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Protecting women and children against domestic violence - Kiera's Law passed

Bill C-233, which includes a measure informally known as Kiera's Law, was passed in the Senate on Tuesday late evening.

Halton-based organizations offering support to women in crises lauded the passing of Bill C-233, which includes a measure informally known as Kiera's law, in Canada's Senate late Tuesday evening.

Private Member's Bill C-233 establishes educational seminars for existing and newly-appointed federally appointed judges to increase their understanding of intimate partner violence and coercive control. It also officially introduces electronic monitoring as another condition of release when the safety and security of a person, including an intimate partner or child, could be at risk.

According to Sexual Assault & Violence Intervention Services of Halton (SAVIS), domestic violence is deadly for mothers and their children because, for many women who have left their abusive partners, the abuser then uses child custody as a tactic to exert control which may last legally for years.

Named after Dr. Jennifer Kagan's daughter and Philip Viater's stepdaughter Keira Kagan, this law follows the federal government's amendment to the Divorce Act in 2019, which broadened the definition of family violence.

In 2020, the nation was shocked when a father killed four-year-old Keira in an apparent murder-suicide. Her death occurred after the court ordered Kiera into his care unsupervised, despite warning signs of her father's abusive and controlling behaviour.

Seconded by MPs Pam Damoff and Ya'ara Saks Liberal, MP Anju Dhillon introduced Bill C-233 on the second anniversary of Keira's death in 2022 to protect women and children from domestic violence.

"Studies show that the separation of the couple often does not break the cycle of violence," MP Dhillon stated in a press conference after the Senate vote. "On the contrary, violent partners will often resort to acts of violence in order to resume coercive control."

"These acts may be so subtle that the aggressor, in many cases, succeeds in portraying themselves as the victims. The actual vulnerable party ends up being perceived as the one with mental problems or as vindictive."

Dr. Jennifer Kagan, Keira Kagan's mother, highlighted the need for judges to understand intimate partner violence in the modern world and how this impacts parenting. "This important piece of legislation is a major step forward for victims of intimate partner violence and children," she added.

MP Damoff stated that it is in everyone's best interests that judges be well informed on family violence and that their primary focus in considering custody in such cases be in the children's best interest. "I am thrilled to see a bi-partisan commitment in both the House and the Senate to make Keira's Law a reality in Canada."

Laurie Hepburn of Halton Women's Place appreciated how Dr. Jennifer Kagan and her family turned their heart-wrenching tragedy into actual systemic change with perseverance and advocacy.

"About 20-30 children are killed by a parent across Canada every year, and that doesn't include the many children continuing to experience abuse and trauma through unsafe custody/access," says Hepburn.

Hepburn continues, "It will help in keeping children experiencing family violence safe by ensuring that judges- those who are placed in positions of power to make determinations around custody/access- are making informed decisions and have a full understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence and coercive control and how that places children directly in a path of danger."

Last June, the bill was passed unanimously in the House of Commons and will be sent to the governor general to receive Royal Assent now that it has passed the Senate.