The Liberal government is proposing a legislative change in support of victims of family violence in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Bill 1, to amend the Family Violence Protection Act, is adding emotional, psychological and financial harm to the definition of violence.
“In my time as minister, I have personally heard from people who are victims of violence that are not defined in the Act. They cannot get help. People right now are living in this nightmare,” Justice Minister Andrew Parsons told reporters in a news conference at Confederation Building Thursday.
He said more calls for change have come to him from survivors’ groups and anti-violence advocates.
“These changes will ensure that the Act reflects the reality of the experience of family violence and that the legal system has the tools to deal with it effectively,” he said.
The new definition, if passed as proposed, will capture cases where someone uses words or actions to control, intimidate, isolate and dehumanize, or use finances to directly abuse an individual.
The Family Violence Protection Act is provincial legislation and not part of the Criminal Code of Canada. It does not speak to criminal charges.
What it does do, for example, is clear the way for more civil emergency protection orders (EPOs) that can provide immediate help.
Through EPOs, judges can order anything from exclusive occupancy of a home, to the seizure of weapons, or control of an item of personal property, with follow-up support.
It’s an ex parte process, meaning if someone is identified as an aggressor they do not have to be notified or present at court in order for the judge’s order to be issued.
EPOs can be appealed, so if there is anyone who feels it was granted by a judge inappropriately, a process exists to challenge.
Apart from the legislative changes, Parsons said government is always interested in hearing suggestions for improving the system.
Asked about timelines in the courts in relation to family violence, Parsons noted the federal government has just budgeted for three new judges’ positions and the plan is to move toward a province-wide family court system.
“I’d like to think that’s going to be an improvement to the family court process,” he said.
In 2016-2017, a total of 270 EPOs were requested and 198 orders were issued.
The form for applying for an emergency protection order is available online at: http://www.court.nl.ca/provincial/courts/epo/epo_form.html