Wednesday 20 December 2000
Bill 117 guts men's rightsDave Brown
The Ottawa Citizen
Just in time for Christmas, Ontario Attorney General Jim Flaherty has presented a gift-wrapped monster called Bill 117 that effectively removes the Charter rights of half the population -- the male half.
Gone with the flick of a quick vote are fundamental procedural rights and the presumption of innocence.
The vote was held in the Ontario legislature late Monday. The new law gives special courts powers that appear to circumvent the Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights.
Created a few years ago as domestic courts, and now officially known as Domestic Violence Courts, these special courts have now been given the power to temporarily strip a man of all he owns without him even being present to defend himself.
It's called an "intervention order" and is built on the premise that abused women are prisoners of economics. Bill 117 reverses those economics by permitting the court to transfer all property to her in an emergency ex parte hearing.
The most amazing thing about this Draconian approach to the war against domestic squabbles is that the media have turned a blind eye. Toronto newspapers didn't touch it.
The word "squabbles" is not an error. The definition of violence is now so broad that a raised voice, if it causes fright, is abuse, which translates to violence.
This column reported details of Bill 117 on Nov. 4. Reader reaction was the heaviest I've experienced in more than 30 years of column writing. Many refused to believe it. They thought I must have my facts wrong.
One of the strangest reactions was from a local radio talk show. Driving around one day after the Bill 117 column appeared, I heard a local talk-show host refuse callers' requests to discuss the bill.
He said he had checked it out with local MPP Garry Guzzo, who assured him things were not as reported in this column. Mr. Guzzo was a member of the standing committee that drew up the bill.
If readers found my views hard to swallow, they should read what Law Times writer Rob Martin had to say in his Nov. 13 column. He teaches constitutional law at the University of Western Ontario.
He wrote: "We are falling into the abyss of allowing hysteria to drive our public policy agenda. The leading source of hysteria today is domestic violence. This hysteria has led to a number of seriously misguided acts, as various persons have attempted to demonstrate their commitment to 'doing something' about domestic violence."
Mr. Flaherty certainly is doing something. But it's wrong, says Mr. Martin: "This bill is classic police-state legislation and violates just about every constitutional principle that anyone with even a minimal familiarity with our Constitution might think of."
There is already a zero-tolerance policy regarding domestic disturbances/violence. A major problem is the 911 call. Dialling that number means a life is at risk. Feuding couples don't realize until it's too late that by dialling 911 they are in effect reporting an attempted murder. Police no longer separate the battling couple and tell them to cool off. They take one of them -- 99 per cent of the time it's the man -- to jail.
He appears in front of a domestic court judge the next day. If he agrees to plead guilty, he can go home by promising to behave and to take a series of anger-management courses. If he refuses to plead, he faces lengthy delays in the criminal system, large legal bills, and he can't go home because a restraining order is part of the program.
Under Bill 117, while he's in jail overnight, his opponent (wife, ex-wife, girlfriend or date) can appear in front of a judge and ask for an intervention order. He can wake up owning nothing, with no place to go.
Proponents of the intervention order say he can apply to a judge to get his property back within 30 days. What they don't point out is that the other party has the legal right to be there. If she doesn't show up, the process is stalled. A court order can be issued, but family courts have a poor record of enforcing orders against women.
Senator Anne Cools, a founder of the women's shelter movement and now one of its most vocal opponents, appeared at Bill 117 hearings, appealing for reason. "This is a human problem, not a gender problem. Both sexes are capable of violence. ... The issue has been falsely framed."
This new approach, she said, was "a heart of darkness."
From my perspective as a reporter and a man, it's social vandalism.
Dave Brown is the Citizen's senior editor. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org Read previous columns by Dave Brown at www.ottawacitizen.com
Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.