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Ontario adds Coercive Control Bill

Ontario, Canada is the latest government to pass a strong anti coercive control legislation. This bill was specifically passed in the CLRA, Ontario’s Children’s Law Reform Act, and it offers guidance to the courts on how to handle survivors and will assess each case in the best interest of the child.

The Canadian Criminal Justice System, Canada’s federal government, recognizes coercive control as part of (IPV), intimate partner violence. However, it has not addressed the specific offenses that make these acts federally criminal or how to properly apply the law. Canada's Federal legislation addressing the issue of intimate partner violence under the CCJS does reference a number of relevant behaviors of IPV but does not use coercive control specifically in its language. Ontario's Bill 207, a Provincial Law, defines coercive control in relation to intimate partner violence or domestic violence within the Criminal Code. Intimate partner violence is approached as an incident-based problem, lack of legislation leaves too much up to interpretation and leaves victims at risk of being put into harm’s way.

Ontario has set the bar, by including the specific language “coercive control”, by criminalizing coercive behaviors towards children, victims and even pets. Some provincial and territorial governments have developed laws and implemented them in their specific jurisdiction. Seven provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan) and three territories have specific legislation on family violence, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence. All these legislations are complementing protections offered in the Criminal Code by offering other protections to victims. Other dispositions may also restrain the abuser.

Ontario created Bill 207 on Coercive Control which specifically addresses offenses related to psychological and emotional abuse such as criminal harassment, verbal and electronic threats, harassing phone calls, and stalking. Other behaviors, such as, repeatedly following from place to place, tracking, tracing or monitoring through the use of electronic means or otherwise, can be considered threatening behaviors. Bill 207 acknowledges advancements in technology which is often used as a weapon in IPV. This law applies not only directly to the victim, but includes other persons known. Ontario Law, following the footsteps of Scotland and other successful laws abroad, includes contact with family members, either directly or indirectly, including other persons known to them

With awareness of the impact of non-physical violence, the lack of corresponding offenses to intimate partner violence, including repeat behavior to control an intimate partner makes it extremely difficult for law enforcement to intervene adequately on the scene. Coercive control does not relate to a single incident but to a pattern of behaviors that take place over time that is repeated and continuous. Police officers are the first responders from law enforcement to make a determination if an intimate partner violence situation is criminal as per the available offenses within the Criminal Code of Canada. Without a clear recognition of coercive control as criminal behavior, which is limited to just the Providence of Ontario, the opportunity to be addressed within the criminal justice system is limited.

In family law, Bill 207 in Ontario assures that in relation to divorce, parenting and enforcement of family obligations clearly addresses coercive control in family violence. With the suggested amendments, the Divorce Act would take into consideration a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviors in custody dispute situations. It will also evaluate when a parent is a threat to the other parent. It is detrimental to evaluate the situation and always err in the best interest of the child. History has shown that family courts have long overlooked controlling, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse. Coercive control includes the mistreatment of family pets or threats to harm them or children, as behaviors of family violence, despite not being physical. The language in Bill 207 will address incidents of violence that are non-physical abuse and will seek to make sure that post-separation, children are placed in the safest environment and it will be considered a family law proceeding, even if criminal charges are not placed.

Seeing Ontario take initiative in enacting codes to protect the victims of Coercive Control is an important step in recognizing the pattern of domination where tactics of control are used over time in intimate relationships.

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