Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, April 11, 2002

Domestic violence courts presume that suspects are guilty

Dave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen

In past columns I've referred to domestic violence courts as abominations and dangerous places. Add a new word.

Goofy.

In Courtroom 6 on Elgin Street at 2:30 p.m. Monday, a remand court was struggling with an unusual problem in a case that has to eventually be heard by a domestic violence court.

The problem was a restraining order telling a man "not to attend at with (sic) 500 metres" of his home or his wife and children at their workplace or schools. His wife joined him in a plea to have the restraining order lifted so he could help at home. One of the children is in need of surgery and mother can't handle the needs at home alone.

The Crown attorney was reluctant to bend but could see the need for a little compassion. In the end, with the help of the judge, a solution was worked out. The father will be allowed to go home and help until April 30, at which time the restraining order will revert to the original and he will have to get out.

He will also have to maintain a separate address during that time and was asked if he had a place to stay. He mentioned something about a furnace room he had been sleeping in. He was asked for the address, and the temporary reduction of his status from crazed devil to father was made out to that address.

The court asked lawyer Heather Perkins-McVey if the arrangements were acceptable to her client. Somewhere in the client's answer was the word "nuts." She told him the best bet was to take what he could get. He accepted the new conditions. He says he is under the impression he's supposed to sleep in the furnace room.

Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau said the state had no business in the bedrooms of the nation. The state is now right in bed with us.

There's a way for the man to return to his home and not worry about the end of the month deadline kicking him out again. He could plead guilty to assaulting his wife. Both say there was no assault. No matter. A guilty plea and a promise to attend 16 sessions of anger management at his expense would lift the restraining order permanently.

It would also give him a criminal record.

Domestic violence courts are not to be confused with criminal courts, which offer protections such as burden of proof and presumption of innocence. DV courts have a reverse onus.

Created under pressure from the violence against women movement, there are fewer than 20 in Ontario now, but the violence campaigners are calling for 44 by the end of next year. They also want anger management extended to 52 sessions. Ontario currently pumps $145 million a year into the anti-violence campaign and that can be expected to double.

It's all based on the unprovable claim that almost one-third, 29 per cent, of women in Ontario are trapped in violent relationships and need to be rescued. The definition of violence has been so broadened, and so much of it written into police orders, that some police officers advise that the phone is the key. In a domestic dispute, the first to the phone wins.

In this case the original restraining order was placed in early March after she called police during an upheaval. The couple first appeared, unidentified, in this column March 13, after asking me to play go-between. The restraining order forbade them to speak to each other even though they had problems to iron out, not the least of which was: does she want him out of her life?

Her answer was an emphatic no. He wanted to know if he had his wife's permission to accept an offer to stay at the home of a mutual friend, a woman living alone. Another emphatic no. Both said the problem was likely caused by heavy loads of pain medication he takes, resulting in erratic behaviour.

Is that the truth? None of my business. They are both sane adults and want the disruption behind them.

At a weekend symposium on Parliament Hill, DV courts were being discussed when Toronto lawyer Walter Fox was asked a question. A British Columbia union leader said he was aware of men working in safety sensitive jobs involving aircraft who were under this kind of strain. He wondered if people were aware of the dangers.

Mr. Fox's answer was that it wasn't just a blue-collar problem. "Your surgeon may have slept in a motel."

Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to dbrown@thecitizen.southam.ca Read previous columns at www.ottawacitizen.com

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