The purpose of the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Court Advocate is to identify patterns in the criminal and family court systems to better understand the gaps that put women at a continued and/or increased risk of harm. Commencing in November 2021, this project involves daily observation of virtual criminal court proceedings including bail hearings, overnight arrests, and plea hearings;  the project also supports survivors of gender based violence as they navigate criminal and family court. The court observation aims to record information on GBV offenders including but not limited to age, race, gender, and their history of violence.  Information on the justice system’s response is also recorded, identifying how the actions and/or decisions of justice system players, like defence lawyers, crown prosecutors, Justices of the Peace and Judges, affect outcomes for survivors. This research is motivated by the high rates of GBV in Thunder Bay. 

To date, the court observations have confirmed that survivors of GBV are at a heightened risk of continued violence while their (ex) partner is released with bail conditions or a police undertaking. Extremely high rates of release, regardless of the severity of the charges and/or their past criminal history,  places women at a high risk of continued victimization. Despite the clear patterns of system involvement failing to protect women, there is little response from the criminal justice system. The data collected on criminal court response aims to shed light on these issues and draw attention to gaps in the criminal justice system that continue to place women and their children at risk of ongoing violence. 

For more information on the Court Watch Project, please contact [email protected]. 

The Court Watch Project is administered by the Northwestern Ontario Women’s Centre in Thunder Bay, Ontario. We acknowledge the financial support of Women and Gender Equality Canada.

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