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

8. Halifax (continued)

8. Halifax (continued)

8.4 Breach Rates

Up to this point in the report, we have inferred breach rates by taking the number of 811 guilty dispositions and dividing by the number of 810 issuances by province or nationally, based on ACCS data. For the remainder of this report, the data employed are based on individual case tracking. A breach is considered any criminal offence committed during a peace bond instead of specifically hunting for 811 breaches on the respondent’s/offender’s CPIC criminal history.

This is done for two reasons: First, because it is clear that many persons charged with an offence in relation to the original applicant while under a peace bond do not get charged for both the substantive offence and breaching the order. Second, because almost without exception, peace bonds come with the condition to KPGB. Therefore, any criminal activity is automatically a breach of the peace bond. Thus, in Halifax and vicinity, our informants noted the following about charging for both the substantive offence and the peace bond breach:

Usually just an assault. Sometimes they’re resolved by a peace bond, particularly where, well, anyway let’s just go through your questions. (NS Judge)

It varies from police officer to police officer. Unfortunately with the Halifax Regional Police there’s been some difficulty over the years when there’s a charge that alleges a breach of a court order in terms of who’s going to get the documents or maybe the charge shouldn’t be laid and so on. (NS Crown Attorney)

There is, in fact, some legal precedent and practice instructing Crown attorneys not to duplicate charges:

… we may find that there’s already a criminal process in place and if there’s an undertaking there we usually don’t duplicate it by suggesting that they go for a peace bond [breach] as well. (NS Lawyer)

In any case, the police understand that often ‘technically’ any offence while under a peace bond constitutes a breach whether or not it was done to the original applicant:

… if somebody’s on a peace bond and one of the conditions is keep the peace and be of good behaviour and I catch them breaking into a place and it has nothing to do with why that peace bond was ordered I still have the option of laying the charge that they failed to keep the peace and be of good behaviour under that peace bond, I mean, that recog. (NS Police officer)

In fact, one NS Judge argued that the imposition of more conditions could result in even more breaches:
No, I don’t think it has reduced breaches. If anything the additional conditions have probably resulted in more charges because people are prohibited from doing more things. So it’s just one more thing that people can be charged with. Not a significant factor but ... (NS Judge)

In tracking peace bond respondents in the Halifax police information system and onto the RCMP’s 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.

The most common offences committed during the course of a peace bond were ‘failure to attend court or breach of an order’ (16.1%) and ‘uttering threats’ (16.1%). Assault was the third most likely offence (9.7%) along with possession of stolen property and fraud. As with offences during a peace bond, failure to attend or disobeying an order was the most frequent charge for those who committed an offence after the peace bond had lapsed (26.3%).

Of those committing an offence while under conditions of a peace bond (n=19), the average number of offences committed was 1.9. For those who committed an offence after the peace bond had lapsed, the average number of offences committed was 1.8.

Table 8.4.1: Peace Bond Breach Rates in Halifax, 1998-2001 (N=233)
  During PB After PB
N % N %
All Peace bonds 19 8.2 19 8.2
Domestic violence related (n=84) 6 7.1 9 10.7
Male respondent (n=179) * 15 8.4 16 8.9
Female respondent (n=43) * 4 9.3 2 4.7

* Offender’s gender could not be discerned in 11 cases.

Table 8.4.2: Offences Committed by Respondents while under Conditions of Peace Bond (Halifax, 1998-2001)
OFFENCE (N=31) N % *
Failure to attend court/ Breach order 5 16.1
Uttering threats 5 16.1
Assault 3 9.7
Possession of stolen property 3 9.7
Fraud 3 9.7
Operation while impaired 2 6.4
Assault w/weapon or causing bodily harm 2 6.4

* Does not add to 100 because only top frequencies listed.

Table 8.4.3: Offences Committed by Respondents after Peace Bond Lapsed (Halifax, 1998-2001)
OFFENCE (N=38) N % *
Failure to attend court/ Disobey order 10 26.3
Theft 8 21.1
Excessive force 2 5.3
Assault 2 5.3
Breaking and entering 2 5.3
Possession of stolen property 2 5.3
Transfer young offender to place of custody 2 5.3
Breach of recognizance 2 5.3

* Does not add to 100 because only top frequencies listed.

8.5 Sentencing

In Nova Scotia, almost all key informants who felt sufficiently informed about peace bonds believed that sentences for breaching an order were weak and that changes to the maximum as per Bill C-42 amendments were ineffectual. In fact, one NS Judge reported that a common sentence for a breach of a peace bond was “probably a fine or further peace bond” and that the maximum of two years imprisonment was imposed “somewhere between seldom and never”.

Two shelter workers who have experience with peace bonds made similar observations:
To my knowledge, I don’t know of anybody, any woman that’s been through Bryony House that her partner has breached and that there’s been consequences. (NS Shelter Worker)

Usually it’s very, very minimal, ‘now, what are you doing that? Now, blah, blah, blah.’ You know, I don’t see anything major happening. (NS Shelter Worker)

A Halifax police officer raised the point that when an act is committed that might warrant imprisonment, it almost invariably means another substantive charge:

A maximum of two years means, it’s very likely you’re never going to get a maximum for violating peace bonds. Very, very unlikely. And if you get a copy of the pamphlet it will tell you right there that it’s very unlikely you’re going to get a maximum penalty for violating a peace bond. Keep it in mind what other charges may be laid, but that is not the peace bond, it’s the seriousness of the other charges. (NS Police officer)

Thus, if we consider all of the offences committed by respondents under a peace bond, the length and severity of sanctions varied depending on the offence. Offenders who were in breach of a peace bond by committing an offence while it was still in effect were sentenced to an average of 19.2 months probation (n=13) and/or 10.5 months in jail (n=10) and/or $513 in fines (n=4).