Domestic Violence Courts in B.C. – Part 2: Nanaimo

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A domestic violence court was established in Nanaimo in 2013 through the collaborative effort of the local Community Coordination for Domestic Safety Committee and judges. Like the Cowichan Valley court it is based on a problem-solving model.

In Nanaimo, police submit files to a designated Crown prosecutor within two weeks of responding to a domestic violence complaint. The prosecutor contacts complainants immediately and refers them to helpful services. If children are involved she also liaises with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. And in high risk cases an Inter-Agency Case Assessment Team meets to discuss a safety plan.

The quick, two week processing period was adopted in order to link families to therapeutic services during the time when they are most motivated. Once the matter comes to court, free or low cost services are available at the court house for both accused persons and complainants. These include duty counsel, Native Court Worker, and counselling providers: Community Victim Services, The Men’s Centre and Nanaimo Family Life. Counselling may include referrals to drug and alcohol programs, mental health treatment, or trauma counselling as well as relationship counselling.

If a victim wants to continue the relationship and an offender wants to engage in counselling Crown Counsel may agree to ask a judge to change bail conditions to permit the offender to have contact with the victim, after confirming enrollment in counselling. The Crown will monitor the offender and the family over the course of their programs. Less serious assault charges may be stayed or the Crown may recommend a lower sentence to the judge if counselling is successful.

Crown Counsel Jacqueline Gaudet was instrumental in the establishment of this court. She reports that in this model most of the work is done outside the courtroom. Since the goal is to provide a family the help they need, completion of counselling programs may require lengthy adjournments of the criminal charges. Local defence lawyers have embraced the changes. Both they and the Native Court Worker are very engaged in getting their clients into appropriate counselling.

Although feedback is anecdotal, Ms. Gaudet believes the changes have made a significant impact on the families involved in Nanaimo’s Domestic Violence Court. There are many success stories. Participants in this Court report feeling heard and helped. Ms. Gaudet adds, “I cannot say enough about the wonderful programming that is available in our community; it is the key to our success. Without programming for the offender it does not matter how much one helps the victim.”

“Keeping Women Safe”, a 2008 research project based in B.C., identified eight critical components of an effective justice response to domestic violence. B.C.’s domestic violence courts have been developed by local communities and their judges. As local initiatives they reflect community needs and resources. Nevertheless, they strive to meet these criteria.

See eNews on June 2nd to learn about a trial scheduling initiative in the Okanagan that may be contributing to community efforts to reduce family violence. Information about B.C.’s other specialized courts can be found on the Court’s website.