Review of Provincial and Territorial Domestic Violence Legislation and Implementation Strategies
- 6.1 Impact of victim assistance order (VAO)
- 6.2 Relationship to mandatory charge policies
- 6.3 Seizure of firearms
PART 1: A REVIEW OF KEY IMPLEMENTATION ISSUES
6. IMPACT ISSUES
The following issues concerning the impact of provincial and territorial domestic violence legislation are primarily drawn from the evaluation and monitoring documents included (i.e., Saskatchewan 1996 and 1998, and PEI 1998). Other research findings have been incorporated in the analysis of legislation and in earlier sections of this document.
This order has received little use in Saskatchewan and PEI. Reasons for this appear to be:
- most lawyers feel the VAO does not provide significant new options to ones already available in other legislation (Saskatchewan 1996, p.33);
- they would prefer to use legislation that can also deal with custody, maintenance and restraining orders as a “whole package” (ibid);
- legal aid is not available for a VAO unless the client meets financial eligibility (PEI, 1998, p.27); and,
- more emphasis and training is required to draw attention to this order (Saskatchewan 1998, p.x; PEI 1998, p.26).
Although no formal statistics on the volume of this type of order are available in Manitoba, informally the Director of Judicial Support estimates that there are approximately 6 per week in Winnipeg. They are very difficult to trace because in terms of recording they are usually mixed in with other orders under the Divorce Act or Family Maintenance Act, and are seldom stand-alone orders under the Domestic Violence and Stalking Prevention, Protection and Compensation Act. However, the volume in Winnipeg alone is considerably higher than in Saskatchewan even at half the estimate. We cannot undertake a meaningful analysis of this difference, but simply note that it should not be assumed that a VAO is not a useful order. Legislation just introduced in Ontario for first reading in Sep 27/00 puts an “intervention order” – the equivalent of the VAO – first in the legislation, followed by the emergency order. This may signal an intent to give this type of court order more prominence than in the other 5 jurisdictions.
Saskatchewan evaluation reports are equivocal about the impact of the Act on mandatory charging. While the directive about mandatory charge in spousal assault cases has not changed, the actual practice of individual officers is somewhat more fluid. The first Saskatchewan review (1996) could not state with certainty the nature of the impact, but cited some cases in which there appeared to be sufficient evidence to lay a charge, but only an emergency order was used. The researchers felt it was probable, though, that “legislation is providing an opportunity to assist victims when prosecution is unlikely” (p.37).
In the second Saskatchewan review (1998), 10 of 13 officers said the legislation has no effect on the charging directive but 12 felt it has changed police practice, “either by providing police with an additional tool to use in dealing with domestic violence, or by making police more aware of domestic violence” (Saskatchewan 1998, p.26). Half the officers said they used orders “in instances where there is not enough evidence to lay charges, but it is clear that some action is required. Similarly, a few officers said they use orders when circumstances demand some intervention but the victim does not wish to pursue criminal proceedings” (p.25). This type of situation is similar to that found in Aboriginal communities in a 1996 study on mandatory charge in the Yukon. Victims supported mandatory charges, but did not necessarily want their spouses in prison; they wanted something decisive to happen that would protect them as victims. At the time the Family Violence Protection Act was not in force.
Seizure of firearms from a respondent (i.e., the perpetrator of violence) is usually seen as a preventative measure to protect the victim. One jurisdictional contact emphasized that firearms are often used as part of a suicide threat, and so their seizure can be seen as a suicide prevention measure as well.
In Nunavut firearms are often essential for earning a livelihood. In the 1996 Yukon study there was a case in which an Aboriginal victim in a spousal assault case was dissatisfied that her offending spouse had been prohibited from possessing firearms. She felt the decision was not related to her own sense of vulnerability, it deprived her husband of a means of livelihood, and also made it difficult to pass on traditional outdoor teachings to her son. Domestic violence legislation, while providing for firearms seizure, may better be able to accommodate Nunavut victims’ very specific needs in this type of situation.
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