Each week, the Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP investigates a case of spousal assault.
To help the victims, mainly women and children, but sometimes vulnerable men as well, the police and several community partners have come up with a new protocol aimed at better protection.
The Vernon Community Protocol was set up by police, victims assistance, community corrections, Vernon Women’s Transition House, court services and Crown counsel to establish, clarify and maintain communications between all the partner agencies to try and ensure there are no gaps in services for spousal assault victims.
“It will enhance victim safety, provide education and awareness of services available to victims,” said Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP Supt. Reg Burgess. “It will ensure victims understand clearly the situation they’re in and allows them to make the best choice they can for their own well-being and health.”
In the past, a victim or offender may have gone to Crown counsel to have conditions of a protection order changed, and those changes may or may not have taken place as the file played out in the court system.
Now, with the new protocol, before Crown counsel will consider even looking at a request for a variance of conditions, they refer the victim to one of the service agencies, make sure the victim has a safety plan in place, that they’ve had a chance to consider their safety options and whether having anything changed about a protection order is in their best interest.
“It’s not the victim’s order,” explained Debby Hamilton, executive director of the Vernon Women’s Transition House. “Often the victim is in a position to ask for things to be changed. Conditions are placed on the offender, and it’s the offender who has to have the condition’s changed.”
“Every order is different,” added Sean Donley, local manager of Vernon Community Corrections. “The judge decides what protective conditions they’re going to place on an order, and that could be things like having no contact with the offender, either directly or indirectly, not to go within 100 metres of a residence. It’s completely up to the judge for each individual offender in each individual case.”
Hamilton said things like fear, economic dependence and sharing of children lead victims to seek changes in the protection order, sometimes as a result of pressure from family members that it’s in their best interest for a victim to change conditions.
The idea for the protocol came as a result of a practice in place in Smithers, in north-central B.C., and the goal is for better protection for spousal assault victimes.
“This protocol gives them all of the options we can offer,” said Burgess. “All of the community service providers are there to do their jobs. It’s the justice system’s responsibility to ensure that happens, and that falls on us, probation, Crown and judges themselves.”