moved that Bill C-332, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (controlling or coercive conduct), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to be here to debate my private member's bill on coercive and controlling behaviour. I first want to start by acknowledging all of the work that so many advocates and survivors have done to make this bill a possibility.
Coercive and controlling behaviour is a form of domestic violence, and it touches the lives of so many people, especially women. Without the advocacy of partners like Andrea Silverstone from Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society, Alliance MH2, Carmen Gill and so many others, this bill would not be possible today.
I also want to thank my colleague, the MP for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, for his work on criminalizing coercive and controlling behaviour. In the previous Parliament, my colleague presented a similar bill to mine which was supported by domestic violence prevention groups across the country. I am grateful for his allyship on this topic, and I am also incredibly grateful for his mentorship over the years.
In the spring of 2020, Canadians stayed home to slow the spread of COVID-19 in their communities. People from all walks of life worked together to take care of each other. However, at the same time, there was another epidemic taking place. The rates of intimate partner violence were skyrocketing. Since the start of the pandemic, calls to the police regarding domestic violence have risen by 50%.
Coercive and controlling behaviour is a form of domestic violence. Rather than a single instance, coercive control is a repeated pattern of behaviour from the perpetrator. While certain individual behaviours may seem normal if considered individually, when taken all together, they can amount to coercive control.
This pattern sometimes includes sexual and physical violence, but in many instances it starts with other tactics, such as threats, humiliation and depriving the person of independence. Often that means preventing them from accessing their support network, limiting transportation and communication, taking their car keys, breaking their cellphones, and limiting access to bank accounts, passports and immigration documents.
However, it can also look like controlling what food they eat, or not allowing them to wear certain clothes, denying them access to social media, and a number of other examples of what a partner can do to control another. Coercive control is one of the most common precursors to physical violence. In fact, 95% of victims of physical abuse also report coercive control.
In April 2020, as people stayed home to stop the spread of COVID-19, we also woke to the shocking news of a mass shooting in Nova Scotia. The shooting left 22 people dead. It was a national tragedy.
The public inquiry that followed found that the shooter had a history of gender-based violence, including coercive and controlling behaviour. When his long-time girlfriend tried to leave the relationship, he locked her out of their house, removed the tires from her car and threw them in the ditch in an attempt to prevent her from leaving.
Years later, on the night of the shooting, he attacked and forcibly restrained her. Luckily, she was able to escape, surviving by hiding in the woods overnight. She was able to give critical information to police as they conducted the manhunt.
This example of coercive and controlling behaviour is one that is now very public and well known, but often these red flags are ignored. Even when the victim, their community or police want to intervene, there are no tools in our justice system to support victims of coercive control.
The first time I recognized coercive control was when my sister showed up at my doorstep in tears. Her partner had taken her cellphone and bank cards. He had taken her car keys too, but she luckily had another set. It was the first time but definitely not the last time. Over the next few years, like so many other stories of intimate partner violence, coercive and controlling behaviour eventually escalated to physical violence. I remember being scared for her life.
It takes an average of seven attempts for a woman to leave an abusive partner, and I am so thankful that my sister is now free from that relationship. She gave me permission to share her story, even though when women disclose these stories, it always comes with risk.
She took this courageous step because, if there had been more awareness about the examples we have raised of coercive control when she was experiencing it, it might not have taken so long to leave. She wants women and girls to know that these behaviours are not acceptable and to have the tools to get out.
These stories are all too common. I urge my colleagues, especially my male colleagues, to talk to the women in their lives. Statistically speaking, we all know someone who has been in an abusive relationship. There is a very strong chance that, in that relationship, they experienced coercive control at the hands of their abuser.
Because coercive control is not only serious on its own account, but also a precursor to physical violence, we have an opportunity to intervene before people become physically injured. It is also one of the most common risk factors for femicide. Even in cases where there were no instances of physical violence before the murder, coercive control is almost always present.
Passing this legislation would give victims and police the tools they need to prevent some of the most heinous examples of intimate-partner violence. In Canada, every six days, a woman is killed from intimate-partner violence. It is time we said that enough is enough.
Despite years of calls and recommendations to criminalize coercive control, the Liberals have not acted. For a government that claims to be a champion for women, a champion for protecting women, it continues to delay and disappoint. It is time to take action to support victims, as 25% of calls to 911 are connected to intimate-partner violence. Domestic abuse is pervasive. It not only has horrific impacts on individuals and families. It also costs the economy $7 billion each year.
The cost of domestic abuse is highest for women. Coercive control impacts women at a ratio of five to one. The trauma of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence is long-lasting. One study shows that children who witness violence in the home have twice the rate of mental health disorders.
Two years ago, the justice committee tabled recommendations to Parliament calling on the government to pass legislation. My NDP colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, spearheaded the report on coercive control. I also want to thank MPs from all parties for their work on the justice committee in listening to survivors and listening to frontline organizations.
I thank my Bloc colleague, the member for Rivière-du-Nord, my Conservative colleagues, the member for South Surrey—White Rock and the member for Fundy Royal, my Liberal colleague, the member for Mississauga—Erin Mills, and so many more on the justice committee for their work and for calling on the government to take action.
It has been two years and, two years later, we are still waiting. Other countries have moved forward, including the U.K. with its controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship offence in the Serious Crime Act. Since this bill was passed in 2015, the U.K. has experienced a 30% increase in people reaching out for support. For the first time, many victims of coercive control now know that they can call domestic violence shelters or police for help.
We have also seen conviction rates rise in the U.K. as judges and police become more aware of the reality of coercive control. I want to touch briefly on the additions I have made to the bill from that of my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke. One small change was that we added people who are engaged to be married explicitly into the bill, to ensure that those who are engaged but not explicitly dating would be covered. The more critical addition was the inclusion of people who are in partnerships that have ended.
We know that the time period when a woman is leaving an abusive relationship is the time when she is at most risk for violence and femicide. It is critical that we include separated partners in the bill so that victims and police have the tools they need to protect the person as they leave.
Criminalizing coercive control means giving victims and survivors additional tools to leave abusive situations. We have a responsibility to give these victims more control, more autonomy and more power to escape dangerous situations, hopefully to prevent the all too common escalation to violence.
There is no way of knowing whether the April 2020 shooting could have been prevented by criminalizing coercive and controlling behaviour, but my hope is that we can support victims and prevent further violence. I am urging my colleagues from every political party to support this bill to protect women and to protect victims of intimate partner violence.
I want to thank everyone who has had a hand in crafting this bill, especially the survivors, the frontline organizations and my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, for his tireless efforts. Again, I urge members in the House to support the bill.