Roundtable on Strengthening Justice System Approaches
(July 25, 2016 – Ottawa)

On July 25, 2016, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women, along with Anju Dhillon (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Status of Women), hosted a roundtable on Strengthening Justice System Approaches in Ottawa, Ontario. This roundtable is part of a broader engagement process to engage stakeholders across the country to inform the federal strategy on gender-based violence. See http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/violence/strategy-strategie/index-en.html for more information about the engagement process.

This roundtable explored the role of various actors (women's organizations, legal professionals, law enforcement, correctional services and community groups) in strengthening justice system approaches. Discussions focused on restorative justice and other ways to strengthen the justice system and support survivors. Over 15 stakeholders attended, including researchers, advocates, and representatives from Indigenous organizations and organizations who provide educational and victim support services. 

Highlights

The roundtable discussion is summarized here. This summary should not be interpreted as a comprehensive account of the discussion, nor is it meant to suggest that there was consensus among the participants on the points outlined below.

Participants identified that a federal approach should be:

  • Survivor-oriented
  • Responsive to the needs of diverse populations including: children exposed to and/or experiencing violence; First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples; immigrant women; women in rural and remote regions
  • Incorporate a life course approach and include interventions across the lifespan  
  • Evidence-based and support improved data collection and analysis to better understand gender-based violence

A separate Indigenous strategy was recommended by some participants.

In discussing the context of gender-based violence in Canada:

  • Some participants noted that violence is under-reported, in part because of a fear of consequences. Women, particularly in rural and Indigenous communities, may fear losing custody of their children or being further isolated within their community
  • Some participants highlighted the need to address other factors which can contribute to violence or affect the ability to leave a violent situation, including poverty, limited access to health care, and a lack of access to food
  • Some participants took different positions on the definition of gender-based violence, with some suggesting that the focus should be on men's violence against women or gender-based violence more broadly

Participants provided a number of suggestions on how justice responses could be improved, including by:

  • reviewing sentencing and segregation criteria for individuals who are incarcerated
  • providing greater oversight and accountability to ensure that cases of gender-based violence are handled appropriately by the justice system  
  • addressing stereotypes about who constitutes a victim and about marginalized populations
  • ensuring greater coordination between criminal and family courts
  • providing additional guidance to judges and attorneys on how to deal with cases of gender-based violence
  • examining the prosecution practices in rural, remote and Indigenous communities
  • creating survivor advocates to represent and advance survivor interests through the justice system
  • supporting the women's movement through funding
  • recognizing that legislation can have unintended consequences on survivors and may not be effective in addressing social problems

Some participants saw education as a tool in responding to addressing gender-based violence. Discussion focussed on:

  • Engaging bystanders to intervene and prevent gender-based violence and to change attitudes and behaviours
  • Educating youth and women on their rights and what resources are available
  • Training justice professionals to better understand the complex needs of survivors and perpetrators (including: women's previous experiences of violence, mental health issues and cultural sensitivity). Some participants suggested hiring practices need to be reviewed and changed
  • Improving understanding of the unique context of Indigenous communities

Participants also discussed the use of restorative justice models in a federal approach, noting:

  • Restorative justice can provide resolutions that are survivor oriented, and also address the impacts of violence on, and in, the community
  • Some participants noted that restorative justice approaches must be sensitive to the community context and the needs and experiences of survivors

Participants discussed actions that are required to improve support services for survivors and perpetrators. Suggestions included

  • adequately resourcing services for survivors and perpetrators
  • culturally responsive rehabilitation programs that also consider the complex needs of perpetrators (including that they may have been victims of abuse or been exposed to abuse in childhood, and may be struggling with substance use and mental health issues)
  • community-based and culturally responsive counselling and support services (particularly for Indigenous and northern communities). In the North, a key challenge in providing services is the high turnover rate of staff
  • trauma informed parenting supports for survivors and perpetrators
  • early childhood interventions focused on prevention
  • addressing the funding gap between shelters on- and off- reserve  

Overall, participants highlighted that a federal strategy should:

  • Recognize the unique needs and circumstances of women in Canada, particularly Indigenous women and women in rural and Northern communities
  • Acknowledge that there are multiple factors that contribute to gender-based violence
  • Include interventions at different points in the life cycle that are culturally responsive, trauma-informed and adequately resourced
  • Reflect concepts of restorative justice and be survivor oriented
  • Consider who is hired to be and training needs of justice professionals (including judges and prosecutors)
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