Joint submission on the potential criminalization of coercive control

West Coast LEAF, alongside Rise Women’s Legal Centre, has made a submission to the Department of Justice as it considers establishing a new Criminal Code offence for coercive control in the context of intimate relationships.

Coercive control is a form of non-physical abuse or violence that uses psychological intimidation, threats, humiliation, financial or property abuse, and other patterns of behaviour to control, harm, and perpetuate abuse. This type of non-physical abuse is often minimized within the legal system and treated as less serious compared to incidents of physical violence.

Rise and West Coast LEAF’s submissions seek to inform the conversation around the potential criminalization of coercive control by sharing our experiences with addressing coercive control within the context of family law in BC, where a range of psychological and emotional violence has been included in legislation for nearly a decade, with disappointing results. 

Our joint submission encourages the Department of Justice to consider the ways family law, family policing, and criminal law have interfaced with coercive control in BC and demonstrates that legislative changes alone will not provide safety for survivors. Criminalizing coercive control may assist in sending a message to society that these coercive and controlling behaviors are a serious form of violence deserving of strong sanction. However, the BC context demonstrates that legislative changes alone do not meaningfully tackle this behaviour and that robust education on coercive control within the legal system, social supports and services for survivors, as well as a careful multi-system approach is needed to create meaningful safety for survivors.

We make several recommendations to the Department of Justice, including:

  • Prioritizing survivors of coercive control at the center of any and all consultation and legislation including before any changes to legislation are finalized.
  • Building preventive measures and social supports that increase safety for survivors while they engage in the legal system, which includes a significant investment in the training of law enforcement and legal system actors. Education about the seriousness of coercive control is needed as this complex social phenomenon is often minimized or ignored.
  • If the federal government decides to move forward with the criminalization of coercive control, we recommend following the model of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which is considered the gold standard, in part, because it focuses on the behaviors of the accused person and limits the burden placed on survivors by not requiring the prosecution to prove actual harm.

Read the full submission. (PDF, 319 KB)

Read more about our work to end gender-based violence.


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