MPs vote unanimously to criminalize coercive control

Members of Parliament have voted unanimously to criminalize coercive control, a pattern of behaviour that can perpetuate domestic abuse.

A  private member's bill from New Democrat MP Laurel Collins passed on its third reading on Wednesday, months after she introduced the bill in response to behaviour she had witnessed in her own family.

The bill would criminalize actions like attempting to control an intimate partner's actions, employment, finances or other property, which Collins argues would be a part of a larger pattern of abuse meant to limit a victim's freedom and choices.

Collins's bill now heads to the Senate, where it will be debated and studied before it can become law. The member of Parliament from Victoria says she hopes that senators see the urgency of her bill and pass it as soon as possible.

She says the issue hit particularly close to home for her, when her sister's partner had taken away her keys, bank cards and cellphone, and tried to prevent her from leaving the house.

"So many survivors and victims of intimate partner violence have expressed that it often starts with their partner controlling their finances, controlling their modes of transportation, tracking their movements, things like controlling what they can wear or what they can eat," she told Jason D'Souza, host of CBC's All Points West.

Collins said it has been over two years since a parliamentary committee recommended that the government criminalize coercive control in order to better support victims of intimate partner violence.

NDP MP for Victoria Laurel Collins speaks about intimate partner violence during a news conference, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023 in Ottawa.
NDP MP for Victoria Laurel Collins speaks about her bill last November. The private member's bill is now heading to the Senate. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"A woman is killed in Canada every six days from intimate partner violence," the MP said.

"We know that coercive control is one of the most common precursors to femicide, even in situations where there's been no other physical violence."

Professor wants definition expanded

Janine Benedet, a law professor at the University of B.C. who researches sexual violence against women, said that domestic violence support organizations had been bringing up the topic of coercive control for many years.

"Many of those same women's groups pointed out the way that new technologies were being leveraged to coercively control women," Benedet told CBC News. "The kinds of smartphone apps that can control the heating and cooling in the house, the locks on the door, the ability to use an automobile."

The law professor said she was glad to see cross-party support for the bill, but she worries it is too narrow in scope, given that it primarily references intimate partners.

Young sad woman sitting alone on the floor in an empty room
A UBC law professor says she worries the bill is too narrow in scope, given that it primarily references intimate partner violence. (Artem Furman -

She says that coercive control can also be exerted by caregivers of disabled people, and fathers of adolescent daughters — situations that can also lead to physical and sexual abuse.

"We want victims who are experiencing that kind of behaviour in other contexts to be able to come forward and to see what is happening to them as abuse," Benedet said.

2nd time bill has been introduced

This is the second time in recent years that the federal NDP has brought forward such legislation.

Randall Garrison, a British Columbia MP, brought forward his own bill on the matter two years ago. Collins said her legislation builds on his work.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has said that it has repeatedly advocated for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to create new offences specifically targeted at coercive control.

Federal statistics from 2018 show that 44 per cent of women who have been in relationships reported experiencing some form of abuse from a partner.

Canada already has a provision under the Divorce Act that says a court should factor in family violence, including "coercive and controlling behaviour,'' when it comes to issuing contact orders around children.

Collins noted that the final report from the Mass Casualty Commission, which probed the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting that left 22 people dead, also recommended that more action be taken to deal with coercive control.

It heard from at least one domestic violence expert who said the shooter subjected his spouse to controlling and intimidating tactics for years before he went on a deadly rampage in April 2020.