FRAMEWORK FOR ACTION AGAINST FAMILY VIOLENCE
B. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
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
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%
Other Canadian studies regarding the impact of pro-charge, pro-prosecution policies
include the following:
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
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
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
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:
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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