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Criminal Code—Canadian Victims Bill of Rights

Bill to Amend--Second Reading

November 3, 2022

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-238. I thank Senator Boisvenu for his ongoing commitment to support those who are victimized.

My work with women and children who have experienced horrendous violence, have received virtually no protection and then experience the full force of the criminal legal system when they act to repel or otherwise respond to the violence perpetrated against them give me another perspective on the intricacies of this issue. While I understand the intention behind this bill and recognize the importance of Senator Boisvenu’s objective of protecting victims from harm being posted online, this is unfortunately not all this bill is doing.

Senator Boisvenu in his speech said that this bill:

. . . amends the Criminal Code to prohibit any offender or accused from posting images or information about their victim or keeping existing images of their victim on social media either during legal proceedings or after being convicted.

However, that is not what the bill says.

The bill gives the broad-stroke removal of the entire right to free speech and removes the right for an accused person to publish, distribute, transmit or make accessible on the internet “any information concerning the victim of the offence in question.”

Provisions for this purpose, and the purpose that Senator Boisvenu has, already exist. For example, when it comes to bail, in the provision on judicial interim release, paragraph 515(4)(g) of the Criminal Code states:

. . . the justice may direct the accused to comply with one or more of the following conditions specified in the order:

. . . comply with any other specified condition that the justice considers necessary to ensure the safety and security of any victim of or witness to the offence . . . .

While I am confident it is not the intent of the bill as drafted, it could also preclude women who after years of abuse, defend themselves or their children and end up charged, convicted and imprisoned. This bill could preclude them from seeking justice when — but for the day — they were the victim. There is nothing in this legislation to protect women who were victims themselves of abuses and who are now imprisoned for fighting back.

We have seen many instances where women who speak about their abusers are already vilified. This legislation could also further silence and punish them.

Some of you might be thinking, “Surely not, such provisions won’t be used that way.”

There are many examples of this where women — especially Indigenous women — after years of abuse, are criminalized themselves for using force, sometimes lethal force, in response to the violence they experience. Perhaps the most egregious being the case of Yvonne Johnson as an example of how the application of this bill could be overly broad and can actually be used against women who were victims themselves. Yvonne Johnson spent nearly two decades in prison for first-degree murder of a man who was accused of sexually abusing her infant daughter. In 1998, she co-wrote a book about her troubled past, history of sexual abuse, the experiences of colonialism, residential schools and intergenerational trauma that she experienced that culminating in her being in prison.

Her co-author, well-known author Rudy Wiebe, decided that the book should also include a review of her role in the homicide because he wanted to expose the systemic biases as well as the sexist and racist myths and stereotypes that contributed to Yvonne being held more culpable than her three co-accused. Her experience of childhood sexual abuse and the fact that she was the mother of the infant child were used to attribute more motive to her than even to her husband — the father of the same child — and to the two other co-accused.

The book, Stolen Life, was used against her, and, in addition to delaying her conditional release, has effectively re-silenced her.

We don’t need another bill that attempts to treat one symptom of the problem with a broad stroke and therefore creates numerous problems in the process. Instead, let’s address the ideas and attitudes that fuel all forms of violence — especially misogynist and racist violence — in all facets of our criminal legal system while simultaneously implementing the sorts of robust social, health and economic support systems that can truly assist women to escape and ultimately help us to end all violence.

Meegwetch, thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.

An Hon. Senator: On division.

(Motion agreed to and bill read second time, on division.)

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