October 5, 2023 – A coalition of organizations working with and on behalf of survivors of gender-based violence have urged Senators considering Bill C-48 to reject changes that would make bail more difficult to obtain.
In their submission, the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), Luke’s Place, and the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) acknowledge the tragic incidents prompting calls to “tighten” the bail system. However, they emphasize that responses like Bill C-48 push Canada’s bail system in a direction that will harm rather than protect the public.
Bill C-48 would make bail harder to get for people who have received an absolute or conditional discharge for intimate partner violence, which means they have not received a criminal conviction. This will not end gender-based violence or make survivors of intimate partner violence safer. In contrast, it is likely to lead to increased criminalization of marginalized communities, including survivors.
“There is no neat dividing line between survivors of intimate partner violence, and those charged with intimate partner violence,” says Pamela Cross, Advocacy Director of Luke’s Place. “It is not uncommon for survivors who are inappropriately charged – and who are often unrepresented – to enter a guilty plea just to leave detention or end their bail conditions so they can spend time with their children again.”
Bill C-48 will cause the most harm to members of marginalized communities, including Indigenous women, who are both more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence and to face criminalization. More than 43% of Indigenous women have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner, with more than 60% having experienced psychological violence. At the same time, 50% of all federally incarcerated people in penitentiaries designated for women are Indigenous.
“A person’s life is dramatically affected by a criminal charge, especially when they are a trauma survivor,” says Deepa Mattoo, Executive Director of the Schlifer Clinic. “Instead of making it more difficult to access bail, governments need to fund appropriate community supports and social services to disrupt the larger cycle of poverty, discrimination, and incarceration.”
There is a crisis in Canada’s bail system, but it is not that the system is too lax or that it releases too many people pending trial. Despite low crime rates and declining incarceration rates, the number of people in pre-trial detention has more than quadrupled since 1978. In 2021/2022, 70.5% of people in Canada’s provincial and territorial jails were detained pending trial and had not been found guilty of any offence.
“The real crisis in Canada’s bail system are the appalling conditions in our overcrowded provincial and territorial jails,” says Emilie Coyle, Executive Director of CAEFS. “Individuals in pre-trial custody face lengthy lockdowns, a complete absence of rehabilitative programs and mental health supports, and serious risks to their health and safety. Even more alarming is the high number of people who are dying in our provincial and territorial jails.”
Earlier this year in Nova Scotia, a young Mi’kmaw mother, Sarah Rose Denny, repeatedly asked for access to basic health care in a provincial jail, but was ignored and died days later of double pneumonia. Between 2010 and November 2022, 280 people died in Ontario jails.
“The crisis in Canada’s bail system produces real harm to the disproportionately marginalized communities who experience incarceration in Canada, including survivors of intimate partner violence” says Pam Hrick, Executive Director and General Counsel of LEAF. “Bill C-48 will not solve this crisis. What it will do is increase systemic discrimination and worsen access to justice.”
Any reforms made to Canada’s bail system need to rely on an evidence-based approach. They must also be responsive to and compatible with the necessary infrastructure. This includes the funding of appropriate research; the implementation of an external, independent evaluation of Canada’s bail system; and the funding of community supports and social services.
The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is currently studying Bill C-48, and representatives from the coalition will appear before the Committee this week.
Learn more about the crisis facing Canada’s bail system in the coalition’s submission.
For media inquiries, please contact:
Media Coordinator, Schlifer Clinic
Executive Director, CAEFS
Project Director, LEAF
About The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic offers trauma-informed legal services and representation, counselling and multilingual interpretation, and drives system transformation to support women and gender diverse people who have experienced violence. Rooted in the foundations of intersectionality, innovation, and a client-centred approach, we foster the skills and resilience of the people we serve and amplify their voices to create individual and collective change.
About The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS)
The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) is a national feminist organization whose purpose is to address the persistent ways that criminalized women and gender diverse people are excluded from community and denied their humanity. We do this through advocacy, law reform, public engagement, coalition-building, and thought leadership.
About Luke’s Place
Luke’s Place is an award-winning non-profit organization solely devoted to improving the safety and experience of women and their children as they proceed through the family law process after fleeing an abusive relationship. The only stand-alone family law support centre of excellence for abused women in Canada, Luke’s Place provides direct services to hundreds of women and their children in Durham Region every year.
About the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) is a national not-for-profit that works to advance the equality rights of women, girls, trans, and non-binary people in Canada through litigation, law reform, and public legal education. Since 1985, LEAF has intervened in more than 130 cases that have helped shape the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To find out more, visit www.leaf.ca.