New Legislation Proposed to Criminalize Coercive Control in Canada

NDP MP for Victoria Laurel Collins speaks about intimate partner violence during a news conference, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023 in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

In a significant move addressing domestic violence, New Democrat MP Laurel Collins has introduced a private member’s bill, seeking to criminalize coercive control in Canada. This legislative push reflects a growing awareness and dialogue on the complexities of domestic abuse.

Sister’s Plight Inspires Action

Collins, representing Victoria, shared a personal connection to the issue, recounting her sister’s experiences with an abusive partner. “My sister showed up at my door in tears,” Collins recounted. The partner had confiscated her sister’s keys, bank cards, and cellphone, severely limiting her freedom. “Luckily, she had another set of keys,” Collins said, illustrating the insidious nature of such control.

Domestic violence

Bill C-332: A Path to Criminalizing Coercive Behaviour

The bill, named C-332, does not explicitly define coercive or controlling conduct but aims to criminalize actions expected to significantly impact individuals. These actions include instilling a fear of violence, influencing communication with others, and negatively affecting attendance at work or school.

Collins emphasized the need for this legislation, stating, “Coercive control is an insidious and often ignored element of intimate partner violence,” and noting its disproportionate impact on women.

Bipartisan Support and Challenges Ahead

Both the Liberals and Conservatives have expressed support for the bill, although concerns about implementation and evidence gathering have been voiced. Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri shared a poignant story of a friend, highlighting the subtlety of such abuse. “Most victims often do not even know they are victims,” Ferreri stated, underlining the urgency of addressing this issue.

Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner, serving as the parliamentary secretary for Women and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien, supported the bill while cautioning about the complexity of enforcing such laws, referencing experiences in England and Scotland.

Systematic pattern of power or control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another

A Second Attempt and Broader Context

This is not the first time such legislation has been proposed. Two years ago, British Columbia MP Randall Garrison introduced a similar bill, which did not reach a second reading. Collins’ bill builds on Garrison’s efforts and comes after a rise in domestic abuse reported during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Statistics and Societal Impact

Federal statistics from 2018 reveal that 44% of women in relationships have experienced some form of abuse from a partner. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has advocated for specific offences targeting coercive control, highlighting the limitations of current laws focused mainly on physical violence.

Children can be traumatised by domestic abuse too. CREDITS: SHUTTERSTOCK ENTERPRISE

A Global Perspective and Criticism

The bill is modeled after similar laws in the U.K., where the criminalization of coercive and controlling behavior led to a 31% increase in support calls related to intimate partner violence. However, critics like Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) in Vancouver, argue that such laws might not effectively address the root causes of family violence, emphasizing the need for broader systemic changes.

Next Steps and Hope for Swift Action

Collins, optimistic about the bill’s prospects, expressed hope for its passage before the end of the spring session next year. “The government has delayed and disappointed the survivors,” she stated, emphasizing the urgency of the matter.