Judges will have to undergo regular training on domestic violence and coercive control if a bill known as Keira’s Law passes through Parliament.
It is named in honour of four-year-old Keira Kagan who was found dead with her biological father, Robin Brown, at the base of a cliff near Milton, Ont., in February 2020.
Two weeks earlier, Keira’s mother Jennifer Kagan had sought an urgent court order attempting to suspend Brown’s unsupervised visits with his daughter because she worried about an escalation in abusive behaviour.
The case was adjourned by the judge pending investigation by child services and to allow Brown a chance to respond, but Keira died before that process was complete.
Kagan told a news conference that she was the victim of domestic violence during her marriage to Brown, which ended when Keira was a baby.
Kagan said during appearances in family court, the judge told her the domestic violence and coercive control Kagan experienced were not relevant to Keira’s custody.
“Keira was put into unsafe contact with an extremely dangerous individual,” Kagan said. “And the result? She was killed at the tender age of four years old. She did not deserve this violent and premature end to life.”
A coroner’s investigation determined Keira died of blunt force trauma to the head. The report said police did not determine the exact circumstances of her death, but also noted that police had listed multiple risk factors when it came to Brown and domestic violence.
Kagan said judges across Canada are using “outdated stereotypes” of domestic violence and failing to recognize what it really looks like. That includes coercive control, a pattern of behaviour including assaults, threats, humiliation, intimidation and other abuse to harm or frighten a victim.
“We are here today because Keira was failed by a court system which is systemically uninformed about domestic violence, and did not put child safety at the forefront,” Kagan said.
Keira’s Law is one part of a private member’s bill introduced by Quebec Liberal MP Anju Dhillon, with the support of Ontario Liberal MPs Ya’ara Saks and Pam Damoff.
The bill also seeks to amend the Criminal Code so judges can consider requiring electronic monitoring bracelets when an accused charged with an offence against an intimate partner is granted bail.
It is the second time in recent years a bill was debated to add more training for judges. The first bill, which passed a year ago, requires judges to undergo training on sexual assault.
Damoff said there was some thought about adding domestic violence and coercive control training to that bill when it was before the Senate last year, but there was a fear that would further delay its passage.
That legislation, first introduced by former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, took four years and three attempts to become law.
Damoff said Keira’s Law is supported by all parties and has the blessing of the government. She is hopeful it will pass all stages of debate as soon as possible.
It passed the second stage of debate in the House of Commons on Friday and has been referred to the status of women committee.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2022.