Too many protection orders denied, says domestic violence expert

Expert: "We need to know why" orders are denied in the face of 'overwhelming evidence'

By Donna Carreiro, CBC News Posted: Oct 11, 2017 5:00 AM CT Last Updated: Oct 11, 2017 9:23 AM CT
A leading expert on domestic violence says it's time to review why the majority of protection orders are denied in Manitoba --  this in response to a CBC story about a woman who was denied one because she wasn't in "imminent" danger.
"I'm deeply disturbed," said Jane Ursel, the director of RESOLVE, a tri-provincial family violence network. "The concept of being in danger doesn't necessarily mean he's standing over your head with an axe."
Last month, a Manitoba woman sought a protection order against her ex-husband, alleging he was stalking her, threatening her and that he had access to guns. A judicial justice of the peace denied the request.
"She said 'I have no doubt that you are a victim of domestic abuse. However … I don't see any imminent danger to you," said the woman, whom CBC has agreed not to identify.
"I feel like I'm just a target for him now."
Advocates for survivors of domestic violence say that's an error in law, because last year the province revised The Domestic Violence and Stalking Act to make protection orders more accessible. One of the changes was to eliminate the need for there to be "imminent" danger to the person.
But advocates say that message isn't making it's way into the courtroom.

More training for court officers needed, says advocate

Anna Pazdzierski is the Executive Director of Nova House, a women's shelter in Selkirk Man.. She says clients are repeatedly denied protection orders because they're not in immediate danger.
"One client was told she wasn't in danger because she was in the shelter," Pezdzierski said. "Then, when she left the shelter, she was told she wasn't in danger because the initial incident happened weeks ago."
'Do they truly understand domestic violence and the intent of the legislation?' - Jane Ursel, Director of RESOLVE
According to numbers provided by a spokesperson for Manitoba Justice the changes have not made a significant difference. While more protection orders were granted than the year before (from 565 in 2015/16 to 684 this year), more of them were also denied or dismissed, (864 this year versus 818 the year before).
"There's a breakdown in the system and we need to know why," Ursel said.
Ursel said the last time there was a comprehensive review of domestic violence in the courts was in 2003.  Based on that review, the province created the category of judicial justices of the peace as a means to more uniformly interpret legislation around domestic violence.
Since then, the province has revised the legislation twice more — in 2007 and 2016 — to further clarify the criteria needed for a protection order and to make them more accessible.
Today, Ursel said, it's time for another "independent" and "very serious review" of the system, but this time, with a closer look at the training of the JJPs.
"When, on the face of it, the evidence should be overwhelming and yet the cases are denied, I think we have to ask why," Ursel said. "The problem may not be the legislation. It may be in the training of the JJPs.
"Do they truly understand domestic violence and the intent of the legislation?"
A provincial spokesperson from Manitoba Justice told the CBC they would review the current case. The spokesperson also said, in a written statement, that the  "Judicial Justices of the Peace receive structured training bi-annually (in addition to ongoing small group training, mentoring and self-education) of developments in the law."