The federal New Democrats want the offence of coercive control recognized as psychological abuse within a relationship as illegal. (Metro Creative photo)

The federal New Democrats want the offence of coercive control recognized as psychological abuse within a relationship as illegal. (Metro Creative photo)

NDP wants to criminalize domestic emotional abuse with new law

MP Randall Garrison introduces private member’s bill

The federal New Democrats want to make psychological abuse within a relationship illegal.

Randall Garrison, NDP Critic for Justice and the MP for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, introduced a private member’s bill in the House of Commons on Oct. 5, making controlling coercive conduct in an intimate relationship a criminal offence.

Although psychological and emotional abuse – including controlling behaviour, isolation, and threats of violence – can be more challenging to recognize than physical violence, it can be just as damaging, experts say.

“Creating this new offence will help stop serious harm already being inflicted on intimate partners, and it will also allow police to take action before things escalate,” Garrison said.

The private member’s bill is based on the federal Ombudsmen for Victims of Crime request asking the minister of justice for coercive control to become a new criminal offence. The bill’s modelled after a similar provision in the United Kingdom.

In April, a nationwide survey released by Statistics Canada showed one in 10 women was “very or extremely concerned” about the possibility of violence inside the home.

Police regularly attend domestic abuse calls and usually refer victims of violent or mental abuse to victim services. Sooke RCMP Cpl. Dawn Gilhen said police could charge those perpetrating controlling or coercive behaviour with criminal harassment.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the fact that not every home is a safe home,” said Lindsay Matthyssen, NDP critic for Women and Gender Equality. “People living in fear of violence should not have to experience violence before receiving help and protection. The government has a responsibility to do all it can to keep women and girls safe.”

The proposed law could result in a five-year prison sentence.

Few countries have criminalized psychological or emotional abuse.

In 2010, the French government criminalized psychological violence in intimate relationships, with the punishable offence carrying a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a large fine (approximately $77,000 Cdn.). In England and Wales, coercive control in intimate relationships became a criminal offence in 2015. Scotland also adopted a similar measure in 2018.

VIDEO: This hand signal alerts others to domestic abuse without a word



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