This law helps victims across Canada, so why not New Brunswick?

In 2014, intimate partner violence accounted for one quarter of all violent crime in New Brunswick, according to data obtained exclusively from Statistics Canada by the Telegraph-Journal.

It was a bigger problem than all drug offences combined; and more prevalent than robbery or motor vehicle theft. The police encountered almost 400 more alleged victims of intimate partner violence than they did drunk drivers.

Had those almost 2,100 victims to whom police responded lived anywhere else in Atlantic Canada, they could have been shielded by something called an emergency protection order.

In place in Canada for more than 20 years, emergency protection orders have become a fundamental tool for keeping victims safe and preventing the escalation of domestic violence.

They're in use almost everywhere in the country.

But successive New Brunswick governments, Progressive Conservative and Liberal alike, have failed to pass legislation enacting protection orders.

Emergency protection orders vary across the country, but are all similar in that they allow a victim, without formally pressing charges, to have an accused removed from their home by police and ordered to stay away for a short period of time. Application can often be done over the phone, with a judge or justice of the peace deciding whether an order is needed. The orders can also have weapons seized and turn cars and other personal items over to the complainants. They trump any custody agreements, and also can prohibit the accused from selling any property.

Three women die every year, on average, from intimate partner violence in the province, which has one of the worst rates of domestic violence in the country and the highest in Atlantic Canada. Yet, New Brunswick is the only Atlantic province without legislation specifically protecting victims of family violence.


When Premier Brian Gallant officially declared this past November to be domestic violence prevention month, he asked New Brunswickers to "acknowledge that domestic violence exists in our communities, that it is completely unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated."

Brunswick News sought to interview Gallant, who also bears the title of minister responsible for the status of women, on the question of whether his government would consider introducing legislation to make protective orders available to victims of domestic violence.

The questions were passed on to Deputy Premier and Public Safety Minister Stephen Horsman, who responded by email.

The government is "studying the merits of introducing intimate partner violence legislation," writes Stephen Horsman. But, he cautions, "laws and regulations do not fix all problems."

He writes that it "would not be fair" to characterize government as failing to address the issue of intimate partner violence. He highlights that government has spent nearly $1.5 million annually in strategies and initiatives in the past decade and has been working with stakeholders.

That amount, $1.5 million a year over the past 10 years, is less than half of what the Department of Public Safety spent on material and supplies in 2013-14.

Horsman says government is directing its funding to improve the skills and abilities of service providers in government and in the community.

"Government strongly believes that domestic violence and homicides may be preventable with appropriate assessment and intervention," he writes.

Rather than legislation, he hopes education, information and public outreach, such as the province's newly launched Love Shouldn't Hurt campaign, can be used to protect New Brunswickers and change attitudes.

The Love Shouldn't Hurt campaign was made possible by $200,000 in federal funding that comprises the project's entire budget.

There is a list of past provincial efforts on education, information and outreach.

There is a Family Violence and Workplace toolkit, but the goal of working with employers and employees to put the toolkit in people's hands has not been met.

There is a Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, but it has been criticized for doing little more than issuing a report on domestic homicides in 2012.

There is a specialized Domestic Violence Court in Moncton, but no plans to implement it in other jurisdictions.

There are five second-stage housing programs, but those on the front lines say it's not nearly enough.


Things could have been different.

In 2004, Liberal MLA Mike Murphy tabled a private member's bill, the Victims of Family Violence Act.

Murphy was an opposition member at the time. Bernard Lord and his PCs had the slimmest possible majority, winning the 28 necessary seats in a 2003 election.

The bill was far from unusual: similar legislation had been in place for up to a decade in Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Yukon and Northwest Territories.

Like its precursors, Murphy's bill set out a common language with definitions for domestic abuse - something that didn't yet exist in the province - and offered "legal protection for victims by providing speedy civil remedies."

The first part of the bill would have allowed for the creation of emergency protection orders. Already available in other provinces, such an order would have allowed alleged victims, or someone on behalf of the victim, apply for a judge's order to remove the accused from a home.

The process was to be quick, without the need of a lawyer. It even allowed for a judge to approve the order by phone at any time of day.

Murphy's protection orders had 12 possible provisions, preventing the accused from returning home regardless of residence ownership and forcing them to pay rent/mortgage and existing essential services. The complainant would also receive temporary custody of any children and any personal property, such as an automobile or a bank card. A judge was also free to issue any other provision considered necessary.

The second part of the bill allowed victims to sue their abuser.

The bill had its first reading on May 21, 2004. The next day, Murphy rose again in the legislature to present the bill for a second reading. He implored the house to act immediately.

Margaret-Ann Blaney, then the Tory minister responsible for the Status of Women, commended Murphy for his passion, but said the government had an action plan for tackling domestic violence. She said legislation was coming.

"We need to make our legislation as progressive as we possibly can, to ensure (victims') safety and to ensure that they do come first," said Blaney. "(T)o act now and to do it in an expeditious manner is not necessarily in the best interest of women and children in this province who are living in desperate situations."

The debate became heated. Blaney called Murphy's bill a "slaphappy" amalgamation of other domestic violence laws. It may not be suited to New Brunswick's needs, she suggested.

The Tory majority buried the bill by 27 votes to 24.

But Blaney's legislation never materialized. Brunswick News contacted Blaney to ask why. She did not respond.

Since 2004, Nunavut and Newfoundland and Labrador have added domestic violence legislation.

Along with New Brunswick, only British Columbia and Ontario lack family violence legislation. However, those provinces have implemented other resources to address the issue.

In British Columbia, its Family Law Act contains an entire section on protection from family violence. The act allows for protection orders without notice.

Ontario is similar in many ways, but has a Domestic Violence Court Program that's available in every jurisdiction.

The program allows for a specialized process for domestic violence cases throughout the investigation and prosecution. It features teams of dedicated police, prosecutors, victim assistance staff, probation services, staff for the accused, court services and other community agencies.

In absence of protection orders, those charged with offences in New Brunswick can be ordered by police not to have any contact with the complainant. In court, a peace bond application can be made. Such orders can say an accused must keep the peace toward someone, or limit/prohibit contact.

Under the Family Services Act, there's a section allowing family court judges to grant a restraining order with conditions, but the couple must no longer be living together.

Veteran New Brunswick lawyer David Lutz says the order is "very, very helpful," but like the peace bond it does require legal fandangling. And while he says you can get into family court in as little as 48 hours in Saint John, that's still longer and more cumbersome, than a protection order.

"As a lawyer, I say, 'Why does this keep happening?'?"

Mary Ellen Martin, victim services co-ordinator for Saint John Police Force, doesn't think protection orders would solve everything, but that doesn't mean victims wouldn't benefit.

"It's like anything else - the more tools you take into a situation, the more likelihood for success and more positive outcomes, but there is no guarantee."


You don't have to look far to see how effective emergency protection orders and supporting legislation can be.

In P.E.I., where legislation has existed since 1996, emergency protection orders are considered a success and a useful tool. An audit of the law's effectiveness, commissioned five years later, found that most victims who were the subject of emergency protection buy adobe acrobat xi pro orders reported that their life had improved as a result. They felt safer, because the perpetrators feared the law, and knew they were on the police radar.

"They explained that the order helped by providing time and space for making decisions, keeping the respondent away, and convincing the respondent that the victim was serious," concludes the report.

In Alberta, an amendment to the provincial Residential Tenancies Act is now before government. The change would allow victims of domestic violence to break leases early without penalty.

In Manitoba, government is also looking to take things even further. In its recent throne speech, the Manitoba government promised to provide paid leave for victims of intimate partner violence, along with making changes to strengthen protection orders.

In Nova Scotia, emergency protective orders are used frequently. Between 2009 and 2014, there were applications for more than 1,100 protection orders, and they were issued in 42 per cent of those.

Pamela Harrison, provincial co-ordinator of Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, was involved in the push for legislation in place in her province in 2003, following the 2000 murder of Lori Lee Maxwell by her husband, Bruce Allan George. A subsequent review of the case found that police had many previous dealings with the couple and called into question the provincial government's response to domestic violence.

One of the key recommendations of that review was adopting legislation to supplement government policy. Nova Scotia passed its law less than two years after the review was published.

Now, Harrison says the province is re-examining the law, to make its emergency protection orders even more effective.

Rosella Melanson is the former executive director of the now defunct New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women. A decade ago, she helped draft a report for government for the Department of Justice in support of legislation.

"(E)xisting civil and criminal options do not provide adequate protection for victims of domestic violence," concludes that 2004 report.

"There is a need for new measures."

Melanson says she still agrees with those findings.

"I still can't understand why we don't have it."

The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
Dec 2 2015
Byline: Mike Landry


To view information on domestic violence death review processes, intervention/prevention initiatives, and research from other provinces and territories, click here.