Department of Justice     



This portion of the report gives an overview of the Framework for Action Against Family Violence, describes the scope and methodology of the present review, and summarizes briefly the review findings. It seems appropriate, however, to begin with a brief overview of information on the prevalence of intimate partner violence (1) in Canada, and in Nova Scotia, to the extent that such data are available. These statistics, and the human condition they represent, must form the backdrop against which existing policies, as well as recommendations for change are viewed. In considering these statistics, it is important to remember that intimate partner violence is rarely confined to an isolated incident.(2)

1. Prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence

In 1993, Statistics Canada conducted the first national Violence Against Women Survey (VAWS)(3) and found 29% of ever-married women (2.65 million) had experienced physical or sexual violence (in accordance with Criminal Code definitions) by their current or previous marital/common law partner. Almost 40% of women in abusive marriages reported that their children had witnessed the violence against them. Statistics Canada Spousal Homicide data reported that 38% of adult female homicide victims were killed by their spouses.(4)

More recently, Statistics Canada released its third annual report, Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2000, which includes new victimization data obtained from two 1999 interview surveys.(5) One of these surveys, the General Social Survey, found that "7% of people who were married or living in a common-law relationship during the past 5 years experienced some type of violence by their intimate partners."(6) Of these, 37% indicated that their children (approx. 500,000) had seen or heard at least one violent episode.(7)

Although it is difficult to obtain detailed statistics for Nova Scotia, approximately 7000 incidents of intimate partner violence were reported to police in Nova Scotia between April 1, 1996 and August 31, 1998 (Appendix B). The 1999 GSS found that 9% of women and 7% of men surveyed in Nova Scotia reported having experienced spousal violence in the previous five years.(8)

Although it is clear that rates of intimate partner violence are still alarmingly high, the 2000 Statistical Profile suggests that in recent years, there may have been a slight reduction of both the incidence of wife assault and the severity of violence experienced by women in abusive relationships. On the other hand, there appears to have been a slight increase of the number of women who fear for their lives.(9)

2. Framework for Action Against Family Violence

In 1995, Nova Scotia introduced the Framework for Action Against Family Violence,(10) which is the subject of elaboration below. The Framework was a response to three reports issued that year which were critical of the criminal justice system's response to family violence: "The Response of the Criminal Justice System to Family Violence in Nova Scotia,"(11) prepared by Carolyn Marshall; "From Rhetoric to Reality,"(12) a report of the Nova Scotia Law Reform Commission; and "Changing Perspectives,"(13) a domestic homicide review conducted by Peggy Mahon.

Following the Framework's introduction, a set of integrated policies and procedures for responding to family violence were developed for all components of the justice system, and in March of 1996, the Minister of Justice issued a directive to all justice workers to ensure the implementation of the policies. By June of 1997, all 3000 justice workers received training regarding family violence, as well as in the specifics of the Framework for Action. From 1992 to 2000, Nova Scotia also had a broad-based government-community Family Violence Prevention Initiative coordinating provincial planning and policy efforts.

The implementation of the Framework was assessed in 1999 by the Department of Justice Monitoring Committee.(14)

This committee's report found a significantly improved response on the part of the criminal justice system to intimate partner violence. Compared to data from the Tracking Project, charge and conviction rates had increased significantly, police were much more apt to refer victims to victims' services, and the average time from a first court appearance to the final outcome had been reduced. Sentencing outcomes did not appear to have changed greatly, however, and in fact there had been a slight decrease in the percentage of convictions that led to incarceration.(15)

While the 1999 Evaluation Report identified various "obstacles to the effective implementation of the Framework for Action,"(16) it did not call for changes to the Framework itself.

The response of the justice system to intimate partner violence became the focus of attention with the February 28, 2000 deaths of Lori Lee Maxwell and Bruce Allan George, and the subsequent review of the handling of that case. The Maxwell/George review focused on whether various players in the justice system had complied with the Framework for Action, and did not assess the Framework itself. One of the recommendations of that report was that "someone familiar with family violence review the Framework for Action and determine whether it could be improved." The Minister of Justice asked Dawn Russell, Dean of Dalhousie University Law School, and Diana Ginn, Assistant Professor of Law, to conduct this review. The Dean subsequently engaged the services of Carolyn Marshall, a consultant specializing in family violence, to assist with the review. We gratefully acknowledge her excellent assistance and support particularly in preparation of an overview of initiatives in other jurisdictions as well as detailed descriptions of diversion programs, domestic violence legislation, and specialized policing and prosecutorial units. In the later stage of preparation of this report, we benefitted tremendously from the editing assistance of Barbara Darby, a second-year law student.

3. Terms of Reference of the 2001 Review

An important part of the 2001 review of the Framework is the attempt to assess the current level of support for the Framework among justice workers and in the community, and to assess how the policy is currently being implemented in practice. The terms of reference for the present review required that the following be done:

  • a review of justice system approaches to family violence in the other Canadian provinces and territories (the "interjurisdictional review")
  • a literature review
  • meetings with focus groups.

4. Methodology

The interjurisdictional review involved a comparison of domestic violence policies, legislation, and programs in the other Canadian provinces and territories. This was done in February of 2001, by way of a telephone survey (Appendix D) carried out to obtain information from other jurisdictions about their policies and programs pertaining to spousal abuse.

The literature review involved a survey of Canadian and American literature to determine what analysis has been offered of policies similar to the Nova Scotia Framework and to identify any new developments that have taken place since 1995 (the year the Framework was introduced).

Focus groups were held with multiple stakeholders, in order to gather information as to how the Framework for Action was being implemented, to assess the level of support for the Framework, and to ask for suggestions for improvements. Key questions (Appendix C) were drafted to guide the interview process with the focus groups. While many of the questions were similar in nature, the approach varied slightly depending upon the particular focus group. Victims, in particular, were assured of the confidential nature of the focus group. A brief explanation of the purpose of the focus group was provided prior to each session and a record made of the group's comments.

Thirteen focus group sessions were held around the province in four areas (Metropolitan Halifax, Truro, Sydney, Kentville) representing a catchment area of the four major regions of the province. The thirteen focus groups were comprised of sessions with:

  • police and RCMP officers (4 sessions);
  • police management (1 session);
  • provincial court judges (1 session);
  • mixed stakeholder groups representing police, Crown attorneys, transition houses, men's intervention groups, Victims' Services, Children's Aid Societies, and other community-based organizations (4 sessions);
  • victims (2 sessions); and
  • Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women (1 session).

In addition, written submissions were received from the Public Prosecution Service (Appendix G), the Spryfield Committee on Woman Abuse, and Tearmann Society for Abused Women. Individual meetings were held with various members of the Department of Justice, two representatives of the defence bar, the Director of the Victims' Services Unit of the Halifax Regional Police Department, and a representative of Bryony House. Telephone interviews were conducted with a police chief and two victims who were unable to attend the scheduled focus groups.

1. A variety of terms are used to describe violence perpetrated within spousal or other intimate relationships. These include: wife assault, wife abuse, battering, domestic violence, family violence, spousal/partner violence, and intimate partner violence. We have chosen predominantly to use the phrase "intimate partner violence," as this seems best to reflect the fact that the violence being discussed can arise in marriage, common law relationships, same-sex relationships, and dating relationships. We have also chosen to use the language of "victim" and "perpetrator" or, where appropriate, "accused," to describe the people involved. Where we use pronouns, we refer to the victim as "she" and the perpetrator as "he" in order to reflect the realities of intimate partner violence. Although the data from the 1999 General Social Survey indicate that both men and women reported fairly similar rates of experiencing violence, women reported experiencing more severe forms of violence and more incidents of violence than did men. Women also experienced more serious consequences from the violence, including fearing for their lives: "women are more likely to be subjected to severe forms of violence (e.g. beaten, choked, sexually assaulted), are three times more likely to suffer injury, five times more as likely to receive medical attention, and five times more likely to fear for their lives as a result of the violence. In other words, the severity and the impact of spousal violence on women and men have different outcomes and consequences" [Statistics Canada, Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2000 eds. V. Pottie Bunge and D. Locke (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2000) at 11 (hereinafter Statistics Canada)]. Furthermore, women were more likely than men to report that the violence had occurred on more than one occasion within the relationship (Statistics Canada at 14). The greater impact of the violence experienced by women also seems to be reflected in other statistics; of the nearly 15,000 cases of spousal abuse which came before the Specialized Family Violence Courts in Winnipeg between 1992 and 1997, 85% of the accused were men and 85% of the victims were women (Statistics Canada at 45). Similarly, when the Department of Justice Monitoring Committee analyzed 746 domestic violence incidents, randomly selected from the nearly 7000 such incidents reported to police in Nova Scotia between April 1, 1996 and August 31, 1998, it was found that 90% of the victims were female, and 10% male (infra note 14 at 8).

2. Statistics Canada, ibid. at 14.

3. K. Rodgers, "Wife Assault: The Findings of a National Survey" (1994) 14:9 Juristat.

4. M. Wilson, & M. Daly, "Spousal Homicide" (1994) 14:8 Juristat.

5. Statistics Canada, supra note 1. The first data, the General Social Survey (GSS), derived from victim accounts of their experiences of spousal abuse reported to interviewers. The second, the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2), was data based on incidents or cases reported to 164 participating police forces representing approximately 46% of the national volume of reported crime.

6. Statistics Canada, supra note 1 at 11. The GSS used the following definition of "spousal violence:" "experiences of physical or sexual assault that are consistent with Criminal Code definitions of these offences and could be acted upon by a police officer. Questions related to emotionally abusive behaviour were included in this survey to test theories about links between emotional abuse and physical violence. Rates of emotional abuse by marital partners are treated separately and are not included in the overall rates of spousal violence" (at 12). A person is defined as having a relationship if they were "married, living common-law or have a same-sex partner" (at 11).

7. Statistics Canada, supra note 1 at 16.

8. Statistics Canada, supra note 1 at 12.

9. Statistics Canada, supra note 1 at 20-21.

10. Nova Scotia, Department of Justice, Public Prosecution Service, Family Violence Prevention Initiative, Department of Community Services, The Framework for Action Against Family Violence (Halifax, 1995). The Framework is Appendix A to this Report.

11. 11Nova Scotia, Legislative Assembly, "The Response of the Criminal Justice System to Family Violence in Nova Scotia" by C. Marshall, tabled April 4, 1995. This project is also known as the Family Violence Tracking Project, hereinafter referred to as the "Tracking Project."

12. 12Nova Scotia Law Reform Commission, "From Rhetoric to Reality" (February 1995).

13. 13Changing Perspectives.

14. Nova Scotia, Minister of Justice, Report of Department of Justice Monitoring Committee, (Halifax, 1999), hereinafter the 1999 Evaluation Report.

15. Ibid. at Appendix D, 36.

16. Supra note 14 at 38.


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