Ombudsman’s Statement in Support of Report Calling for Legislative Action to Criminalize Coercive and Controlling Behaviour
I issue this statement to express my full support for the implementation of all five recommendations in the unanimous report tabled by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, “Shadow Pandemic: Stopping Coercive and Controlling Behaviour in Intimate Relationships”.
As the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, an important part of my role is to recommend ways that the federal government can make its laws, policies and programs more responsive to victims’ needs. In June 2020, I wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice, the Honourable David Lametti, 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.
Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a serious, preventable public health issue, which includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and controlling behaviours by a current or former partner or spouse. IPV has been amplified in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic due to stay at home orders requiring many Canadians to isolate. Experts and advocates working in the area of gender-based violence and violence prevention have coined this the “Shadow Pandemic”.
According to Statistics Canada, 79% of victims of IPV are women.1 Although men are less likely to be victimized and less likely to report, they are also represented as victims in 1 in 5 cases of IPV.2 It is also important to acknowledge that IPV impacts individuals who identify as Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual (2SLGBTQ+). IPV is a gendered issue3, disproportionately affecting all persons who identify as women.
Given the current context of rising IPV during COVID-19, the need to recognize coercive and controlling behaviours as a serious form of IPV is both timely and dire. These behaviours are rarely isolated incidents and often lead to more violent forms of abuse, such as physical and sexual abuse. Coercive and controlling behaviours include emotional, psychological, and financial forms of abuse that form a repetitive pattern of behaviour. Tactics used by abusers include exploitation, manipulation, intimidation, isolation, and micro-regulation of daily life. 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.
The impacts of emotional, psychological, and financial forms of abuse are extensive and cannot be understated. Effects of psychological abuse can include increased traumatic stress symptoms such as depression and PTSD.4 Emotional abuse has been found to lead to more distress symptoms, suicidal ideation, poor health, difficulty performing everyday activities, and increased use of health services.5 Financial abuse leads to similar mental health outcomes,6 but can also include poverty and substandard living conditions,7 Additionally, dealing with the aftermath of financial abuse is often long-lasting, extending far beyond the termination of the abusive relationship.8
My Office has heard directly from survivors about how coercive and controlling behaviours are more commonly experienced than physical violence. Yet, the criminal justice system response is to prosecute single or isolated incidents and typically violent incidents. Law enforcement are severely limited in how they can respond in situations where physical violence is not occurring. The pattern of repetitive controlling behaviours and coercion cannot be addressed, and victims’ safety is compromised in some instances, leading to homicide at the hands of abusive persons.
I commend the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for calling for legislative action to criminalize coercive and controlling behaviours. Criminalizing coercive and controlling behaviours will enable early intervention by police before IPV escalates to physical violence, or homicide. Criminalizing coercive and controlling behaviours is also precedent setting, reflecting the seriousness of psychological and financial abuse and coercion and the wide-ranging detrimental effects on victims.
It is imperative that perpetrators of abuse be held accountable. No longer can these deliberate abusive behaviours be tolerated in Canada. I believe criminalizing coercive and controlling behaviour is a vital step toward a more victim-centred approach, and protecting those who are most vulnerable, particularly those who identify as women. I stand in support of victims and survivors of crime, and this legislation would serve as a step towards justice.
1 Statistics Canada. (2021). Section 3: Police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada, 2019. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2021001/article/00001/03-eng.htm
2 Roebuck et al. (2020). Male survivors of intimate partner violence in Canada. Algonquin College Victimology Research Centre, https://www.victimsfirst.gc.ca/res/cor/IPV-IPV/Male%20Survivors%20of%20IPV%20in%20Canada,%202020.pdf
3 The World Health Organization (WHO; 2021) indicates that violence against women, such as IPV, is a global, major public health issue and is a violation of women’s human rights - all women, including those who identify as women.
5 Yoshihama, M., Horrocks, J., & Kamano, S. (2009). The role of emotional abuse in intimate partner violence and health among women in Yokohama, Japan. American Journal of Public Health, 99(4), doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.118976