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People hold signs as they march prior to a candlelight vigil held in honour of Rebekah Love Harry, a victim of domestic violence, in Montreal, on April 3, 2021.

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters

A House of Commons committee is calling for coercive and controlling behaviour to be made an offence under the Criminal Code.

A unanimous report released on Tuesday by the House of Commons committee on justice and human rights highlights the harm of coercion and control in an intimate relationship, and how the behaviour can often progress to physical violence. It also calls for more support and protection for victims.

The report, titled The Shadow Pandemic: Stopping Coercive and Controlling Behaviour in Intimate Relationships, says domestic violence has dramatically increased during the current health crisis, in which people are more isolated and required to stay home, sometimes with abusive partners. Added stress from such things as lack of child care are also contributing to the uptick in incidents, the report said.

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Although not all victims are women, the report acknowledged that this issue is highly gendered, and women and children are affected most.

Quebec to spend an additional $223-million to address province’s domestic-violence crisis

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“If people don’t see violence, then sometimes they don’t think the relationship is abusive,” said Anuradha Dugal, vice-president of community initiatives at the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Including this behaviour in the Criminal Code, she added, would demonstrate there are many different forms of abuse.

“Coercive and controlling behaviour is incredibly damaging,” Ms. Dugal said. “Things like long-term PTSD, depression, anxiety, can be worse because of coercive control, even though maybe there has never been physical violence. That’s another reason why it’s so important to name it in this way.”

In the development of the report, the committee members heard directly from survivors of domestic violence and experts on the subject about the best ways to address the issue. They then put forward five main recommendations. All parties on the committee endorsed the report.

“As women lose their lives to this heinous crime, I’m proud of this committee for working together constructively to propose concrete solutions in addressing this shadow pandemic, assisting survivors and preventing such violence from happening in the first place,” Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, the chair of the committee, said in a news release.

In addition to making coercive and controlling behaviour a crime, the report recommends implementing measures that prevent victims from being retraumatized or arrested themselves, which can sometimes be an unintended consequence of the way the justice system handles domestic violence. It emphasized that women who are Indigenous, racialized, or living in poverty are often most affected by this.

Additional recommendations include funding for a public-awareness campaign to help people recognize coercive and controlling behaviour, and training for police, lawyers and judges on the most effective ways to approach such situations without causing further harm.

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