Men 'one phone call' from total destruction'
(Published in the Ottawa Citizen Nov. 3, 2000)
Ontario's domestic violence war is about to enter its nuclear age with the creation of a legal weapon so destructive no sane man will risk abusive behaviour -- or marriage, or even dating.
It's called the "intervention order" and is being fast-tracked through the legislature. It has already passed two readings, is going back for some fine tuning Nov. 7, and is expected to be law before the end of the month. Bill 117's power will make the familiar restraining order obsolete.
Observers say the speed and low profile with which this ultimate weapon has been developed is part of a promise from Attorney General Jim Flaherty. He made it after high profile murder-suicides near Toronto. He wants to "send a clear signal that domestic violence is not tolerated in Ontario."
The new legislation is based on the premise women in abusive relationships can't escape because they are economically dependent. The intent is to correct this by making it possible to immediately transfer all property to her.
Written into the scheme are ex parte applications. The alleged abuser doesn't have to be present when the order seizing his property is made. Application for an Intervention Order can be made by anyone in a one-to-one relationship, including dating.
Literally without knowing about it, it will be possible for a partner, almost 100 per cent of them men, to lose freedom and property. The intervention order includes an automatic restraining order.
Any violation of an intervention order will be a criminal offence. It will take precedence over any acquittal, dismissal or withdrawal of a criminal charge, or any order under any statute, including the Divorce Act.
Transference of property will include leased property, even if she is only a date, and is binding on the landlord. If rent is in arrears, the landlord must collect from him. She will have no liability.
These points were highlighted by Toronto lawyer Walter Fox during one of the strongest presentations at current hearings at Queen's Park. Outside the hearing room he described the proposed legislation as "a pimp's dream." Prostitutes approach men asking if they want a "date," since it's illegal to ask if they want sex. Admitting it's a stretch, Mr. Fox said pimps could use the legislation, and hookers, to prey on men.
The hearing is called: "The Standing Committee on Justice and Social Policy, Bill 117, The Domestic Violence Protection Act." The small audience of about 40 watching Tuesday's presentations was mainly silent, but broke into spontaneous applause at the end of a particularly tough presentation opposing the legislation. It was from a woman.
"Any man in my life is simply one phone call away from total destruction (when Bill 117 becomes law)," said Dori Gospordaric, co-founder of Second Spouses of Canada. "You have already provided protection for me. It's called the criminal justice system. Now you have provided for me the ultimate weapon. A phone call.
"Being mothers does not make us sacrosanct. It does not make us morally superior. There is no superiority of the uterus ... Funded women's groups claim to represent women. Which women? I am a woman and a mother and I don't care what the gender of my abuser, I want it to stop. You are funding women to abuse me."
She said she was speaking for tens of thousands of women who, as second wives, are guilty by association as public funding helps vilify and launch legal attacks on ex-husbands.
The hearing ended Tuesday with a joint presentation from MP Roger Galloway, co-chair of the federal Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access, and Senator Anne Cools, a member of that committee. Mr. Galloway said he heard some 550 presentations on couples issues, and was "no stranger to the problems." He considered the provincial plan overkill, and questioned the right of the province to override the Criminal Code. There is already too much confusion in processes that deal with failed relationships, he said.
"The Criminal Code is being swept aside by this bill."
Senator Cools, a founder of the women's shelter movement and now one of its most vocal opponents, said she was speaking from "decades of experience on the ground in this field.
"This is a human problem, not a gender problem. Both sexes are capable of violence. ... The issue has been falsely framed." She called the latest tilt to the rules of relationships: "A heart of darkness. ... In one decade we've gone from Father Knows Best to Fathers Molest."
She said the majority of men are not abusers, and the intervention order would turn loose a minority of women who would take advantage of the legislation's best intentions.
The report of the special joint committee was handed over to Justice Minister Anne McLellan a year ago and shelved. Ms. McLellan said at the time it would stay on the shelf for at least three years. It appears now in the election platform of the Alliance party. "We will follow the unanimous recommendations of the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access to ensure that shared parenting is the norm in the aftermath of divorce."
Any offer of relief for children caught in the battle zone of the one-sided gender war (only women's groups are funded) gets my vote.
Although the language of Bill 117 is gender neutral, all recognize it's aimed at men.
Conversation in front of the hearing room Tuesday often referred to Patrick Roy's situation in Colorado. In a fit of temper, the top NHL goalie damaged two doors in his home. When a man loses it and displays temper and frightens his spouse, that's abuse. He was arrested. His wife refused to co-operate with police, but it didn't matter. When she dialled 911, even though she hung up without saying anything, she no longer had input. Current thinking backed by protocols is that by dialing those digits, a woman admits she can't control things around her.
In tomorrow's Ontario, a man making Mr. Roy's mistake could have nothing left by the time the fingerprint ink dried.
Considering the amount of property involved, this could be considered another stretch. But under Bill 117, the door is open for an angry woman to freeze everything. Wealthy men could wind up joining their mortgage-strapped brothers, calling their mothers for a loan, or a sofa to sleep on.
Statistics are the bullets of this war, and all sides use them like snipers. Often there's no way of knowing where the shot came from, or if it was accurate.
Stating a case for a women's group, one presenter said it was common knowledge a woman suffers 24 assaults before she turns to the authorities. There were no questions or challenges from hearing committee members.
While politicians tinker with this new legal weapon, the public attitude seems to be to keep one's head down. For anyone wanting to get off a shot before it's too late, here's a target.
Ottawa-Nepean MPP Garry Guzzo is a member of the all-party Standing Committee on Justice and Social Policy. His number is 727-2657, or fax 224-3306, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill 117 guts men's rights
(Published in the Ottawa Citizen Dec. 20, 2000)
Just in time for Christmas, Ontario Attorney General Jim Flaherty has presented a gift-wrapped monster called Bill 117 that effectively removes the Charter rights of half the population -- the male half.
Gone with the flick of a quick vote are fundamental procedural rights and the presumption of innocence.
The vote was held in the Ontario legislature late Monday. The new law gives special courts powers that appear to circumvent the Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights.
Created a few years ago as domestic courts, and now officially known as Domestic Violence Courts, these special courts have now been given the power to temporarily strip a man of all he owns without him even being present to defend himself.
It's called an "intervention order" and is built on the premise that abused women are prisoners of economics. Bill 117 reverses those economics by permitting the court to transfer all property to her in an emergency ex parte hearing.
The most amazing thing about this Draconian approach to the war against domestic squabbles is that the media have turned a blind eye. Toronto newspapers didn't touch it.
The word "squabbles" is not an error. The definition of violence is now so broad that a raised voice, if it causes fright, is abuse, which translates to violence.
This column reported details of Bill 117 on Nov. 4. Reader reaction was the heaviest I've experienced in more than 30 years of column writing. Many refused to believe it. They thought I must have my facts wrong.
One of the strangest reactions was from a local radio talk show. Driving around one day after the Bill 117 column appeared, I heard a local talk-show host refuse callers' requests to discuss the bill.
He said he had checked it out with local MPP Garry Guzzo, who assured him things were not as reported in this column. Mr. Guzzo was a member of the standing committee that drew up the bill.
If readers found my views hard to swallow, they should read what Law Times writer Rob Martin had to say in his Nov. 13 column. He teaches constitutional law at the University of Western Ontario.
He wrote: "We are falling into the abyss of allowing hysteria to drive our public policy agenda. The leading source of hysteria today is domestic violence. This hysteria has led to a number of seriously misguided acts, as various persons have attempted to demonstrate their commitment to 'doing something' about domestic violence."
Mr. Flaherty certainly is doing something. But it's wrong, says Mr. Martin: "This bill is classic police-state legislation and violates just about every constitutional principle that anyone with even a minimal familiarity with our Constitution might think of."
There is already a zero-tolerance policy regarding domestic disturbances/violence. A major problem is the 911 call. Dialling that number means a life is at risk. Feuding couples don't realize until it's too late that by dialling 911 they are in effect reporting an attempted murder. Police no longer separate the battling couple and tell them to cool off. They take one of them -- 99 per cent of the time it's the man -- to jail.
He appears in front of a domestic court judge the next day. If he agrees to plead guilty, he can go home by promising to behave and to take a series of anger-management courses. If he refuses to plead, he faces lengthy delays in the criminal system, large legal bills, and he can't go home because a restraining order is part of the program.
Under Bill 117, while he's in jail overnight, his opponent (wife, ex-wife, girlfriend or date) can appear in front of a judge and ask for an intervention order. He can wake up owning nothing, with no place to go.
Proponents of the intervention order say he can apply to a judge to get his property back within 30 days. What they don't point out is that the other party has the legal right to be there. If she doesn't show up, the process is stalled. A court order can be issued, but family courts have a poor record of enforcing orders against women.
Senator Anne Cools, a founder of the women's shelter movement and now one of its most vocal opponents, appeared at Bill 117 hearings, appealing for reason. "This is a human problem, not a gender problem. Both sexes are capable of violence. ... The issue has been falsely framed."
This new approach, she said, was "a heart of darkness."
From my perspective as a reporter and a man, it's social vandalism.