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.
  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.
  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.
  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.

Help Spread the Word

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Sign a Petition Calling on the Minister of Justice to Take Action on Coercive Control

Alongside the devastating toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, a shadow pandemic is taking place in Canada, with rates of intimate partner violence rising by up to 30 percent.

This includes coercive control, a pattern of behaviour used to regulate and dominate another person’s daily life, stripping away their freedom and sense of self. These acts are dangerous, often leading to escalating violence – including lethal violence.

In a recent report, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights recommended Canada criminalize coercive control, giving the police and justice system a powerful tool to intervene in domestic violence cases, and victims the opportunity to be heard and protected.

Now, Committee member and Member of Parliament Randall Garrison has sponsored a parliamentary e-petition calling on the Minister of Justice to implement the Committee’s recommendations.

If this petition receives at least 500 signatures By June 13, the Government will be required to table a response.

Please join us in preventing further violence: sign the petition today, and urge your friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours to sign.

Sign the Petition


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Another Step Closer to the Criminalization of Coercive Control

Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights Tables Recommendations

Canada is another step closer to criminalizing coercive control with the tabling of a unanimous report by the tabling of a unanimous report by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The Committee and experts agree that the criminalization of coercive control is a critical step to addressing domestic violence. We encourage the government to act on the report’s recommendations and use it as a roadmap for adding coercive control to the criminal code. The report makes five recommendations:

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Informal Supporters and Social Service Support Key to Clare’s Law Success

On April 6, the Calgary Herald published a column by Catherine Ford with commentary on The Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Clare’s Law) Act.  While we agree with some of the points Ford makes, we would like to provide further context and information on the topic. Read our response from Carrie McManus, our Director of Innovation and Programs, below. 

RE: Ford: “Time for men to take up the challenge of eradicating domestic violence

We completely agree with Catherine Ford on one point: men are essential to violence prevention. But Ford also argues that “Clare’s Law is aspirational and well meaning, but largely pointless.”

While Clare’s Law is not a cure to all difficulties, it does provide several avenues for violence prevention.

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Clare’s Law Comes to Alberta

New Legislation Provides Crucial Window of Opportunity to Prevent Violence

On March 30, Sagesse’s CEO, Andrea Silverstone, was pleased to take to the stage with representatives of the Government of Alberta, the TsuuT’ina Police Service and a domestic violence survivor to discuss The Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Clare’s Law) Act, which will come into effect April 1, 2021. Watch a clip from Silverstone’s statement, or read her full comments below.

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Connecting with Calgarians in Crisis

Before Sagesse joined Community Connect YYC, an online booking tool empowering Calgarians to find and access support from multiple agencies, Andrea Silverstone, executive director of Sagesse, could personally attest to the immense value it provides.

“A friend of mine in the U.S. called me to share the news of the tragic loss of her brother, who lived in Calgary, in an accident. His family needed help, but with COVID-19 restrictions, his extended family in the U.S. couldn’t travel to support them. I knew Community Connect YYC could help.”

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Help us get Enrico home

When Anna Barbosa left her relationship, she also left her dog, Enrico, with her ex-partner. After she moved out, he decided he no longer wanted the pet, so Anna was looking for a temporary housing solution for the dog until she could move into a new place that allowed Enrico to live with her. In the meantime, her ex-partner, who knew that Anna wanted to keep the animal, released Enrico to the Calgary Humane Society without Anna’s knowledge.

“I wanted to keep my pet with me,” explained Anna. “I love Enrico and would have taken him with me if I could have at the time. My ex knew this would hurt me, and he gave away my dog to show me that he still had control over me even though I left. Someone out there has my dog, and I’d really just like him back.”

Anna reached out to the Calgary Humane Society to explain the situation and attempt to get Enrico back from them. But, it was too late. The dog had already been adopted by another Calgary family.

“This is a form of domestic abuse called coercive control,” explained Andrea Silverstone, Executive Director of Sagesse. “It happens in places we don’t often think about, like pet ownership, and it can leave a lasting impression of loss of control and fear. There is a family out there who has this dog. I don’t understand how this family can, in good conscience, keep a dog that they know was given away as a form of domestic violence control.”

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Coercive Control: This Changes Everything

Coercive control is subtle but harmful

When is exerting control part of the give-and-take of a relationship, and when is it abuse? Is wanting your partner to let you know where they are at all times, or insisting on a strict budget, domestic violence?

If it is a pattern of behaviour used to regulate and dominate another person’s daily life, it may be. It’s called coercive control, and it is a common and harmful form of abuse.

“Coercive control seeks to strip away a person’s freedom and their sense of self,” says Andrea Silverstone, CEO, Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society.

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Hello? How Are You?

Connect with Sagesse on LinkedInIt’s been a while (technically more than a year; is that still classified as “a while”?) since we posted a blog… and we have a lot to talk about.

On top of the public and economic crisis, the spread of COVID-19 was a catalyst for a shadow pandemic. Across the globe, instances of violence against women increased more than 30 percent. This also continued in our own backyard. While domestic violence calls to the Calgary police may have gone down in 2020, people in lockdown with their abusers needed more — and reimagined — support.

We quickly pivoted our programming at the beginning of the pandemic to provide online peer support and workshops. We also introduced text and chat support across the Province. It was an all-hands-on-deck response, which taught us valuable lessons about innovation and made us hold strong to one of our values: Trust in the Messiness.

We’re going to share these hard-earned lessons and insights in future blogs. But we don’t want this to be one-sided; we want to hear your take and learn how you’re tackling complex social issues. Follow us on our re-vamped LinkedIn page, where we’ll be keeping the conversation going.

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It’s time to Get Real about Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is at epidemic levels in Alberta with 1 in 3 individuals experiencing violence in their lifetime.  The impact of domestic violence knows no bounds. Incidents of domestic violence exist across rural and urban areas, within all cultural and faith communities, amongst university educated professionals with a roof over their heads and those who don’t know where their next safe place to sleep will be. 

All Albertans are impacted by domestic violence in our communities, this is an issue that is too big to be ignored.

It’s time to Get Real.

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