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Province letting domestic abusers off the hook

KAWARTHAS-Information we obtained shows that thousands of convicted, violent domestic abusers could come away with no criminal record after taking only a few group counselling sessions mandated by the Ministry of the Attorney General. 

Almost 10,000 people in Ontario who were convicted of assaulting their partner in 2015/16 possibly came out of it with no criminal record after taking the Partner Assault Response (PAR)classes. The government is now reviewing the program.

In Peterborough more than 400 people who assaulted their partner have gone through PAR since 2014, and many of them would have received a conditional or absolute discharge after completion of the program. That means essentially, it’s like it never happened. The numbers for Kawartha Lakes were not available.

An absolute discharge is the lowest-level adult sentence that an offender can get. If an offender gets an absolute discharge, a finding of guilt is made but no conviction is registered, and they are not given any conditions to follow (i.e. a probation order ). It also will automatically purged from the CPIC database after one year and will only show as a non-conviction on a police check for a one year period.

A conditional discharge is similar to an absolute discharge because a finding of guilt is made,  no conviction is registered. What makes it different from an absolute discharge is that there are conditions that the offender must follow. The conditions always come in a probation order that can be in effect from one to three years. After that the record is wiped clean.

The John Howard Society is the PAR program service Provider for the City of Peterborough and Kawartha Lakes. The Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG)oversee’s the program. It is mandated by the courts and provides group education/counselling that is supposed to help participants stop their violent, abusive and controlling behaviour. It also provides outreach, safety planning, support, and referrals to community resources for the victims involved, according to the Ministry. “In general, upon successful completion of the PAR program as part of Early Intervention, cases may be resolved through a number of dispositions including a conditional discharge and probation, an absolute discharge or a s. 810 peace bond.” Emilie Smith, a spokesperson for the Ministry said.

Is the program actually working? We don’t know exactly how many offenders received a conditional discharge versus an absolute discharge because the Ministry says it does not keep track of those statistics. We also don’t know how effective the program is because the Ministry hasn’t been keeping track of those statistics either. “Court records do not track cases specific to domestic abuse, as there is no Criminal Code charge or “offence type” specific to domestic abuse. The ministry tracks criminal court cases according to the specific Criminal Code offence.  As a result, we are unable to provide statistics specific to domestic violence/gender based violence.”  the Ministry told VFP

Lynn Zimmer, Executive Director of the Peterborough YWCA says “if we are spending money on these programs and we don’t know if they are successful, is the money well spent or would the money be better spent somewhere else?

The Ministry says it is trying to gather the numbers. “We have launched a three-year in house study to determine the number of individuals who re-offend after completing the PAR program. Ministry staff are looking at recidivism rates and differences, if any, based on gender, age group, program completion status and court order type.” And they say they will be seeking input from service providers.

Sources say the Ministry is looking at the effectiveness of the program after some of the agencies that provide the program, complained.  Here’s how the Ministry describes it. “In 2014, the Ministry made changes to the PAR program to increase program capacity. This means offenders waiting for services can enter the program sooner and victims will have earlier access to support services offered by the PAR program. Some stakeholders expressed concerns with the program changes, and the ministry is working with PAR providers to address their concerns and to discuss their ideas for improvement.” Our mutual goal is to strengthen the PAR program so it is effective and sustainable.”

The program was reduced from 16 sessions to 12 mandatory sessions. Concerns were also expressed about the ministry revising service providers’ allocations to more closely reflect the current service demands in each jurisdiction according to Smith.  

Zimmer says “If there is no research about a reliable way going forward, it’s not a good thing”

Dana Hitherton is the Program coordinator for the John Howard Society in Peterborough. She’s also on the Provincial PAR Advisory Committee. She says “Our agency is committed to working with the Ministry to inform them of regional issues, which include both challenges and successes.  As with any social issue, DV (domestic violence) is complex, so any comments about effectiveness (of the PAR Program)would be anecdotal in nature.”

The program needs more money according to Zimmer. “To have an effective program it’s going to take an investment. It (currently) has humble funding and its a grassroots organization struggling to keep going, it’s not going to be improved without an investment”

But she likes the idea of a diversion program saying ” Jails aren’t good for changing violent behaviour”  And according to Zimmer some partners don’t want to see their children’s father/mother in jail.

Some wonder what type of message this sends to victims.

The ministry will be launching client surveys shortly to measure if the PAR program is achieving its objectives. The results may help to guide future program improvements.

Domestic violence is a big problem in Canada. In 2013, there were more than 90,300 victims of police-reported violence by an intimate partner (including spousal and dating partners) accounting for over one quarter of all police-reported victims of violent offences according to Statistics Canada. Similar to previous years, common assault (level 1) was the most frequent type of police-reported intimate partner violence. Major assault (levels 2 and 3), uttering threats and criminal harassment were the next most frequent offences.

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Pamela Vanmeer
Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

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