Courts need options for domestic violence, says P.E.I. judge

Dave Stewart
Published on March 12, 2014
Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee, foreground, says all members of the city council and all city staff receive training on domestic violence issues. Lee appeared with Charlottetown Police Services Chief Paul Smith before the standing committee on health, social development and seniors in the issue of domestic violence in Charlottetown on Wednesday.
Heather Taweel - The Guardian

Provincial Court Judge Jeff Lantz says if more options were available in the legal system for cases of domestic violence, more victims might be willing to come forward.

Lantz, a judge based in Summerside, testified Wednesday in Charlottetown before the standing committee on health, social development and seniors regarding family violence. It is rare for a sitting provincial court judge to testify in front of a legislative committee.

“If there were (more) domestic treatment options in court, more people might come forward,’’ Lantz said, building on a theme raised earlier in the day by representatives from the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

They referred to things like therapeutic jurisprudence where specialized courts take a problem-solving approach to justice, unlike the current court system which hands out punishment.

These specialized courts, which exist in other parts of Canada, consider social and personal issues — such as poverty, addiction, mental illness and abuse — underlying or causing a person’s criminal behaviour.

Saskatchewan, for example, has court systems dedicated to domestic violence and drug treatment.

Lantz says he understands why more resources haven’t been committed to domestic violence.

“I know where they’re coming from,’’ he said, referring to the provincial government. “They’re stretched enough as it is.’’

Lantz said he does the best job he can when it comes to sentencing and handing out probation, even admitting once, that sometimes, the law isn’t fair.

Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee also testified on Wednesday, speaking how the violent death of Debbie Holmes in 2001 at the hands of her ex-husband inspired him to create the mayor’s purple ribbon task force on family violence.

“It shook me to the core. I couldn’t get it out of my mind,’’ Lee said.

Now, all members of city council and all city staff receive training on domestic violence issues. Liberal MLA Richard Brown picked up on that, saying provincial MLAs and employees could use the same training.

Lee said police in Charlottetown are responding to more domestic violence calls over the past three years - in 2011 city police responded to 148 calls; 19 charges were laid from those calls.

In 2012 police responded to 335 calls; 31 charges resulted.

In 2013 police responded to 340 calls; 33 charges resulted.

Lee said only 22 per cent of all incidents are reported to police which means the actual numbers are much higher than what he indicated.

When MLA Colin LaVie asked the mayor if there was anything government could do better, Lee said domestic violence is something that requires a lot of attention.

Lee said when he used to work for the old department of health and social services “no one even looked at social services. It was always doctors and nurses’’.

Jane Ledwell and Michelle Jay, executive director and program co-ordinator, respectively, of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said that while the law tries to punish the offenders victims need better access to help with things like legal aid and affordable housing when they leave violent situations.

“We’re forcing people to choose between violence and poverty,’’ Ledwell said.