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NDP MP calls on Commons to support her bill seeking to criminalize coercive control

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) 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)
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OTTAWA -
New Democrat MP Laurel Collins says she began paying close attention to the issue of coercive control when her sister showed up to her door in tears.

The member of Parliament from Victoria says her sister's partner had taken away her keys, bank cards and cellphone, and tried preventing her from leaving.

"Luckily, she had another set of keys," Collins told reporters.

"Now, that was the first time I saw it, but over the next few years, it happened again and again and again."

Collins shared some of her sister's story during a Thursday press conference on Parliament Hill, as she called on MPs to support her private member's bill seeking to criminalize a pattern of behaviour known as coercive control.

Experts have defined that as a set of behaviours an abuser uses to cause fear and isolate a victim from friends and family. Examples include controlling someone's access to money or monitoring and restricting their movements.

Collins's bill does not define what what controlling or coercive conduct is, but seeks to turn it into an offence in cases where it is "expected to have a significant impact on that person," such as making them fear that violence could be used against them, forcing them to change their communication with others or causing them to be absent from work or school.

The bill provides for the possibility that ex-partners can engage in coercive behaviours, and would allow charges to be brought against abusers in the two years following the end of a relationship.

Collins said this reflects evidence that shows the end of a relationship is when victims of domestic violence face the greatest risk of danger.

This is the second time in recent years that the federal NDP has brought forward such legislation.

Randall Garrison, a British Columbia MP, brought forward his own bill on the matter two years ago. Collins says her legislation builds on his work.

That initial effort came as shelters and front-line workers reported an uptick in domestic abuse as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, when public-health bodies imposed widespread lockdowns to try and prevent the virus from spreading.

In April 2021, a parliamentary committee conducted a deep dive into the issue.

Its final report said that it heard Canada's existing laws do not adequately capture the controlling behaviour that experts say often precedes more-serious acts of physical violence.

Among its recommendations was for Ottawa to review existing criminal law and consider drafting legislation directed at coercive control.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says it has repeatedly advocated for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to create new offences specifically targeted at coercive control.

In a statement on Thursday, the association said current laws used to prosecute cases of domestic violence deal with physical altercations and specific incidents, and do not allow police to intervene in cases where "clearly coercive behaviour" is present.

Collins said that more than two years after her party tried to close that loophole, nothing has changed.

"They run on being champions for women, but when it comes down to it, those are words and what we need is action," she said.

The MP said advocates who support women dealing with domestic violence have called such legislation a "crucial" step.

Federal statistics from 2018 show that 44 per cent of women who have been in relationships reported experiencing some form of abuse from a partner.

Canada already has a provision under the Divorce Act that says a court should factor in family violence, including "coercive and controlling behaviour," when it comes to issuing contact orders around children.

Justice Minister Arif Virani expressed an openness to criminalizing coercive control in a letter he penned to Ontario's chief coroner this summer following an inquest into the 2015 slaying of three women in the Renfrew County area.

That September, Carol Culleton, Nathalie Warmerdam and Anastasia Kuzyk all died at the hands of Basil Borutski, who had a criminal history of violence against women.

The final report from the Mass Casualty Commission, which probed the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting that left 22 people dead, also recommended that more action be taken to deal with coercive control.

It heard from at least one domestic violence expert who said the shooter subjected his spouse to controlling and intimidating tactics for years before he went on a deadly rampage in April 2020.

Collins said on Thursday that she had secured a commitment of support for her bill from David Lametti, the Liberals' previous justice minister.

A spokesman in Virani's office said the government will make its position on her bill known during debate in the House, which was slated to begin later Thursday afternoon.

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