New Bill Takes Aim at Domestic Torture
Two women who have worked for 24 years to persuade lawmakers to make torture in the private sphere a criminal offence are optimistic that their efforts may soon pay off.
Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald first met in 1992 as nursing colleagues at a provincial health office in Truro, Nova Scotia.Both had heard from survivors who experienced severe and long-term violence in the form of emotional, mental, sexual and physical abuse.The abuse stories they heard included reports of people who had been forced into prostitution, pornography or human trafficking and most had come from women.
Sarson and MacDonald say they were shocked.“We knew we were listening to crimes—grave crimes—and that they were human rights violations,” recalled MacDonald.
Such forms of prolonged violence, or torture, were already on the radar of other women’s advocates.Domestic violence experts, lawyers and those who work with abuse survivors had been aware, too.
Canada outlawed state torture in 1985, which means that the only form of torture recognized in the Criminal Code is that perpetrated by representatives of the state—police or security personnel, for example.The international human rights concept of non-state torture has not come before Canada’s House of Commons.
Until now.In February, a private member’s bill to recognize non-state torture was introduced by rookie Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos.The London, Ontario MP wants Canada to develop a legal recourse for victims who have experienced heinous violations.Bill C-242 deals with torture in the private domestic sphere and in the commercial underworld of pornography and prostitution.Such torture can include prolonged sexual abuse (often involving multiple perpetrators), physical abuse and brainwashing, electric shocks, as well as being immobilized or suffocated and being deprived of food, drink and sleep.
Sarson, MacDonald and Fragiskatos say the bill would mend a big hole in the criminal justice system—one that has allowed perpetrators of non-state torture to go unpunished.After it passed second reading in April, Bill 242 went before the standing committee on justice and human rights.It defines torture as “the intentional and repeated infliction of severe and prolonged pain or suffering onto another human being for the purposes of intimidation or coercion.”
Women’s organizations, including the Canadian Nurses Association, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the