVID-19 pandemic has put domestic and sexual abuse in the headlines, as rates surged as much as 30 percent in our country and around the globe.

But while this ‘shadow pandemic’ has added urgency to prevention and intervention efforts, there’s been little evidence of it on the federal campaign trail.

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Erin O’Toole garnered some attention when he proposed new animal welfare measures, including adding animal cruelty as an aggravating factor in domestic violence prosecutions and support for pet owners fleeing abusive situations.

This announcement touches on the larger issue of coercive and controlling behaviours, which should feature prominently in all party platforms.

Definition of coercive control

Relationships where coercive and controlling behaviours are used have more frequent and severe violence, including lethal violence, that is less likely to stop.

Criminalizing coercive control would empower police and our justice system to prevent the escalation of violence. This was recognized in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights’ 2021 report, The Shadow Pandemic: Stopping Coercive and Controlling Behaviour in Intimate Relationships. Advancing the Committee’s recommendations is key to violence prevention.

Action on coercive control is one measure that should feature in an abuse prevention plan that must include prevention, prosecution, and protection.

This election provides a unique opportunity to bring abuse prevention strategies to the forefront of the Canadian policy conversation. The right plan, that talks about violence in the right way, has the potential to engage all Canadians in stopping violence before it starts.

The impact of domestic and sexual abuse is felt by every Canadian family and community. Political parties and their candidates should take action on their behalf by making abuse prevention, focused on the role every Canadian can play as an informal supporter, a cornerstone of their platform and prominent in their public remarks.

2021 Federal Election Policy Recommendations

Parties should support a domestic and sexual abuse prevention strategy that includes prevention, prosecution, and protection.

  1. Do not classify sexual and domestic abuse prevention as a women’s issue.
    Our response must recognize male and 2SLGBTQ+ experiences of abuse and not relegate the task of prevention to its most frequent victims: women. Action plans should be a cross-ministerial effort supported and invested in by departments and agencies including Justice, Health Canada, Public Health and Women and Gender Equality.
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  2. Recognize and criminalize coercive and controlling behaviours.
    Relationships where these tactics are used have more frequent and severe violence, including lethal violence, that is less likely to stop. Criminalizing and prosecuting coercive control would empower police and our justice system to intervene. This was recognized in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights’ 2021 report, The Shadow Pandemic: Stopping Coercive and Controlling Behaviour in Intimate Relationships. Advancing the Committee’s recommendations is key to violence prevention.
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  3. Ensure funding and support is aligned with how people seek help.
    According to 2014 Statistics Canada data, 36 percent of spousal violence victims contacted or used formal victims’ services (shelters, counsellors, crisis lines), while 68 percent talked to friends and family. Prevention strategies — and funding — must reflect this reality by directing support where it is most effective: community-based initiatives and informal supports, focusing on programs, such as REAL Talk, that teach Canadians how to recognize and respond to domestic violence.
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  4. Formulate a sexual exploitation action plan.
    We need to expand our definition of sexual exploitation beyond trafficking and review current legislation to help ensure the proper protection of all involuntary sex workers.
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