May 26th, 2024

N.L. minister seeks Criminal Code changes he says will protect domestic abuse victims

By The Canadian Press on April 25, 2024.

Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Minister John Hogan addresses a press conference in St. John's, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. Hogan has written to his federal counterpart to ask for changes to the Criminal Code relating to bail and detention in intimate partner violence cases.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Newfoundland and Labrador’s Justice Minister has written to his federal counterpart to ask for changes to the Criminal Code relating to bail and detention in cases of intimate partner violence.

John Hogan wrote the letter to Arif Virani last month, about a week after a St. John’s, N.L., woman was found dead and Ibrahim Alahmad was charged with her murder.

Alahmad had been facing a litany of previous charges involving the woman – whose identity is protected by a publication ban – including forcible confinement and assault causing bodily harm by choking, and he had been out on bail since January.

Hogan is asking for the reverse onus provision on bail to be extended to anyone previously accused of intimate partner violence, so they would be automatically kept in custody unless they could convince a judge it was safe for them to be released.

Under the current rules, reverse onus only extends to those previously found guilty of intimate partner violence offences.

Hogan is also asking that intimate partner and domestic violence, and threats thereof, be added to the list of reasons a person can be detained.

“I write this letter to express my concern over the ongoing epidemic of intimate partner and domestic violence, which continues to plague Canada with too frequent catastrophic effect,” Hogan said to Virani in the March 13 letter.

The changes suggested in his letter would “help protect those who have been victimized from further harm,” Hogan writes.

He said in an interview that if this change had been in place, the onus would have been on Alahmad to prove that he deserved bail, rather than on the Crown prosecutors to prove that he did not.

Lynn Moore, a St. John’s lawyer who works with survivors of abuse, says there are more effective strategies – putting ankle monitors on high-risk offenders, for example – that would keep women safe.

“I believe that there are some men who are very, very violent towards their spouses, and they need to be locked up,” she said. “(But) tweaks to the criminal law, while not detrimental, are not the kind of change we need. We need a system overhaul.”

The Criminal Code is federal law and can only be changed by the federal government.

Chantalle Aubertin, a spokesperson for Virani, said the federal government updated the Criminal Code in December, broadening the application of reverse onus to people who have previously received a discharge after being found guilty of intimate partner violence. If a person is discharged of a crime, they have been found guilty but a conviction does not appear on their criminal record.

“Our government is examining how the criminal justice system responds to instances of cases of femicide and how it can be strengthened,” Aubertin wrote in an email Wednesday evening. “Minister Virani himself has publicly stated that he views the current situation as an ‘epidemic’ requiring immediate action.”

She said the federal minister will respond to Hogan’s letter “in due course.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2024.

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