The town of Bedford is one of five municipalities that have been chosen as pilot project locations for specialized tribunals for sexual assault and domestic violence cases, Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette announced on Jan. 26.
The tribunals were created through Bill 92, passed unanimously by the National Assembly last November. At the time, Jolin-Barrette told Radio-Canada that the tribunals “did not change applicable [criminal] laws”, which are under federal jurisdiction, but contained several provisions aimed at making it easier for victims of domestic or sexual violence to press charges and stay engaged in the legal process. The new law, passed in the wake of a series of murders of women by their partners or former partners, will ensure that each complainant will work with a single Crown prosecutor throughout the case, and give each complainant the right to four hours of free legal advice.
The Bedford pilot project will be co-ordinated through the Granby courthouse. Similar pilot projects will be launched in Quebec City, Beauharnois, Drummondville and La Tuque. Jolin-Barrette has said he intends to launch five other pilot projects, for a total of 10, in the near future.
Carmen Paquin is the director of the Maison Alice-Desmarais, a shelter in Granby which accommodates women who have experienced abuse and their children.
“We’re very interested in this project,” she says. “We hope it will make the [waiting periods] shorter for women who choose to go through with this process, and we want the authorities to understand what a woman [who presses charges] needs, and how to accompany her better. This [pilot project] is one thing that could give women more hope.”
Paquin says the judicial process, as it is now, does not do a good job of addressing the needs of victims. She says victims often have to tell their stories repeatedly to a rotating cast of police officers and prosecutors, which can exact a heavy toll. “It’s very discouraging; it can lead to a kind of violence within the system that retraumatizes the woman,” Paquin says. “Yes, of course, the women have to testify, but they need to be listened to and understood. We want victims to be accompanied by the same people before, during and after the legal process.”
She says the pilot project “is great to have on our territory, but it won’t fix everything.”
“In the long term, we want social change, not just legal change. Domestic violence is everywhere and it should be everybody’s business. “We need everyone, including police officers, health care workers and employers, to be aware of the resources that are available to women experiencing violence. We also need to hold perpetrators accountable – instead of asking ‘Why didn’t she leave?’ we should ask, ‘Why did he hit her? Why did he stalk her?’ And when a victim does decide to make a complaint, we need to have a justice system that respects her rights and needs.”