Methodology of criminal case studies

One objective of the Analysis to Action on Gender-Based Violence (AAGBV) Project is to develop an online platform to share gendered analysis toward systemic change. Part of this includes an archive of legal outcomes of gender-based violence criminal cases in the Thunder Bay region, along with a gender-based, intersectional analysis of the significance of judicial decision and other legal outcomes. 

Gender and race-based violence are ongoing systemic issues that impact our community. The goal of this section is to develop awareness and analysis of local jurisprudence and create public accountability measures.  We position this work as an alternative voice to some of the current unsanctioned courthouse reporting that is occurring locally, which is often framed by racist and sexist stereotypes without any lens of gender-based analysis. The reviewed criminal cases occurred over the past decade (2010 to present) and includes femicides, interpersonal and domestic violence and sexual assaults of women; we also included cases involving children in relation to domestic violence. In most criminal cases, the findings illustrate the challenges that survivors of gender-based violence experience when seeking justice within the legal system. This work also highlights the various areas in the legal system that are failing survivors and victims.  

Our analyses are framed around the legal, social and media responses to public cases of gender-based violence. However, it is important to recognize that each case and statistic represents a unique, personal and traumatic experience. We hope that by publicly summarizing and analyzing the failures of criminal jurisprudence, we can not only identity various biases at play – such as gender, racialcolonial, and class biases – but also urge the legal system to recognize that these issues are systemic and deep-seated within its institution. It is our hope that the analytical oversight we are producing can work to create substantive justice in Northwestern Ontario and provide some meaningful change from so many senseless losses. 

Analytical Frameworks 

Research was conducted from an intersectional feminist, gender-based analysis framework. All work was written and reviewed in collaboration with a committee consisting of academics, advocates, legal students and community members. There is particular emphasis in incorporating an anti-oppression lens, as well as and trauma- and violence-informed approaches to our research, as this is often missing in public descriptions of gender-based violence.  

While each case is unique, we developed a review framework that includes the following: 

Overview of the Case: in this section, we offer a case summary and outline how the case entered and progressed or regressed through the legal system. 

Criminal Case Details: this section outlines notable details of the legal trial, including: key legal players, trial duration, trial decision, witness testimony, and an analysis of the verdict and sentencing. 

Legal Impact of the Case: this section discusses any legal precedent arising from the case. 

Societal Impact of Case: this section discusses the broader cultural and societal considerations of the case, including the lasting impact of the community and an examination of the media coverage and its impact on social understandings of gender-based violence. 

 We draw conclusions based on the facts and information we have been able to access. Because of publication bans and the lack of coverage, there are some areas where we have had to make assumptions based on comparative analysis and precedents set in other cases. 

Criteria for Case Selection

We select cases within the jurisdiction of Thunder Bay and the Northwestern Ontario region. All cases are reported on by the media, with nearly all involving the police at the time of the incident.  The cases illustrate the varying forms of gender-based violence, from interpersonal and domestic violence, sexual assaults, cases involving children, and femicides.  A notable criterion for the cases we analyze is access to legal documentation and information, such as published judge’s decisions and trial or sentencing transcripts. The reviewed criminal cases range from 2010 onward, as it is difficult to obtain legal records of recent cases – let alone historical ones.  Our analyses extend to cases that resulted in criminal trials, as well as those that did not get to that stage in the legal process. 

Research Materials used for Case Analyses

Print and Online Media coverage 

  • We use the coverage by media as a means to measure the spectrum of society perspective and understanding of these gender-based violence crimes. Our primary media sources are local news coverage, both print and online media; in some cases, there was more media attention and coverage at the regional or provincial level, with rare cases gaining national coverage (R v. Donovan and Foucher (2014), R v. Bushby (2021)). In some cases, we have reviewed online media created by advocates and experts in the both the legal and academics fields.  

OIATH Annual Femicide Report & Media Grading Framework 

  • The Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses (OAITH) conducts an annual review and analysis of media  reporting on femicide and gender-based violence; this work is shared as an Annual Femicide List, based on media reporting of women murdered by men in Ontario. This work is invaluable for raising awareness of the ongoing violence against women in the province; the annual femicide lists are reviewed by the AAGBV Coordinator and GBVCC committee to establish cases for review. 
  • Since 2015, OAITH has annually reviewed and critically examined the mainstream news’ framing of femicides at the local, provincial, and national level. The tool summarizes the findings from a positive and negative framework checklist used in reviewing media articles. We have referenced these frameworks in our analysis of media related to our chosen cases.

B-Safer Risk Assessment Tool  

  • The B-SAFER is a 10-item structured guide for the assessment and management of risk in adult males and females with a history of intimate partner violence (IPV); risk assessment tools are used by police and social services to reduce the risk of violence when safety planning with women.  We reference the B-Safer Risk Assessment Tool when analyzing cases to factor in the perpetrator’s history of behavior relating to the crimes committed, showing the warnings signs of predicted violence and often the lack of intervening safety measures available. Factors of consideration include: history of violent acts, threats, or thoughts; incidents of escalation; violations of court orders; or violent attitudes. The use of the B-Safer Assessment is suitable for cases where information is known about the perpetrator’s history of violence and previous criminal charges. 
  • The use of the B-Safer Assessment is suitable for cases where information is known about the perpetrator’s history of violence and previous criminal charges. Publication bans and lack of information sharing is a large barrier to public safety and public awareness of the nature of high-risk gender-based violence cases. In cases where this information is not available, we will not be using this tool to make assumptions about the history and situation of the perpetrator (for example, in cases where the preparator and victim are unacquainted or have no history). 

Domestic Violence Death Review Committee Reports: 

  • The Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC) is a multi-disciplinary advisory committee established in 2003 that consists of representatives with expertise in domestic violence (law enforcement, the criminal justice system, the healthcare sector, social services and other public safety agencies and organizations). The DVDRC assists the Office of the Chief Coroner in the investigation and review of deaths of persons that occur as a result of domestic violence, or where the circumstances surrounding the death(s) are consistent with other cases reviewed by the DVDRC. 
  • Reviews are conducted only after all other investigations and proceedings (including criminal trials and appeals) have been completed. The case files may consist of records from the police, Children’s Aid Society (CAS), healthcare professionals, counselling professionals, courts, probation and parole; additional information considered within this review includes the history, circumstances and conduct of the perpetrators, the victims and their families.  Community and systemic responses are also examined to determine primary risk factors, to identify possible points of intervention and develop recommendations that could assist with the prevention of similar future deaths.  
  • One of the primary goals of the DVDRC is to make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths in similar circumstances and reducing domestic violence in general. We use these recommendations to inform the summary conclusions drawn in our analyses.

Legal Documents: judgements & transcripts 

  • A judgement (also referred to as a judge’s decision) is a document prepared by a trial judge that outlines their judicial reasoning along with the verdict. Judgement decisions for many cases in the Superior and Ontario Courts of Justice are available to the public through their online platform.  A transcript is a written record of spoken language in a court proceeding; transcripts usually include the arguments of the defense and prosecution, witness testimony, and the decisions of the judge.  In the introduction to her book, Elaine Craig underlines their key importance of transcripts when researching the experiences of survivors in courtrooms:  

“… the trauma of a trial is still better evidenced by the transcript than by what is written about the case by a judge. The power dynamics between the various parties, the humiliating exposure of the personal, and the overall cruelty of the process can emerge clearly from the transcripts accounts of the word spoken, the questions asked and answered, the emotions recorded” (Putting Trials on Trial: sexual assault and the failure of the legal profession, 2018) 

  • Both judgements and transcripts are invaluable to our analysis process, as they provide a full record of the legal proceedings and insights into the facts of each case. Unfortunately, in many cases, we do not have access to all the vital documents of the cases chosen for analysis. Historical cases of gender-based violence criminal trials may have coverage in the media but are lacking in accessible legal documentation. Access to judgement decisions and transcripts can be restricted for many reasons, such as a publication ban or cases involving minors. While there is an increase in access to judgment decisions online, not every decision is published; many decisions go through the courts on a daily basis, and we have found many cases involving gender-based violence are not chosen for public access.  

Legal Research articles 

  • We relied strongly on the body of research of the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). The website provides access to court judgments from all Canadian courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, federal courts, and the courts in all Canada’s provinces and territories. While CanLII is not an exhaustive database of the judgments of the Superior Court of Justice, it is a valuable source for this research. It is also invaluable as an accessible point for those outside of the legal system to be privy to the decisions made within courtrooms.  

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