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Spousal assault and the system that needs changing

A group of women stood in downtown Vancouver December 28 holding signs with names of women who were murdered by men in 2022.

The vigil honoured the lives of 10 women who were killed by their male partners or ex-partners in British Columbia.

Hilla Kerner, spokesperson for Vancouver Rape Relief, which organized the vigil said her group is calling on the criminal justice system to properly monitor and supervise the whereabouts of men who pose a risk to women as half of the women who were murdered by their male partner had a protection order or no contact order in place.

“Women do not need meaningless bureaucratic mechanisms that effectively leave them defenseless.” Kerner said. “Women need measures that secure their safety and protect their lives.”

Exactly one month prior to that, on November 28, a man was sentenced in B.C. Supreme Court for assault. According to the judge’s reason for sentencing, the man and his wife were separated and have two young children. Even though separated, the man was still involved in raising the kids.

After an evening out which involved some drinking, as it almost always does, he assaulted his ex-wife.

According to the ruling, he “punched the back of her head, neck, shoulders, and lower back, and struck her head on the stairs; Child 1 testified that she saw her father hitting her mother’s head on the stairs; (the woman) testified that after the assault, she was suffering dizziness, pain behind her ear, lateral pain in the neck, and bruising; contemporary hospital records record (her) complaint of lateral head pain following the assault.”

It wasn’t the first time for the man, as he was convicted of assaulting a different intimate partner about 10 years prior. He received a conditional discharge, so that the conviction does not form part of his criminal record.

A few years later, he entered into a peace bond with his second partner. It expired after a year and the woman didn’t renew it. A couple of years later they had their second child.

The man’s lawyer argued for a conditional discharge, Crown argued for a jail sentence of four to six months.

The judge didn’t agree with either and handed down a conditional sentence … house arrest. He must keep the peace and not go near his former partner or children unless given permission to do so along with a host of other conditions.

“Imprisonment without incarceration,” the judge called it.

Meanwhile, the woman “suffers from anxiety and has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and has been taking prescription antidepressants since shortly after the assault. She says that she has recurring nightmares in which she is assaulted, and has trouble sleeping. All this has affected her parenting because she is anxious that (the man) will come after them.”

In deciding not to send the man to jail, the judge considered a few items … that the man is sorry for his actions and that he pursuing counselling for alcohol abuse. I’m sure women’s shelters across the land have heard that one a thousand times.

But one of the other considerations for a conditional sentence was that the offender “does not have a relevant criminal record.”

But wasn’t he convicted of assaulting a domestic partner previously? Yes he was, but remember, he was given a conditional discharge, so that conviction does not form part of his criminal record.

At least the judge didn’t do that again this time.

A common complaint in domestic assault situations is that the system often doesn’t take it seriously enough. They’re right, and that needs to change.


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