Saturday 24 February 2001
Bill 117 keeps everyone guessingDave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen
The toughest anti-violence legislation every drafted and passed -- Ontario Bill 117 with its "intervention order" -- has everybody guessing when it will kick in.
My guess is May.
It passed third reading in the legislature in December. It is intended to give more muscle to the three-year-old domestic violence court, specifically to beef up the existing restraining order with the intervention order.
The new legal tool is intended to address the belief that abused women are economic prisoners. They can't escape their abusers because they would be left unsupported.
Once up and running, the intervention order will allow a judge to turn over all property to a female complainant overnight while the accused abuser is in jail. The new order extends that right to wives, girlfriends and dates.
Why May? Because the Criminal Justice Round Table Against Violence Against Women is planning a public information meeting for that month. Although current chair of the group, former regional councillor Wendy Byrne, refers to the round table as "just a lobby group," the members who sit on it show it's a powerful bloc.
It was at a round-table public information session three years ago, with councillor Diane Holmes in the chair, that details of the capital area's domestic violence court were announced. It was up and running in a matter of days, and has since been processing 120 men a month. Although promoters of the court say it is not gender specific, women are rarely arrested.
One of the things that has happened since Bill 117 passed is Ottawa West-Nepean MPP Garry Guzzo seems to have developed a political death wish. He was a member of the standing committee that held hearings on the new legislation.
He claimed later in letters to worried constituents that he didn't support the new bill, or vote in favour of it. (The vote wasn't recorded.)
In a letter this week, Mr. Guzzo addressed the issue of "social conscience" in this kind of draconian legislation. The Conservative MPP says he has it, but his party's leaders don't.
The letter to Craig Wilson of Connaught Avenue says: "You might be surprised to know of the social consciousness of my caucus. I admit it is not demonstrated through the leadership of our party or our government."
The round table operates with a low profile. I dropped into its Feb. 13 meeting but when item six on the agenda was reached, I was asked to leave.
I said I was there to hear discussion on Bill 117. Ms. Byrne confirmed that was the issue to be discussed, and added that as a lobby group, they had a right to in camera meetings.
To the suggestion the new bill was of public interest, she said: "That's the point. We have information that is not yet available to the general public."
How does a lobby group get such information? Look at its membership.
Ms. Byrne is also chair of the Women's Action Centre Against Violence. Hilary McCormack is Ottawa's Crown attorney and assistant Crown Julie Scott is a member.
Police Chief Vince Bevan has a place at the table, as does Staff Sgt. Sterling Hartley, head of the 12-member partner assault unit. There's also Insp. Karl Erfle of the police service's criminal investigation unit.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Support Group is there, represented by Carroll Holland. Lyne Lalande is area manager for probation/parole, with Genevieve Maltais from the same office as minutes taker.
Also with a place at the round table is Dick Stewart, general manager of the city's People Services, and Joan Gullen of the Regional Coordinating Committee to End Violence Against Women. Lucya Spencer represents Immigrant and Visible Minority Women Against Abuse, and Pam MacEachern practises family law with Nelligan-Power.
Susan Abell is executive director of the Ottawa Children's Aid Society. Cosette Chafe runs the courthouse Victim Witness Assistance Program and Marisa Spicer is with the Women Abuse Committee. Neil Slattery and Mark Holmes of New Directions are there, with special interest in same-sex partner assault.
Sen. Anne Cools, a moderate in the domestic violence issue and a woman who argues women are as violent as men, is not a member, nor is any recognizable member of a men's support group.
Former Ontario solicitor general Jim Flaherty responded to earlier columns about Bill 117 in a letter to the editor, claiming I missed a point. He said a judge overnight will indeed be able to order all equity in a marriage turned over to the woman in an ex parte hearing (the man doesn't have to be present.) The point missed, said Mr. Flaherty, was the man then has 30 days to apply to get his property back.
Mr. Flaherty missed a point. That phase of proceedings is not ex parte. If the woman doesn't show up at the hearing, things will stall and courts have a poor track record of enforcing orders against women.
Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to email@example.com
Read previous columns by Dave Brown at www.ottawacitizen.com
Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.