08 Jun 2021 New bill targeting coercion needs practical application
In 2020, NDP Member of Parliament Randall Garrison introduced Bill C-247 which seeks to add coercive or controlling conduct to the criminal code in relation to intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence rates have been on the rise during the past year, and it is being called a “shadow pandemic.” Garrison hopes the bill will increase protection for those facing domestic violence by allowing for prosecution before things get physical.
This is relevant to the pro-life movement because studies consistently show a correlation between women seeking an abortion and the experience of intimate partner violence. We know that some women choose abortion because of pressure from a spouse or partner. Those women often fear violence or have experienced abuse in the past.
A study done at a Quebec family planning clinic found that women seeking abortion “were at significantly greater risk of having been victims of most types of abuse measured, including lifetime abuse, and of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse in the past year, and they were also more likely to express fear” than women seeking to continue their pregnancy.
The bill opens with the statement that, “Everyone commits an offence who repeatedly or continuously engages in controlling or coercive conduct towards a person with whom they are connected that they know or ought to know could, in all the circumstances, reasonably be expected to have a significant impact on that person and that has such an impact on that person.”
Under the interpretation of that statement, it is clarified that coercive or controlling conduct is any conduct that “causes the person alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities, including (i) limits on their ability to safeguard their well-being or that of their children” (emphasis added). This provides legal recourse for women facing pressure to abort.
The bill is waiting for its second reading, but it received multi-party support and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights released a report supporting the bill.
Will it actually stop intimate partner violence?
This bill is short on details as to how it would actually benefit those facing coercion and control. Presumably they would have to know about the change in law in order to benefit from it. So where could we give them that information? This bill would be more useful if it included a practical component regarding screening for intimate partner violence in settings where it could be most effective. One of those places is in doctors’ offices and abortion clinics.
One study found that 81% of Canadian women surveyed believed that health-care providers should ask all women whether they are subject to IPV. Citing multiple stories of rape or abuse, abortion counsellors suggest that the experience of unplanned pregnancy and seeking an abortion can be a “catalyst for making positive changes” in the lives of those seeking abortion. This is an opportunity to be heard and get help. We should be using these opportunities to empower women to get out of abusive relationships.
We know that women seeking abortion are a vulnerable group. They are more likely to be experiencing emotional and relationship distress. Health care professionals should screen women seeking an abortion for intimate partner violence, to be able to make them aware of laws that protect them. They can also direct patients to support and local emergency services.
Part of addressing intimate partner violence is stopping it in its tracks. This bill has good intentions, but it needs to go further in order to actually benefit those most in need of help escaping coercion or control.