Content warning: This position paper includes examples of coercive control.
Coercive control is a concept used to describe a pattern of abusive behaviors in intimate partner relationships, based on tactics of intimidation, subordination, and control. Coercive control is a highly gendered form of abuse, disproportionately experienced by women.
In recent years, there has been a move across jurisdictions to translate the realities of coercive control into criminal law (most notably in the United Kingdom, Wales and Scotland, and with emergent discussions in Australia, New Zealand and some US states). It is within this global context that the potential of criminalization is now being considered in Canada.
It is crucial to consider the unintended consequences of any expansion of the criminal law and to challenge the centering of the criminal legal system as the sole avenue to safety and justice, while simultaneously examining how best to protect survivors of gendered violence.
Position and Reccomendations
In the current context, LEAF does not support criminalizing coercive control. Criminalization and incarceration disproportionately impacts Indigenous, Black, racialized, disabled, and 2SLGBTQIA+ populations. LEAF recognizes as well that these communities are more likely to experience violence and be victims of crime. The intersections of these identities often lead to further marginalization by the state and heightened risk of harm.
LEAF’s position paper weighs the potential benefits of criminalizing coercive control against the risks. LEAF recommends governments take the following actions to address coercive control instead of criminalization:
- Federal, provincial and territorial governments should take a proactive approach in focusing on the prevention of intimate partner violence.
- Explore restorative and transformative justice models as a response to intimate partner violence
- Provide mandatory and ongoing training to law enforcement, crowns, and judges on coercive control and systemic bias. Establish accountability measures to ensure regular follow-up and evaluation on whether training is being meaningfully applied.
- Adopt the Mass Casualty Commission’s Recommendation to Strike an Expert Advisory Group.