Ban Bench Warrants For Victims of Violence

They promised to call me back. Why didn’t they call me?” is a question Serrece Winter repeatedly asks her arresting officers. Ms. Winter was referring to the Crown, and wondering why no one responded to her plea not to testify against her abusive ex-partner in court.  This simple question was the beginning of an abhorrent spiral of conversations and posturing that resulted in a victim of intimate partner violence being helplessly bound, muzzled and strapped into a chair by people in powerful positions.

While the investigative reporting by Ms Chiu on November 9th 2020 brought Ms Winter’s trauma to the public we know that she is not alone in this experience. Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence and that a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner every 6 days or so. Women of colour, including black and indigenous women, experience this at three to seven times that rate and are much more likely to be the object of racial and cultural bias in the systems that are supposed to protect them. As appalling as it is, our colleagues serving First Nations women and those of African descent, confirm this type of disregard and brutality from police and in the criminal justice system is not unusual.

Systematic change begins upstream. Therefore, we call on the Department of Justice and the Public Prosecution Service to end the use of bench warrants for victims of violence who are unable or unwilling to testify against their abusers.  The use of bench warrants, detention cells and coercion of any kind, must cease forever, for victims-witnesses.

We recognize that in theory, the purpose of issuing bench warrants for victims of domestic abuse is to coerce victim – witness as evidence for prosecution and that conviction is often cited as serving “public interest”.   However, we believe that much greater “public interest” is found when victims can feel safe turning to the justice system and can rely on the justice system for respect, support and safety and not brutalization that echo abuse from a perpetrator.

In reality bench warrants turn victims into criminals, and subsequently they are treated as such. Just ask Ms. Winter or watch this video Too Afraid to Testify. The threat of having to face their abuser in court or risk having an arrest warrant issued discourages women from reporting domestic abuse, which prevents them from gaining freedom.

We also know the kind of repugnant treatment Ms Winter’s received is on the rise, as more and more victims are treated like criminals when navigating the justice system in Nova Scotia.

Victims are being treated like criminals in Nova Scotia

 Connect, like many other women serving organizations in Nova Scotia, takes an intersectoral and trauma informed approach to service delivery.  We are requesting immediate and mandatory trauma- informed training for members of the Department of Justice to understand better the negative impact of this coercive approach.We are here to support women and believe women’s rights are an antidote to this kind of news.

For more information, or to invite us to your table to learn more about trauma-informed justice, please reach out.

  • Trish McCourt- Connect Co-Chair &
  • Executive Director of Tri-County Women’s Centre
  • Email: ed@tricountywomenscentre.org
  • Phone: 902-742-0085