Peace Bonds and Violence Against Women: A Three-Site Study of the Effect of Bill C-42 on Process, Application and Enforcement

2. Executive summary

The purpose of this final report is to assess whether the Bill C-42 amendments (February 15th, 1995) have had an impact on the application and enforcement of Criminal Code section 810 (and 811) recognizances (otherwise known as ‘peace bonds’).  It was decided that the project should analyse both statistics at the national level as well as examine three specific sites in more detail.  Due to geographic and logistical reasons Halifax, Hamilton and Winnipeg were chosen.

The primary statistical source for national peace bond trends is the Adult Criminal Court Survey (ACCS) produced by Statistics Canada’s CCJS (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics).  Other sources in this report include Hamilton Regional Police statistics provided by their Family Violence Resource Unit as well as police databases in Winnipeg and Halifax.  In the case of Winnipeg, we also relied on the Winnipeg Family Violence Court Database managed by Dr. Jane Ursel at the University of Manitoba.

A total of 26 key informant interviews were conducted for this report.  Interviews were conducted, by telephone, with eight participants in Ontario, eleven in Nova Scotia and seven in Manitoba.  Interviewees included judges, lawyers, police officers, shelter workers, and justices of the peace.  More individuals were originally contacted but some potential informants were screened out because of their lack of contact with Criminal Code peace bonds, thus leaving a sample size of 26.

According to ACCS data, the Canadian national peace bond issuance rate per 100,000 population climbed consistently each sample year since 1994/95.  The largest recorded increases in the national peace bond issuance rate took place from sample years 1994/95 to 1995/96 (+22.9%), immediately following the passage of Bill C-42.  From 1994/95 to 1999/00, the peace bond issuance rate per 100,000 population rose from 29.6 to 45.9, an increase of 55 per cent. 

Since the passage of amendments to Criminal Code peace bonds, there appears to be no discernable change in the national breach rate as calculated by comparing the total number of section 811 convictions to the total number of section 810 issuances.  From 1994/95, ACCS data suggest that the annual national court disposition breach rate has remained relatively stable at around five per cent; from a repeated high of 5.1 per cent in 1994/95, 1998/99, and 1999/00, to a low of 4.5 per cent in 1995/96.

In the province of Nova Scotia, peace bonds are still used in cases of domestic violence, but according to all of the informants, this is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence due to changing enforcement policies.  As in Nova Scotia, most Ontario police services, including Hamilton, have adopted a pro-arrest and charge policy in cases of spousal or partner violence.  This policy relegates peace bonds to a ‘last resort’ tool that often signifies a criminal justice system failure (i.e., inability to lay a criminal charge) rather than a success.  Zero tolerance towards violence against women in the home in Manitoba has resulted in a decreased use of peace bonds in cases of domestic violence.  Current policy dictates that the police should arrest or lay charges for assault where reasonable and probable grounds exist.

Based on the Halifax police information systems listing of ‘private recognizances’ (N=233), seventy-six per cent of persons against whom a peace bond was issued from 1998 to 2001 (to date of survey) were identified as men.  Another 18.5 per cent were identified as women.  Gender could not be determined for 4.8 per cent of peace bond respondents.  The average age of persons issued peace bonds in Halifax is 34.6 years (n=222).  The average duration of peace bonds issued was 11.1 months and the median length was 12 months (n=228).  Hamilton police data on peace bond dispositions from 1997-2000 seem to support the observations of informants who point to the heavy use of common law peace bonds.  Utilising WFVC (Winnipeg Family Violence Court) data cross-referenced with police records for 1993-1997, we find that the average peace bond respondent in Winnipeg is 32.5 years old (n=340).  Seventy-one per cent of respondents are male and 23 per cent are female (n=340), although we could not discern gender for 5.6 per cent of the names in the data set.  The average duration of a peace bond issuance in Winnipeg between 1993-1997 was 11.7 months (n=340).  Forty-six per cent of persons issued peace bonds in the WFVC had previous records, averaging 6.8 offences (n=157) before the issuance of a section 810 recognizance.

In tracking those issued peace bonds in the Halifax police information system and onto the RCMP’s Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) criminal record history database, we found that 8.2 per cent of respondents committed an offence while under conditions of a peace bond, and another 8.2 per cent thereafter.  In the particular case of domestic violence, the breach rate was 7.1 per cent during and 10.7 per cent after its term of effect.  Of those persons issued peace bonds in cases of domestic violence in Winnipeg between 1993-1997, ten per cent (n=34) committed an offence while under conditions of the section 810 recognizance.  Another 27.9 per cent (n=95) committed an offence after the peace bond had lapsed.  In Winnipeg, male respondents had a higher likelihood of re-offending than female respondents both during (12.1% vs. 5.1%) and after the peace bond (33.5% vs. 12.7%).

In Nova Scotia, almost all key informants who had an opinion believed that sentences for breaching an order were weak and that changes to the maximum as per Bill C-42 amendments were ineffectual.  Justice personnel in Hamilton report that they have not seen any significant change in sentencing practices since Bill C-42 was enacted.  Similar sentiments were expressed in Winnipeg.

Without question, the major hurdle for battered women who wish to obtain a peace bond appeared to be operational rather than a problem that could have been ameliorated by amendments to the Criminal Code.  In all three jurisdictions, obtaining a peace bond by direct application to a J.P. (Justice of the Peace) was reportedly a time-consuming problem wrought with delays, making section 810 recognizances a poor choice for battered women. 

It cannot be over-stated that in cases of domestic violence, section 810 peace bond applications have been made uncommon by provincial protection order legislation in Manitoba.  Generally speaking, in the three jurisdictions where more detailed information was sought, most reported that the amendments to sections 810 and 811 had no discernable effect on the use of peace bonds in cases of domestic violence.