Quebec: no more surveillance bracelets in 2023 to neutralize attackers

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — 12 months ago, Quebec became the first jurisdiction in Canada to launch a two-pronged tracking system for domestic violence suspects, and while victims’ rights groups welcome the technology, they want to know more about its effectiveness.

The tracking equipment consists of a bracelet worn by the suspect and a mobile application that allows the victim to monitor the suspect’s movements.

Since the beginning of the program, Quebec authorities have used the bracelets in 20 cases, mainly in Quebec and in a few other regions of the province, excluding Montreal.

Louise Riendeau, spokesperson for a victims’ rights group that works with women’s shelters, says bracelets are a tool, but not a magic bullet.

“We do not know how often the authorities plan to order suspects to wear the bracelets in relation to the number of times the devices are used”, explains in an interview Ms. Riendeau, who is a member of the Regrouping of houses for women victims of domestic violence.

« There is very little information available, » laments Louise Riendeau, who adds that her group does not know whether the technology makes victims feel safer. “We don’t know if the victims felt safer or if there were certain problems; if it put them in a state of hypervigilance or if, on the contrary, everything was positive. »

The bracelet uses geolocation technology and is equipped with a loudspeaker. If a suspect violates its conditions _ for example by being too close to the victim’s home or workplace _ they will receive an alert via the bracelet’s speaker. If the suspect does not comply, the police are contacted.

Bracelets can only be used with the victim’s consent. They can be imposed on suspects who are released on bail, who are serving a community sentence or who are conditionally released after serving a sentence in a provincial prison. Suspects of domestic violence may be ordered to wear them by a judge, a prison warden or an officer of the parole board or the Quebec correctional service.

Victim advocates say bracelets shouldn’t replace detention.

In one case in the Quebec City area, shortly after the devices were introduced, a man with a history of domestic violence offered to wear a bracelet while out on bail, but a judge denied the request. The judge ruled that the defendant had a history of breaching bail conditions and ordered him remanded in custody, adding that it was not up to the victim to manage the risk of the defendant violating court orders .

Victim advocates also want to know if the technology can be effective in rural areas, where police often patrol large areas and may not be able to respond quickly.

“The challenge is that Quebec is a large territory and that cellular and Internet reception is not perfect everywhere,” recalls Louise Riendeau. “We would like to have more information on the use of technology to ensure that it can be effective in less densely populated places than Quebec City. »

Ms. Riendeau reports that groups have requested a meeting with the Minister of Public Safety, François Bonnardel, to obtain details on how the bracelet is deployed.

The widespread deployment of the tracking system is planned for 2023, including in Montreal. A total of about 500 wristbands will be available across the province, and officials said Quebec’s program is expected to cost around $41 million over five years and more wristbands could be added, if there is demand.

The wristband scheme is one of 190 recommendations in a December 2020 government-mandated report to tackle sexual violence, a list that includes the creation of specialized courts to deal with cases of sexual and domestic violence. For now, the bracelets are only used for suspects or offenders serving a provincial sentence, as the project is carried out by the Government of Quebec.

« The decision to adopt the bracelet for people sentenced to a federal sentence is the exclusive responsibility of the Government of Canada, » said Louise Quintin, spokesperson for the Quebec Ministry of Public Security, in an email. “However, Quebec invites its federal and provincial counterparts to follow suit with the adoption of such a measure and will be happy to provide them with the benefit of its expertise, if necessary. »

In Ottawa, Bill C-233, a private member’s bill, would amend the Criminal Code to require a judge to consider electronic monitoring devices before releasing suspects involved in domestic violence cases. Conservative Quebec Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a longtime advocate for victims’ rights, has tabled Bill S-205, which would require a person accused of domestic violence to wear an electronic tracking bracelet upon release on bail.

A spokesperson for the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) confirms that the agency also uses tracking bracelets to ensure suspects adhere to curfews and other conditions, but says the technology is not accompanied of an application for victims.

“CSC continues to monitor the progress of the provincial electronic surveillance program targeting domestic violence in Quebec,” federal authorities said in an email.

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