Court Watch Yukon

Court Watch Yukon

The initial Court Watch Yukon (CWY) project took place from October 2002 to March 2004 as a project of the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre. The project was a response to high rates of woman abuse and sexualized assault in the Yukon. In the intervening ten years, not much has changed. The Yukon still has the third highest rate of assault against women in Canada. The Crime Severity Index, measuring the seriousness of crime, for the Yukon is higher than in the provinces, especially for violent crimes and this has been the same over the past ten years (Criminal victimization in the territories, Statistics Canada, 2012). This report also indicated that more than three-quarters (78%) if those who suffered the most severe forms of spousal violence were women. (ibid, p 12) The Yukon Status of Women Council (YSWC) continued to hear anecdotal indications that the experiences of female victims had not improved significantly in the intervening years. YSWC obtained funding from the Crime Prevention Victim Services Trust Fund, the Yukon Law Foundation, the Community Development Fund, and, with the assistance of the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, the Department of Justice Time Limited Operational Funds as well as a contribution from the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, to build on the recommendations of the successful pilot project and reinstate the Court Watch program.

The need for a court watch program is underlined by the findings outlined in the Juristat article from
Statistics Canada which states that residents of the territories were more critical of the courts than the
police, which is opposite to the findings in southern Canada. It also found that 20% of Yukon residents indicated that the courts were doing a good job of helping victims as compared to 37% in Nunavut. Coupled with the finding from all three territories that people who had contact with the courts were more likely to indicate that the court is doing a poor job of providing justice quickly (44%) and helping the victim (33%), than those with no contact with the court system, 23% and 20% respectively (ibid p.19). YSWC believes that Court Watch Yukon can contribute to improving the experience of victims in the court system by providing the legal system with data based on consistent observation to initiate change.

As much as the rates of violence against women have remained the same, circumstances in the Yukon
have changed over the past ten years. The Sharing Common Ground, Review of Yukon’s Police Force
final report was the results of an examination of concerns raised by citizens regarding relationships with the police in the Yukon, especially with women. The report outlined seven recommendations for
improvement which resulted in an implementation strategy. Many of these recommendations have
seen action and resulted in positive changes. The Yukon Department of Justice developed and implemented the Victim of Crime Strategy 2009-2014, involving community partnerships. The Together for Justice Project of the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society did much to improve relationships with the police. Third party reporting of sexualized assault is now an option for women. The Yukon Women’s Coalition has signed the Together for Safety protocol with the RCMP intended to establish cooperative and productive ways of working together to promote women’s safety. Both the federal and territorial governments have enacted Victims of Crime legislation and written Victim’s Bills of Rights. Some shifts have occurred with police and justice officials beginning to acknowledge women’s resistance to violence and their exposure to information on how the effects language used to describe violence towards women can affect the outcome of legal proceedings. YSWC was interested to see what impact these changes have made to women’s experiences with the justice system; how these changes may have affected how victims are treated in the criminal justice system and what remains the same.

The CWY project sought to:

  • Improve the experience of female victims in the criminal justice system
  • Gather accurate information about women’s experiences of the criminal justice system in cases of intimate partner violence and sexualized assault
  • Increase public awareness of women’s experiences in the justice system
  • Raise awareness of violence against women and positively influence social responses towards women who have experienced violence
  • Provide a feminist analysis of the information gathered in court, and the language used in court
  • Propose practical solutions to ensure women are treated with respect and equality in the justice system.

Court Watch Yukon began again in 2013 with initial consultation with allied stakeholders, women’s
organizations, and members of the legal system who provided valuable information on the legal system, court procedures and input into the research questions. Court Watch Yukon wrapped up in 2018.