Letter from Minister Mark Furey:
NOVA SCOTIA Attorney General Justice Office of the Minister
PO Box 7, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3J 2L6
Telephone 902 424-4044, Fax 902 424-0510, novascotia.ca
Dear Sue and Stacey:
Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you in Bridgewater to discuss the criminal justice system and its impact on survivors of gender-based violence. It was also nice to see you on July 16th at the Justice Society meeting.
Gender-based violence remains a serious issue in Canada, including Nova Scotia. I certainly appreciate the work you do in this area to build connections and improve systems to better meet the needs of survivors, families, and communities. The Nova Scotia government is committed to effecting change and your support in that work is much appreciated.
Several initiatives are currently underway within the Department of Justice and in the Province, to address some of the issues identified in the report you shared with me.
The Department of Justice has recently completed sexual assault audits on police with the goal to review police practices and to improve investigative outcomes. Two-day Trauma Informed Response training workshops are presently being delivered to numerous police agencies across the Province. A one-week sexual assault investigation course will be offered to police in July.
The Public Prosecution Service received additional funding and hired two prosecutors to provide dedicated and specialized resources to sexual assault prosecutions. In March, the Public Prosecution Service provided training for their Crown Attorneys on tools and best practices in relation to a trauma-informed approach to sexual assault prosecutions
We provide free legal advice, and representation in court, to survivors of sexual assault through the Department of Justice Victim Services program in situations where there has been an application by the accused for the production of medical, therapeutic, or counselling records in sexual assault trials.
As you know, we are very pleased with the recent launch of the Free Independent Legal Advice program for Sexual Assault Survivors. This program now has 18 private lawyers who have been specially trained to support and help survivors who are considering their options in terms of both criminal and civil processes, after a sexual assault. To date, 91 people have accessed this important service.
Victim Services chairs the Interdepartmental Committee on Intimate Partner Violence, a multi- disciplinary working group made up of child protection, the Public Prosecution Services, and others. This group hosts a specialized domestic violence education conference involving over 100 trainers representing the Departments of Justice and Community Services, police, and community partners such as the transition houses, Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network, and the men’s intervention programs. When new staff join the Department of Justice they are provided with core training on domestic violence.
The expansion of a Domestic Violence Court Program to Halifax builds on what we learned in Sydney and aims to be more responsive to the needs of survivors of domestic violence and develop, in consultation with community partners, meaningful interventions to end violence. Collaboration from the very early stages has been critical to this work, as you know. The Working Group is looking at ways to close the gaps in the sharing of critical information in cases of intimate partner violence that appear in multiple courts. Continued community-based collaboration to deliver appropriate supports and interventions is critical to the success of this program and I appreciate the time and energy you have devoted to its development over the last year.
Victim Services has created nine short online court preparation videos as well as 360 photo views of all courtrooms in Nova Scotia. Victims of gender-based violence will have the option to do a virtual courtroom tour and to prepare in a private and comfortable setting with minimal inconvenience and travel, so they can feel more at ease when attending court to give testimony. These resources will be readily available online within the next two months.
The development of online access to some services for survivors is underway. People will have an option to receive phone or email notifications to have faster and easier access to information about their court case, as well as to access other on-line supports at their convenience. We expect this option to be operational in the next six months.
The Criminal Injuries Counseling Program provides financial support for counseling to help victims of gender-based violence, and their children, deal with trauma associated with the crime. A woman can choose which counsellor best meets her needs and, if she has a counsellor that is not on Victim Services’ list but meets standard criteria, the program will work with her counsellor to register. Restoring choices is one of the essential elements of a trauma-informed approach and developing a therapeutic relationship with a counsellor of her choice is key to recovery.
Justice Canada has also established a Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials Working Group on Access to Justice for Adult Sexual Assault Victims. This group has been reviewing the challenges, barriers and best practices in relation to sexual assault cases across each of the provinces and territories, and will be reporting to the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Justice Ministers with recommendations on how to improve access to justice for victims of sexual assault in 2018.
Last year, the Department of Justice formed a Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Governance & Management Committee. In 2016, the province announced the implementation of the 4th phase of the Nova Scotia Restorative Justice Program (NSRJP) with the roll out of Adult RJ across the province. The Committee is a mechanism through which justice system and community partners and stakeholders can work together to meet their individual and shared responsibilities and take collective action to ensure better outcomes in the justice system.
As the Judiciary are an independent branch of government, we cannot mandate training for them. A Wellness Court Working Group, however, co-chaired by Chief Judge Williams and the Director of Mental Health and Addictions from the Nova Scotia Health Authority hosted information sessions on the subjects of trauma and gender-based violence for their members, delivered by the Tri-County Women’s Centre over the past few months. The National Judicial Institute, which provides continuing education to the judiciary in Canada, offers sessions on specialized subjects such as domestic violence and sexualized violence.
We are very proud that, since 2013, we have achieved gender parity on the Provincial and Family Court bench. I am also very pleased to note that one of our recent judicial appointments, the Honourable Diane McGrath in Sydney, was the Crown prosecutor for the DV Court Program in Sydney for many years. Another of her colleagues, the Honourable Anne Marie Mcinnis in
Sydney, also worked on the DV Court Program in Sydney when she was with Nova Scotia Legal Aid. Earlier this month the Honourable Chris Manning was appointed in Kentville. He was one of the lawyers in our Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors program. Such diversity of experience has a significant impact.
You asked me about the Criminal Justice Transformation Group when we met at the Justice Society meeting in Newcombville. This group is chaired by the Deputy Minister of Justice, Karen Hudson, QC. Its members include the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court, provincial and federal prosecution services, NS Legal Aid, NS Criminal Lawyers’ Association, NS Barristers’ Society, the Chief of Halifax Regional Police, the Assistant Commissioner of the RCMP’s H-Division (which is responsible for NS), the President of the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association, and Department of Justice senior leaders. This group’s primary focus for some time has been reducing unreasonable delays in the criminal justice system. The right to be tried within a reasonable time is one enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The longer a case takes to come to trial the longer a victim of crime waits for the experience to be over, so they can get on with their lives. And that can postpone their recovery and shake their faith in the justice system.
While focused efforts are being made to achieve improvements regarding gender-based violence in Nova Scotia, I know that there is more work to be done. I appreciate you providing a copy of your report and recommendations to me. I have shared it with staff in the department who are already working to address some of the issues which have been identified.
Thank you for your ongoing dedication and commitment in the important work that you do.
Pathways to Justice for Women Experiencing Gendered Violence
Women’s Leadership for Innovation and Systemic Change in Nova Scotia
Funded by Status of Women Canada, January 2017-2020
Be the Peace Institute (BTPI) and Nova Scotia Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW) have received 3 years of funding from Status of Women Canada (SWC) commencing January 3, 2017 to explore how women who have experienced gendered violence* define “justice” in their particular circumstances, and how to use restorative and trauma informed lenses, gender-based intersectional analysis and women’s
leadership to identify and implement pathways to achieving that justice.
Interpersonal violence does not only involve the binary of women as victims and men as perpetrators. Anyone can be a victim of violence, including men, those in same sex relationships and those who identify across a continuum of gender identity. However, since evidence supports that the vast majority of situations involve men’s violence against women, this is the focus of the project.
As we keep the voices and direct experiences of women experiencing gendered violence as central to the project, we will ask the questions: What does justice look like from their perspective? Can the criminal justice system deliver unbiased justice? If so, what alterations are needed for that to happen? And if not, then what are the pathways to that justice, who will steward it and how can it be structured and resourced?
It is our assumption that unbiased justice in gendered violence necessarily involves:
Gender intersectional analysis based on understanding the roots of sexism and how patriarchal structures and socially constructed gender norms routinely and profoundly disadvantage and marginalize women in their rights and freedoms, and how this intersects with other forms of oppression such as racism, colonialism, homophobia, ableism, etc.
Trauma-informed approach as a key dimension and competence in understanding the complexities of gendered violence and the neurobiological, emotional and behavioral impacts of trauma on victimized persons, both individually and collectively.
Restorative response at whatever juncture a woman presents for help, support and justice, that honours dignity, respect, compassion for the person who is the target of harm, and a quest for meaningful accountability and repair of those harms.
Inclusion of a diverse range of stakeholders in a highly collaborative effort to make sense of and implement change in the systems involved. These would include: survivors, community-based service providers, women-serving agencies, men’s intervention services, government agencies across sectors (justice, community services, health, education), justice professionals, academics, stakeholders of all genders, racial and cultural identities and social positions.
* We are using “gendered violence” or GV as a term inclusive of domestic, intimate partner, or sexualized violence,
and most often, although not exclusively, committed by men against women and girls.
Gendered Violence and the Criminal Justice System
Gendered violence crimes are among the most under reported crimes in Canada. And Nova Scotia has had some of the lowest rates of charges, prosecutions and convictions of gendered violence crimes, particularly sexual assault. High profile media cases and women’s stories have raised awareness that our current criminal justice system fails women who report gendered violence in some significant ways. In spite of mechanisms instituted to protect women, (Rape Shield Laws and Pro-arrest, Pro-charge, Pro-prosecution policies, ODARA risk assessments), these are applied or interpreted inconsistently, leaving some victimized women vulnerable and stripped of agency, dignity and choice. Gender biases, stereotypes and rape mythologies continue to permeate the discourse inside courtrooms and in the public domain. These, along with the inherently adversarial and incident-based nature of justice processes pose significant barriers for women. For LBTQI+, Indigenous and African Nova Scotian individuals, immigrants, youth, elders, or those with low literacy/education, poverty or disabilities, the risks of both gender-based violence and also of maltreatment by the system rises significantly.
The justice system has been described as a blunt instrument, without nuance, and lacking facility to entertain or address the complexities of relational dynamics and patterns, many of which occur in the private sphere without witnesses and may fail to meet the threshold of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’
Women survivors of gendered violence often report feeling blamed, shamed, dismissed, disbelieved, humiliated and re-traumatized by the justice system when they report gendered violence. In the absence of legal counsel and adequate navigation support, they feel unprepared and shocked by their treatment in the system, as if they themselves are on trial. They report little relief from threat and danger by the accused, limited access to vehicles for restoration or therapeutic resources for healing, and caught in the cracks between criminal court and family court proceedings.
Justice system professionals and women’s services advocates likewise express frustration at their inability to ensure sensitive treatment to traumatized women and/or just and unbiased outcomes. Current legal mechanisms are insufficient to keep women/families safe from the threat of increasing violence, and a lack of meaningful accountability by offenders is common.
A note on inclusion of women and men: The traditional absence of men and boys in the discourse of preventing and addressing violence against women aligns with relegating gendered violence to the realm of “women’s issues.” This tends to not only exclude, but also alienate and lay blame on a significant number of male-identified people who can intervene and influence male peers when they witness misogynistic or abusive behavior. The gender binary of women as victims who need to be helped, and men as perpetrators who need to be punished, is not only inaccurate, but unhelpful in understanding the complexities and nuances of gender dynamics, power and privilege, social
acculturation, learned behavior and the multiple and varied impacts and consequences of trauma. By being inclusive of people of all genders we can open possibilities for modeling equality. If we can speak openly together, foster skills in communication and mutual understanding, then we can take action on the common ground of how gender-based violence and confined gender boxes and stereotypes harm us all.
The objectives of the project are three-fold, integrated under an umbrella of systemic change in service to justice for women experiencing gendered violence and by extension, their children, families and broader communities:
1) Alterations to criminal justice practices that can prevent and mitigate system-induced trauma
During the course of the project, in concert with knowledgeable partners, stakeholders and credible evidence, we will identify leverage points in the criminal justice system that hold promise for more humane and dignified treatment of survivors and more just and unbiased outcomes. These may range from: trauma training for police, lawyers and judges; availing survivors of dedicated legal counsel and navigation support; building stronger connections between different courts; encouraging creation of specialized courts that elevate the needs of the victim to equal status with that
of the offender; to increasing collaboration among and between sector providers and community-based supports; improved mechanisms for ensuring safety and mitigating threat; achieving meaningful accountability; and enhanced availability of specialized therapeutic services not only for trauma recovery, but also for offenders to alter their use of violence, as this may result in healing for all.
2) Use of a restorative lens to inform, enhance or create alternate pathways to justice
With a provincial moratorium in place on the use of restorative practices by justice system actors in gendered violence situations, it is essential to make distinctions between the terms restorative “justice,” restorative “practices” and a restorative “approach” or “response.” In Nova Scotia the term “restorative justice” (RJ) commonly refers to a specific format used by Community Justice Societies and their volunteers in the Youth Restorative Justice Program, just recently expanded to include adults. While this model is highly regarded as a leader in the field of RJ, it is insufficiently expert in the complex understandings of gender violence dynamics, trauma and gender intersectional analyses to be applied whole scale to gendered violence. In addition the term is still widely misunderstood in public perception as being soft on offenders, when it may be precisely the opposite. More recently, some feminist scholars are suggesting the inadequacies of the criminal justice system are an impetus for exploring how a restorative approach can more skillfully achieve the type of processes and outcomes survivors seek. As well, non-government entities, including academics, Indigenous organizations and community-based service providers have been researching, developing and using a
restorative approach in various ways to address harms, accountability and the risks inherent in gendered violence situations.
While significant and replicable evaluation data is scarce, there are promising examples of how use of a restorative approach and restorative practices can be effective for all parties. Examples include use by Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network; Bridges Institute and New Start interventions with offenders and family members; Dalhousie University Dental School engagement; and the inquiry into the Nova Scotia
Home for Coloured Children.
Hence, the project offers the term “restorative response.” With roots in Relational Theory, the approach recognizes the primacy of relationships in human communities in how we navigate, understand, and make meaning of our world. In the context of this project every relational interaction is an opportunity for connection, compassion, humanity, dignity and respect, even in the highly structured confines of the
criminal justice system, but also in the creation of new, innovative and more collaborative pathways to justice.
In this context, processes may look entirely different than both criminal justice and traditional restorative justice (while drawing on best practices from both), with much greater attention and expertise devoted to safety, choice, establishing readiness and authentic eagerness to repair harms through individual therapeutic work. It may mean two parties and their supporting communities never convene together unless there is a mutually clear and compelling reason to do so and always on a voluntary basis. In the considerable number of situations where survivor and offender choose to remain
in relationship for valid and credible reasons, including, but not limited to co-parenting, a restorative approach is particularly compelling. It may offer: a mutual understanding of the harm caused not only to a survivor, but also to children, family members, and community; meaningful accountability and authentic repair of harm by an offender; and therapeutic services, both for a survivor to heal and rebuild AND for an offender to change abusive behavior, resulting in the possibility of genuine healing, capacity
building, and prevention of further violence.
3) Empowering women and amplifying women’s leadership for systemic and social change
While the project welcomes and requires perspectives from people of all genders, it will particularly amplify the individual and collective voices, perspectives and leadership of women for systemic and social change. Voice and agency are powerful tools for social change that, for women, are often underdeveloped, denied, dismissed, disregarded, even ridiculed. This has profoundly diminished women’s critical contributions to changing the structures and systems that tend to marginalize them. Gender inequities persist in all realms and the “feminine” aspects of leadership that tend toward authentic collaboration, connection and finding common ground, remain devalued as “soft skills,” even as they are the very competencies desperately needed in chaotic and complex times. Leadershipdevelopment may include:
Building widespread capacity in navigating social, political and gender-biased structures at both a personal and systemic scale
Understanding complex adaptive systems and social innovation when dealing with intractable issues and polarities in viewpoints
Building strategic alliances and influence across silos
Gender, intersectional analysis
Alternative conflict resolution and decision-making methodologies
Hosting and facilitating meaningful discourse
Skills in articulating clearly and directly the impacts of inequality in one’s life and work, in mixed gender environments to minimize backlash, disregard, and defensiveness.
By enhancing and mobilizing the leadership capacities of women working in justice, government, community, women’s advocacy and academia, in concert with survivors and other stakeholders in diverse communities, we will identify and compel needed changes in justice system structures, policies and practices to achieve real, unbiased justice both within the criminal justice system and also via alternate and innovative means. The aim will be to act as soon as the people, resources, foundations
and leadership align for wise action, and with ongoing feedback loops and evaluation frameworks.
this, in service to equality, dignity and agency for all women in all spheres of life.
More information, contact:
Be the Peace Institute: Sue Bookchin, ED email@example.com
Stacey Godsoe firstname.lastname@example.org
NS Association of Black Social Workers: Courtney Brown email@example.com