Project Overview and Status
The Law Commission of Ontario’s Improving Protection Orders project is examining why protection orders are not working effectively to prevent femicide and intimate partner violence in Ontario.
According to the Coroner of Ontario, between 2002 and 2017, 433 Ontarians were murdered by an intimate partner. Most of these victims were women. In most cases, their death was preceded by earlier violent episodes – evidence that they were at heightened risk of being killed by their partner.
These deaths are particularly tragic because Ontario’s civil and criminal justice systems have tools that are supposed to protect victims from intimate partner violence. These are known as protection orders and they include restraining orders, peace bonds, bail conditions and probation orders.
Protection orders are designed to protect victims both from physical violence and from emotional and psychological harm arising from the threat of violence. Increasingly, violence has migrated online. Internet-facilitated violence might include: cyberstalking, online harassment, attack campaigns, hacking, denial of service, doxing, swatting, smart home device manipulation, revenge porn, impersonation, deep fakes, extortion/sextortion, electronically-enabled trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The goal of the project is to develop authoritative recommendations for law reform. The LCO is currently conducting preliminary consultations and wide-ranging research to establish the project scope. The next step will be to establish an external expert Advisory Committee to assist with the project.
What Issues Are Being Looked At?
The project is in early stages and the LCO is in the process of determining the project’s scope. Early research and consultations raise the following potential legal and policy issues:
- The purpose of protection orders and their role and efficacy in addressing femicide and intimate partner violence;
- Procedural issues, eligibility and threshold requirements, evidentiary issues, confidentiality and enforcement;
- Interrelationship and coordination of family, child protection and/or criminal proceedings;
- Role of protection orders in the continuum of legal tools/services for victims (court procedures and fees, access to legal aid, and support services);
- New legislative responses to intimate partner violence, including bail reform and “Clare’s Law”;
- The importance of victims’ experience and barriers to access to justice in different communities;
- Need for improved empirical data on accessing and enforcing protection orders and their terms and conditions;
- Adapting the law to address online violence, stalking and bullying; and
- Alternative models of dispute resolution and protection, including Ontario’s Integrated Domestic Violence Court, the “Duluth Model” and other international developments.
The LCO’s Approach
The Law Commission of Ontario’s Improving Protection Orders project is part of a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional study on how the law can be improved to create a robust, timely and effective system for protecting Ontario women and children. The project emphasizes the experience of individual Ontarians when they attempt to access and enforce protection orders, and the barriers faced by particular communities.
The LCO will consult with survivor communities, community organizations and Indigenous organizations, as well as government and legal, social science and justice system experts.