The Quebec government should establish a comprehensive “made in Quebec” legal framework to tackle intimate partner violence by creating a specific right to adequate housing under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and introduce comprehensive legislation that institutes a right to be free from domestic violence that includes legal recourses in civil matters, according to a report by legal experts.
Successive governments in Quebec have made important strides to provide better support to victims of intimate partner violence but “the time has come” to establish necessary policy foundations for a rights-based approach that should be anchored by Quebec’s international human rights obligations, affirms the report. The expert panel calls on the provincial government to follow in the footsteps of the federal government’s 2019 National Housing Strategy Act and explicitly incorporate the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), a multilateral treaty signed by the United Nations General Assembly that came in force in 1976, in Quebec law.
“When you build your legal framework around a positive right, that’s going to change the entire approach,” remarked Pearl Eliadis, a McGill law professor and co-chair of the Gender Research Stream, one of several branches of the Québec Homelessness Prevention Policy Collaborative, that penned the report. The collaborative, founded in 2021, was established to advance policy reforms in Quebec to prevent homelessness. It is a joint effort between the McGill Department of Equity, Ethics, and Policy and the Old Brewery Mission, Quebec’s largest service provider for homeless men and the largest in Canada for homeless women.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Victims of conjugal and sexual violence will have access to emergency financial assistance, the latest initiative the Quebec government introduced to help victims of gender-based violence.
Over the past few months, the Quebec government has tabled a controversial bill to create a specialized tribunal for sexual and domestic violence, handed funding to a Montreal legal aid clinic to provide training for legal professionals, and boosted social and legal services to help victims of intimate partner and sexual violence.
A new divisional court dealing with conjugal and sexual complaints is expected to be launched by the beginning of 2022 by the Court of Quebec, potentially setting the stage for a legal battle against the Quebec government over judicial independence and the administration of justice.
The Quebec government tabled in mid-September a bill that will create a “specialized” tribunal that is expected to take a different approach to dealing with victims of domestic and sexual violence by moving away from the traditional criminal justice framework and have judicial institutions work in collaboration with specially trained jurists and specialized police units in tandem with social and community services to cultivate a victim-centred approach.
An unusually public clash between the Quebec Justice Minister and the Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec has materialized over competing visions on how to deal with conjugal and sexual violence cases, with little signs of abating.
The simmering skirmish between the executive and the judiciary erupted in the open shortly after Chief Justice Lucie Rondeau announced on Sept 28th the creation of a new division within the Court of Quebec to deal with conjugal and sexual violence offences, two weeks after the Quebec government tabled a bill that would move away from the traditional criminal justice framework to deal with gender-based violence and create a “specialized” court to deal with these offences.
A man who subjected his ex-wife to nine years of domestic violence was ordered by Quebec Superior Court to pay her nearly $47,000 in damages, the second time in less than a month that a Quebec court ordered an abusive spouse to pay damages for the violence they inflicted.
In a decision welcomed by family law experts and advocates against family violence who believe it is the harbinger of an emerging trend, Quebec Superior Court Justice Gregory Moore held that recent amendments to the federal Divorce Act (Act) “underline the sensibility that the the courts and parties must demonstrate faced with this challenge” to society. Justice Moore awarded more than $1,900 in damages, $30,000 in non-pecuniary damages and $15,000 in punitive damages.
“This is a developing trend because society in general rejects family violence, because there is heightened awareness by the courts over the issue of family violence, and because domestic violence is no longer viewed by the courts as being only a ground for granting divorce but as a possible cause of physical and psychological harm that must be compensated,” said Michel Tétrault, a family law expert who has written “Droit de la famille.”
Canadian judges have demonstrated very little awareness over the heightened risks of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, a situation that should prompt judges to attend comprehensive legal training over what the United Nations has described as the “shadow pandemic,” according to human rights and legal aid experts.