BWSS supports the Standing Committee on the Status of Women Report: “Towards a Violence-Free Canada”

BWSS supports the Standing Committee on the Status of Women Report: “Towards a Violence-Free Canada”

The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women has released a new report, “Towards a Violence-Free Canada: Addressing and Eliminating Intimate Partner and Family Violence”, which calls attention to the reality of intimate partner violence (IPV) and family violence in Canada.

Presented to the House of Commons on Friday, June 17th, 2022, the Report argues that the causes and consequences of IPV and family violence in Canada are poorly understood and ineffectively addressed. “Towards a Violence-Free Canada” stresses the importance of responding to the root causes of IPV and family violence, and working broadly amongst jurisdictions and institutions to prevent, address, and redress intimate partner and family violence.

Between February and April 2022, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women heard from 74 witnesses and received 137 written briefs.

BWSS participated in this process as a witness, and took the opportunity to highlight the unique issues faced by Indigenous, Black, and racialized survivors of intimate partner and gender-based violence.

The testimony of our Executive Director Angela Marie MacDougall is cited in the report, including Angela’s important testimony that IPV takes place in “a social context and within a world view that systemically reinforces the power of some people to oppress others,” and that “it is important to understand that racism exists and survivors experience it including when trying to access IPV services.”

The “Towards a Violence-Free Canada” report summarizes all the testimony, and offers 28 comprehensive recommendations.

The Standing Committee on the Status of Women heard that intimate partner violence is widespread in Canada. The Committee notes that “44% of women, representing approximately 6.2 million people, will experience some form of IPV in their lifetime.” Intimate partner and family violence affects women and gender-diverse people who embody a variety of intersecting identities, such as those living with disabilities, seniors, teens and youth, immigrant, refugee, Indigenous and other racialized people, among others. “Towards a Violence-Free Canada” highlights that the consequences of intimate partner and family violence are far-reaching, including “significant negative mental and physical health consequences, and in extreme cases the consequences can be deadly. In addition, IPV and family violence can contribute to other negative effects such as poverty and homelessness.”

The report also highlights that survivors face numerous barriers to accessing anti-violence services: “These challenges include a lack of available shelter spaces and other services, economic insecurity, living in rural and remote geographic locations, lack of public transportation, and a reluctance to report or seek help from authorities. Some survivors with intersecting identities, like survivors who are immigrants, Indigenous individuals, or survivors with disabilities, may face additional barriers in accessing services. Witnesses said that survivors need services that meet their needs and that are trauma-informed.”

BWSS supports the Committee’s calls for trauma-informed, long-term solutions to address the problems of intimate partner and family violence in Canada. We also agree that these approaches must be community oriented, culturally sensitive, and implemented with the needs of the most marginalized survivors in mind.


What is the Standing Committee on the Status of Women?

The Standing Committee on the Status of Women was created by the House of Commons in 2004 to study “issues related to the status of women and to gender equality.”

Comprised of members from the Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois parties, the Committee has recently produced numerous studies and reports including “Bill C233- An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Judges Act (violence against an intimate partner)”, “Women’s Unpaid Work in Canada”, “Midwifery Services across Canada”, and “Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women”.

Each report is presented to the government and a comprehensive response is requested by Committee members. The government has not yet released a response to “Towards a Violence-Free Canada”.


What Else does the “Towards a Violence-Free Canada” Report Say?

The report opens with an overview of intimate partner and family violence in Canada, including causes and effects, and the need to improve data collection to better understand the impacts of intimate partner and family violence, particularly on racialized women.

“Towards a Violence-Free Canada” also looks at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on intimate partner and family violence in Canada. BWSS recently released a report Road to Safety: Indigenous Survivors in BC Speak Out against Intimate Partner Violence during the COVID-19 Pandemic highlighting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the IPV experiences of Indigenous women in BC, which you can read here.

The second section of the report looks at services related to intimate partner and family violence and emphasizes the need to ensure the economic stability and security of survivors. “Towards a Violence- Free Canada” explores the issue of financial abuse, which the Committee identifies as a primary factor preventing women and gender-diverse people from fleeing intimate partner and family violence.

Next, the report provides an overview of barriers survivors experience when accessing supports and services and identifies that inadequate funding for organizations supporting survivors as a barrier in Canada, in addition to a lack of transportation options and anti-violence services for rural and remote communities.

“Towards a Violence-Free Canada” details experiences of survivors belonging to specific groups, in particular Indigenous, racialized, and immigrant women, and those living with disabilities. For racialized survivors of intimate partner and family violence, racism can present a significant barrier to accessing services and fleeing IPV.

Notably, “Towards a Violence-Free Canada” asserts that witnesses shared numerous examples of how the justice system “fails to protect survivors of IPV”. Witnesses also described how “perpetrators of violence use the justice system to continue to exercise control over their victims.” The Committee identifies that professionals within law enforcement and the legal system can possess limited understanding of intimate partner violence, and that ongoing professional development opportunities must be made available to lawyers, judges, and law enforcement personnel so that they can protect, rather than cause further harm to IPV survivors. “Towards a Violence-Free Canada” also explores the potential for intimate partner and family violence specific courts and alternative and restorative approaches to justice.

Finally, the report explores the need to prevent intimate partner violence by raising awareness, particularly amongst newcomers to Canada, educating young Canadians on healthy relationships, and engaging men and boys to end intimate partner and family violence. This section also reinforces the need to implement the Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.


What Are the Report Recommendations?

Report recommendations centered around 7 major themes: research, funding allocation, program and policy development, police and the legal system, direct service provision, awareness, and the development and implementation of the National Action Plan.

The report identifies numerous research focuses that need to be prioritized by the government, including the need for research into the prevalence of traumatic brain injuries amongst survivors of IPV, understanding teen dating and IPV, financial abuse as a form of IPV, as well as how experiencing abuse in childhood affects relationships later in life. The report also stressed the need for additional capacity development for data collection, including for disaggregated data on IPV experiences of racialized folks and gender diverse folks. At the provincial level, BWSS has been advocating for disaggregated race-based data collection and we led engagement sessions on B.C’s anti-racism data legislation.

A significant focus of the report’s recommendations is in regards to program and policy development to address a variety of issues associated with intimate partner and family violence, including support for children who have witnessed violence, sexual assault policies and services in post-secondary organizations, the need to work with financial institutions to develop a federal system designed to detect financial abuse, the development of a comprehensive strategy to address financial and economic abuse, support programs for men who have committed violence, and development of educational programming about consent and healthy relationships for youth.

The report recommendations emphasized the need for change within the legal system and law enforcement in Canada. “Towards a Violence-Free Canada” recommends exploring the feasibility of implementing Clare’s Law nation-wide, as well as the need for increased funding for organizations providing legal services to survivors of intimate partner and family violence. The report encourages police services to develop victim-centric practices and recommends judicial education on the issues of coercive control and financial abuse.

A major focus of the report recommendations involves the need to improve direct services to women and gender diverse people experiencing intimate partner and family violence. Survivors, especially Indigenous women, require more and better housing options, and newcomers and those with precarious immigration status require IPV services that are specific to their distinct needs. Reducing poverty and ensuring financial security for those leaving situations of violence was also identified as important, and it was noted that older women and those living with disabilities require additional IPV support.

“Towards a Violence-Free Canada” corroborates what BWSS has been saying for years: that intimate partner violence and gender-based violence are systemic, that anti-violence services are underfunded and that ensuring the safety of IPV survivors requires sustained, meaningful commitment from government.

Now that the government has heard from its own representatives that the problem of intimate partner and gender-based violence in Canada requires immediate action, we urge the government to respond to this report without further hesitation by implementing all recommendations, and by continuing to develop and implement the National Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Gender-Based Violence.

At BWSS, we continue to support survivors and we stay on the front lines resisting gender-based violence because we know that safety changes everything.