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The results of the interjurisdictional comparison, literature review, and focus groups are summarized here very briefly; various findings will be discussed in greater length below, as each of the components of the Framework is reviewed in turn.

1. Interjurisdictional Review

All Canadian jurisdictions have spousal abuse policies, with many key elements in common, although there is some variation in scope and application.(1) During the interjurisdictional survey component of this project, each jurisdiction was asked if it had policies applying to the following: Police, Crowns, Courts, Corrections (Probation and Institutions), Victims' Services, and Other. All provinces and territories have pro-charge, pro-prosecution policies with similar provisions: police are to charge and arrest irrespective of a victim's wishes; police are to carry out a thorough investigation, being cognizant of the need, wherever possible, to gather evidence from multiple sources; Crowns are to meet with victims and prosecute even if victims are reluctant to testify; victims are to be provided with support, case information, and notification of decisions/releases; Corrections is to monitor closely offenders on probation and respond immediately to breaches of conditions, and work closely with men's programs to ensure program compliance; Corrections facilities are to assess adequately, refer and make available treatment for spousal abuse offenders, assess risk in release decision-making, and ensure systems are in place to notify victims of release.

Some but not all policies also go on to outline appropriate responses to a number of other issues such as: whether contempt of court proceedings are to be initiated against a victim who refuses to testify; how to deal with dual charging of both parties; the use of risk assessment tools; and the use in court of KGB statements.(2)

In addition to mandatory charge and prosecution policies, a number of jurisdictions have introduced other approaches, including:

  • specialized domestic violence police units,
  • specialized domestic violence courts,
  • diversion programs,
  • more intensive training of those within the criminal justice system, and
  • domestic violence legislation.

2. Literature Review

A review of the relevant literature since 1995 assessed recent trends in responding to intimate partner violence and recommended other possible approaches to addressing the problem. One theme that resounds throughout the various writings on domestic violence is the pervasiveness and complexity of the issue, and the need to find responses that reflect this. A number of jurisdictions have reviewed their family violence initiatives as a result of commissions of inquiry into murder-suicides and domestic violence tragedies occurring within their jurisdictions or other reports generated from monitoring and evaluation studies or reviews. These reports are listed in the attached template in Appendix E. Common to all the articles and reports is the recognition that this problem cannot be solved without a concerted, coordinated effort among all systems.

The data analysis that is available in the literature appears to support the contention that pro-charge, pro-prosecution policies have affected how cases of intimate partner violence are treated by the criminal justice system. Thus, a 1998 report entitled "Synthesis of Department of Justice Canada Research Findings on Spousal Assault,"(3) by T. Landau, reported that mandatory policy directives had resulted in:

  • an increased number of charges laid,
  • more rigorous prosecution of cases,
  • reduced case attrition as cases proceed through the system, and
  • increased use of probation and incarceration.

It also appears that the changes in the criminal justice response have had some impact on the prevalence of intimate partner violence. For instance, in comparing data collected in the 1993 VAWS with data from the 1999 GSS, Statistics Canada concludes in its 2000 Report:

There is some evidence of a decline in wife assault in recent years....Five year rates declined from 12% in 1993 to 8 % in 1999, a drop which is statistically significant.

Most indicators point to a decline in the severity of violence committed against women over this time period....The differences in the 5-year rates of wife assault produced by the GSS and the VAWS may be due to the fact that these surveys were conducted in different reference periods and the decline may reflect real societal changes. Widespread efforts to reduce family violence and provide support to victims may have contributed to this decline. This result is also consistent with homicide data which also point to a decrease in lethal forms of violence between spouses.(4)

Similarly, the 1999 Evaluation Report states: "There is no doubt that the Framework for Action has increased charge and conviction rates. Such results have been obtained from numerous other studies in Canada and elsewhere."(5)

Between 1994 and 1999, in Nova Scotia, court dispositions saw a rise in charge rates from 48% to 68% and a rise in conviction rates from 57% to 65%.(6)

Other Canadian studies regarding the impact of pro-charge, pro-prosecution policies include the following:

  • in a study conducted of police charging practice in London, Ontario, Jaffe and colleagues found the charge rate had risen from 3% in 1979 to 89% in 1990 as a result of the implementation of pro-charge policies. The authors also found, from victim interviews and police files, lower levels of repeat violence.(7)

    It is important to note that London has long had a coordinating committee to address the abuse of women and coordinate services which may influence this outcome.

  • Plecas, Seggar, and Marsland surveyed 74 female victims of domestic violence to determine levels of repeat violence after police intervention (where charges were laid) and found 43% of offenders re-assaulted within the 27 month follow-up period. The repeat violence rate rose (to 54%) where cases were stayed (which occurred in 40% of the dispositions). Recidivism was reduced with peace bond, probation, jail or fine dispositions, perhaps suggesting that the imposition of criminal sanctions reduces recidivism.

An American review of mandatory charging and prosecution policies also found that these policies had, on the whole "greatly improved prospects for victim safety."(8)

Several Canadian studies have attempted to assess victims' perspectives of pro-charge, pro-arrest policies; two such studies found quite high rates of support (85% and 80%) for mandatory charging by police (9); however, somewhat fewer women (70% and 60%) wanted charges laid in their own cases, and one of the studies found that 78% of the women did not want to testify.(10)

Landau found that some victims of intimate partner violence felt disempowered by the justice system because of lack of information about the status of their case, the prosecution, release dates, and court outcome; they felt re-victimized by the court process, and lack of support.(11)

Some of the literature also provides a reminder that an improved criminal justice system response requires the dedication of sufficient resources. For instance, a 1999 study pointed out that an effective pro-charge, pro-prosecution policy requires increased training time, increased time for police investigations, and increased time dedicated to Crown preparation and Crown interaction with victims.(12)

Higher court caseloads, and pressure on corrections services are also identified as consequences of the pro-charge, pro-prosecution approach. Furthermore, some commentators question complete uniformity in a pro-charge, pro-prosecution approach. Ironically (although perhaps not surprisingly, given the complexity of the issue), the very initiative intended to empower victims by reducing the opportunity for coercion from batterers-that is, the policy that charges are to be laid and prosecuted wherever the evidence warrants, regardless of the victim's stated wishes-has led to a sense of disempowerment for some women.

Landau suggests concerns that pro-charge, pro-prosecution policies may "represent...a transfer of power from the batterer to the criminal justice system," that "the options provided by the criminal justice system are too narrow and focused" particularly for those women who choose to continue in the relationship, and that these policies represent "a uni-dimensional response to a complex social problem."(13)

Similarly, an American review, while largely very supportive of the mandatory charge and prosecution approach, also notes:

A survivor may now be forced to assist in the criminal prosecution of an abusive partner, regardless of her physical danger from retaliation assault, her cultural and religious misgivings about breaking up the family, her economic vulnerability to the loss of spousal support, and her individual need for agency and control.(14)

Other criticisms found in the literature relate not to the policies themselves, but to their inadequate or inconsistent implementation. Thus, Landau notes that when considering the application of the policies to First Nations, rural, visible minority, and immigrant women, it is important to acknowledge that these women often face additional barriers in accessing the justice system and other community supports.(15)

Thus, the literature does seem to support the approach taken in the Nova Scotia Framework for Action and the pro-charge, pro-prosecution policies; however, many of the articles which show a positive correlation between such policies and a slight decrease in intimate partner violence also emphasize the need for sufficient resources to allow for implementation, and suggest that consideration be given to incorporating some flexibility into the policies.

3. Focus Groups

Focus groups generally offered strong support for the Framework for Action Against Family Violence. The criticisms that were expressed centered chiefly on problems with implementation, and lack of sufficient resources. No one suggested dismantling the Framework or changing it extensively, although some did suggest ways to amplify, or offer flexibility within, the present system. To the extent that victims were familiar with the Framework, their responses indicated that it was theoretically sound, although in fact victims remain apprehensive about their safety regardless of the Framework.

1. 1A number of jurisdictions are in the process of reviewing and updating their justice policies on domestic violence.

2. 2R. v. K.G.B. (1993) 79 C.C.C. (3d) 257, a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, permits the Crown prosecutor to use the complainant/victim's original statement to police as evidence in Court in appropriate cases.

3. Canada, Minister of Justice, Synthesis of Department of Justice Canada Research Findings on Spousal Assault by T. Landau (Ottawa, 1998).

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

5. Supra note 14 at 45.

6. Supra note 14 at 13, 15. 68% represents charges laid in 509 of the 746 incidents randomly selected from over 3000 reported incidents between April 1996 and March 1997. The 65% conviction rate was calculated by linking 459 of the 509 cases (where charges were laid by police) to the court information system. The 1999 Evaluation Report obtained information on 119 cases from Jan 1, 1997 to March 31, 1997 to determine how Crown prosecutors handled charges involving spousal/partner violence. The outcomes were as follows:

Disposition Number Percent
Plead guilty 73 61%
Found guilty 13 11%
Acquitted 9 8%
Stayed 1 1%
Withdrawn 12 10%
Dismissed 11 9%
Total 119 100%

7. Canada, Minister of Justice, Wife Assault as a Crime: The Perspectives of Victims and Police on a Charging Policy in London, Ontario, from 1980-1990, by P. Jaffe (Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada, 1999).

8. D. Epstein, "Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence Cases: Rethinking the Role of Prosecutors, Judges, and the Court System" (1999) 11:3 Yale J. of Law & Feminism 1 at 5.

9. 9Canada, Minister of Justice, Spousal Assault and Mandatory charges in the Yukon: Experiences, Perspectives, and Alternatives, by T. Roberts (Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada, Research and Statistics Division, 1996) was a study of 57 victims of spousal violence in Yukon in 1996. T. Landau, "Women's Experiences with Mandatory Charging for Wife Assault in Ontario, Canada: A Case Against the Prosecution" (2000) 7:1/2/3 International Review of Victimology 141 was a study involving 94 women in Ontario whose male partners had been charged with assaulting them.

10. 10Roberts, Ibid.

11. Landau, supra note 25.

12. Landau, supra note 25.

13. Supra note 19 at 4, cited in the 1999 Evaluation Report, supra note 14 at 46.

14. Epstein, supra note 24 at 5.

15. Landau, supra note 25.

Landau, supra note 25.


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