Time will certainly judge the Canadian victims of crime bill of rights that was tabled last week in the House of Commons by the federal government.
There are criticisms of Bill C-32, in part because it does not provide a legal recourse to victims of crime should their rights be violated.
In other words, for the most part there’s no real teeth to the bill. It’s a touchy-feely piece of legislation full of principles but no grit.
But there is one thing in the bill that would change the Canada Evidence Act in such a way as to be of deep concern to those who may find themselves in certain terrible circumstances, such as domestic violence.
Currently, the act allows spouses the right to refuse to testify, except for in a few specific cases such as sexual assault or crimes against children. The act views a married couple as one person.
But the victims bill of rights would result in a change to the Evidence Act, so that a spouse could be compelled to testify against a spouse.
As a result, if there’s now a chill in the air felt by domestic violence victims, it’s understandable. And by victims, let’s be clear here — for the most part, we are talking about women.
While studies do show that men and women are at risk almost equally of violent crime, men are much more likely to be assaulted by a stranger, while women are much more likely to be assaulted by someone they know.
A Statistics Canada report, Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, 2009, says:
“Most men are not abusive to their families. However, when family violence does occur, the victims are overwhelmingly female: 83 per cent of all police-reported domestic assaults are against women. This pattern is consistent for every province and territory across Canada.”
So here’s the problem — what are the chances that a spouse will not report domestic violence because they are terrified they could end up in court testifying against the assaulter?
Sometimes the solution can be a poison pill.
The change to the Evidence Act proposed in the victims of crime bill of rights may in fact prevent people from reporting crime they should be reporting. The dynamics of domestic violence crime are obviously different than other types of crime.
That’s because the victim could well end up in the same home again, and often do, of the accused — for financial reasons or because of children, for example. We can imagine how things could go.
The accused knows his/her spouse is going to be compelled to testify against them in court.
A reasonable person should conclude that a victim might be reluctant to, and even might never dare, report a crime of domestic violence.
Therefore we have a victims of crime bill that in fact suppresses victims from actually reporting crime in the first place.
Certainly compelling spouses to testify will make the work of police easier — but in the way they may not have to deal with a crime in the first place.
Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 403-314-4332.