“During these incidents the offender punched the victim in the knees, hit her on the head and on her ears, pushed her, dragged her on the ground, slapped her, bit her, spat in her face, head-butted her, shook her, pulled her hair and grabbed her by the shoulders while threatening to throw her off a balcony. During one incident, he threw various objects at her. During another, he took a knife and threatened to remove the baby she was carrying in her womb.”
The courts are beginning to take a harder line against domestic abuse. Over the past year Quebec Superior Court has awarded damages to victims of spousal abuse. Ontario Superior Court followed suit in late February 2022 after it recognized a new tort in family violence.
So too is the justice system and Quebec government, a movement that gained much traction over the past year, particularly since the beginning of the year.
The architecture of the Canadian Constitution has been dramatically altered, with the emergence of a third level of government, after the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that Indigenous people possess an existing right of self-government that is protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, according to legal experts.
The “bold” decision, a reference case brought by the Attorney General of Québec after it challenged the constitutionality of the federal government’s Indigenous child welfare law, marks the first time a self-government right has been clearly recognized by the courts as a right of all Indigenous peoples in Canada, added aboriginal and constitutional legal experts.
“The Court recognized that Indigenous peoples in Canada have a right to self-government over child and family services recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982,” said Claire Truesdale, a Vancouver lawyer with JFK Law Corporation who practices Aboriginal, environmental and constitutional law. “This is remarkable.”
Following in the footsteps of Quebec, a new tort in family violence has been recognized in Ontario.
In Quebec, there are some 20 cases that awarded damages to victims of spousal abuse, a figure that is less than the number of decisions that have granted damages to ex-spouses for online harassment, point out legal experts. But there are signs that is about to change.
… I am prepared to award $150,000 in compensatory, aggregated, and punitive damages for the tort of family violence. I recognize that making such a significant damage award is well-outside the normal boundaries of family law. In the typical marriage, characterized by economic interdependence and mutual support, the family law statutory framework will be a complete code that allows for the fair, predictable, and efficient resolution of the parties’ financial issues post-separation.
 However, the marriage before me was not typical: it was characterized by the Father’s abuse, and a sixteen-year pattern of coercion and control. It was not just “unhappy” or “dysfunctional”; it was violent. The family violence the Mother endured at the hands of the Father is not compensated through an award of spousal support. Indeed, the Divorce Act_, R.S.C., 1985, c. 3 (2nd Supp) specifically prohibits me from considering “misconduct” when making a spousal support award: s.15.2(5). On the rare and unusual facts before me, the Mother is entitled to a remedy in tort that properly accounts for the extreme breach of trust occasioned by the Father’s violence, and that brings some degree of personal accountability to his conduct.
Justice Pro Bono is seeking Quebec lawyers who want to support and facilitate the integration of Ukrainian refugees who will arrive in Quebec. The organization is looking for lawyers with an expertise in labour law, health law, education law, and housing law. For more information, reach out to them at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the same vein, lawyers from the Immigration Law section at the Canadian Bar Association have launched an initiative to provide services, free of charge, to individuals affected by the war in Ukraine. More information can be obtained here.
A 2017 fatal Montreal police shooting of a man underlined a lack of sufficient training to de-escalate situations when faced with people in the midst of a mental health crisis, found Quebec coroner Luc Malouin.
Pierre Coriolan, 58, was tasered, struck with a rubber bullet and shot three times. Malouin castigated police for using rapid-response tactical training, whose aim is to isolate and control the threatening person. But it is not appropriate approach to deal with people whose mental state is “disturbed,” said Malouin in his 33-page report.
“This intervention does not meet what is expected of police officers trained in recent years. And, in my humble opinion, this is the biggest problem of this intervention: police officers who have not had the most recent training in intervention with people in crisis (and) therefore acted with outdated methods that were in no way up to date with current knowledge.”
Those in the line of duty recognize that training is deficient. According to a 2021 report by an expert panel on Quebec policing, nearly 40 per cent of police consider mental health crisis management training to be inadequate. More than 70 per cent of patrol officers working for the Quebec provincial police believe their training is “deficient” to deal with people facing mental health issues. At present, about 480 hours of training in the police college training program are devoted to “interventions of a social nature.”
From the report:
On-duty police officers “lack the tools, resources and training to fulfil their social role, particularly in terms of intervention with people with mental health problems, sexual violence, domestic violence, or to make effective contact with members of ethnocultural communities.
From a police perspective, the gap between training and the challenges encountered on the street is based on the fact that many of the skills and behaviours adapted to the new realities are not easily acquired in schools or through refresher training, but rather are the result of the experience acquired or the basic temperament of the police officer. (my underlining)
In 2019 Quebec police received more than 80,000 calls to deal with people facing mental distress.
The Quebec government is forging ahead with the deployment of a series of specialized sexual and domestic violence court pilot projects in spite of forceful opposition by the Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec, the tribunal that will manage and operate the new endeavour.
The Quebec government, following up on a report that cast a critical eye on the province’s youth protection system, has tabled a proposed legislative reform that underlines and clarifies the notion of the best interests of the child as well as introduces new provisions to take into account the historical, social and cultural factors of Indigenous people.
The reform will also relax strict confidentiality provisions that have hampered communication between frontline workers and other healthcare professionals, reaffirms that children must be represented by an advocate, and entrusts the newly created position of National Director of Youth Protection with the responsibility of determining policy directions and practice standards, buttressed with the power to implement “corrective” measures.
Barely a month after a Quebec coroner recommended that people convicted of murdering their partners be compelled to wear electronic tracking devices when released from prison, the provincial government announced that some conjugal violence offenders could be ordered to wear tracking bracelets beginning next spring.
A controversial Quebec bill that would amend the Civil Code and family law has been lauded for creating a legal framework for the use of surrogate mothers but has been slammed for scaling back trans rights and possibly opening the door to a divisive debate over the rights of a foetus.
An independent panel of experts is recommending sweeping reforms to Quebec’s administration of the legal aid system to simplify the process to seek legal aid and alleviate the administrative encumbrances faced by private sector lawyers who take on legal aid mandates.
The experts, while affirming Quebec’s decentralized legal aid model because it ensures the independence of staff counsel and “respects” regional diversity, are nevertheless calling for a “paradigm” shift that would be anchored by the introduction of a secure digital platform to help establish a province-wide one-stop shop to receive, process and manage legal aid applications.