“…Increased focus on victim safety and minimize re-victimization in the courts, more use of Victim Impact Statements, increased use of testimonial aids, increase the use of analysis of the dynamics of violence against women in trials and sentencings with respect to spousal assaults, more accurate descriptions of violence that include victims’ responses for better picture of incident and deliberateness of the accused’s behaviour, and victims should have access to legal advice and advocacy….”
These are just a few of the recommendations brought forward by Court Watch Yukon at their seminar, coordinated by the Women’s Coalition, to the public on August 27, 2015.
Fully trained CWY volunteers began observing court proceedings in Whitehorse related to violence against women, sexualized assault, and spousal violence. Volunteers have been taking note of court room environment, mutualizing language, respect and dignity shown to the victims, and dual charging.
Observers noted numerous times that it was difficult to hear in the court room and that there were inappropriate comments made before and after proceedings by court workers, members of the legal community, and support workers.
Of specific interest to CWY was observing if language was used to minimize or mutualize violence. This type of language conceals violence and removes abusers’ accountability and responsibility. Studies have noted that there is a correlation between the use of minimizing and mutualizing violence and lighter sentences. Observers noted that there was more mutualizing language used in the court room than minimizing language. The use of either of this language to describe violence is a concern since it does not give an accurate picture of the incident and the violence that occurred.
Observers noted that in sexualized assault trials consent, dynamics of violence against women, and safety concerns were brought up either by the Crown and/or Judges. This is an improvement since the last CWY program with respect to sexualized violence. However, in spousal assault cases dealt with outside of the Domestic Violence Treatment Option (DVTO), which means that the accused has plead not guilty and has chosen to go trial, it was rare that the dynamics of violence against women were brought forward.
The information presented to the community also included interview findings with women who have had experience in the criminal justice system by the YSWC coordinator. Women interviewed expressed that re-victimization/re-traumatization, negative experiences with the justice system, and court room environment safety were barriers to their participation in the criminal justice system. If they had support, positive social responses, and their safety concerns respected they felt that their experiences would be better and would engage more with the process.
Court Watch Yukon (CWY) was revived by the Yukon Status of Women Council (YSWC) in April 2014. CWY builds on the 2002-2004 pilot program of the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre. The program aims to improve women’s experience of the criminal justice system by providing oversight to the Yukon courts and practical recommendations. CWY volunteers began observing court proceedings in Watson Lake and Dawson City in December 2014.