Manitoba's justice minister has overhauled the Domestic Violence and Stalking Act to allow immediate orders of protection to people in new types of relationships.
Previously, the law only provided immediate protection to people living together. Now, the law has been changed to offer protection to people who are dating, and to other family relationships such as parents and children or grandparents and grandchildren.
A protection order can prohibit the people named from coming to the victims' homes or workplaces and following or communicating with them. It may also force them to turn over any weapons they may have.
The changes are being applauded by people who work with victims of physical and sexual abuse in shelters. But defence lawyers say the law could face legal challenges under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because the person the order is granted against is considered guilty before he has a chance to defend himself.
"It's a little vague, because there are some things that aren't defined clearly. It's now extended beyond what it was extended to before to include dating relationships. What does that mean?" said Jeff Gindin, past president of the Manitoba Defence Lawyers Association.
"Maybe there was one date or a cup of coffee. That's suddenly sufficient to allow someone to get an order against someone without the usual hearing or chance to object, because there's a lot of shortcuts in this act, making it easier to get protection and prevention orders, and there are dangers with that because the other side doesn't get their chance to get their say."
Off the record, police officers and prosecutors will tell you that these protection orders are often used by angry women who want to get back at their boyfriends or husbands for some slight, real or imagined.
One call to the cops with a sob story about being slapped around and suddenly he's kicked out of the house and facing criminal charges.
And even if police have genuine doubts about the woman's story, they can't use their discretion to let the man off. They have to arrest him, and the prosecutors have to proceed with the charges.
Usually when the wife or girlfriend cools down and realizes that she's put her man into real trouble, she recants her claims of abuse. The charges end up dismissed, but the damage to the relationship and the husband or boyfriend's life and reputation lasts forever.
These women cause real difficulties for women who suffer genuine abuse and whose calls for help might not be believed as a result.
The powers in the act itself have serious consequences, intended for truly abusive and dangerous men (and women), and should not be invoked lightly just to settle an argument that's getting out of hand.
Is it any wonder that men think that the legal system is stacked against them in domestic matters?
Source: CBC Manitoba