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'Centring' the survivors: Quebec creates specialized court for domestic violence


Domestic abuse has become impossible to ignore in Quebec.

The province saw a string of femicides in 2021, with many women suspected to have been killed by their husbands or boyfriends. In fact, last year's domestic homicides were double the provincial average

The violence may have been exacerbated by COVID-19 lockdowns, some experts have suggested — but as Veronique Girard points out, domestic abuse persisted long before the pandemic began.

"It was there before," said the director of Montreal-area women’s shelter Hebergement La Passerelle. "The pandemic helped put domestic violence forward, make people more aware of that reality."

CTV News spoke to Girard Friday at the Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Que. courthouse, where the province launched a specialized tribunal for victims of spousal and sexual abuse.

The new tribunal will take extra care to assure survivors feel safe in the courtroom.

"We send a clear message to the victims, 'you will be at the centre,'" said Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.

By designing the space so survivors don't need to cross paths with the accused, the hope is that more people will be encouraged to come forward.

The court also promises to provide specialized support to the survivors before, during and after the legal process, assigning workers from Crime Victims Assistance Centres (CAVAC) to each plaintiff.

"They will be better served," Jolin-Barrette continued, adding that plaintiffs will be regularly consulted to see "how they feel and how it’s going."

Steeve Boutin, police chief of Mercier, Que., said the tribunal is an important step in better supporting survivors.

"We are the doorway to the victims," he said. "We think it is the best thing to do to give our victims the opportunity to complain and participate in the process."

The tribunal is also a welcome development for Girard.

Pursuing legal action against an abuser can be complicated and intimidating, she said, which can prevent survivors from speaking out — not to mention the stigma that comes along with it.

"Most of the victims don't know what to do: 'Can I go file a complaint? I need proof, do I have enough proof or not?'" she said. "And there's a fear, shame. There's a lot of reasons why they don’t go."

But as promising as this news is, the pursuit of justice for domestic violence survivors is complex, and can't be resolved overnight, Girard added.

"There’s a lot of things about it that’s not that clear yet, so we will have to see."

This is a developing story that will be updated. Top Stories

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