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Canada shaped China’s new domestic abuse law: feds

By Peter Mazereeuw      

Domestic violence had become a politically 'safe' human rights issue for other countries to discuss with China’s government, which knew it had to make progress on the issue, says Canada's ex-ambassador.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Ottawa in September. Under Mr. Li, China sent a delegation to Canada in 2014 to learn how Canada's legal system handled domestic abuse. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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Canada’s federal government helped to guide China through the drafting of its first national domestic abuse law passed late last year, even fielding a visit from top Chinese lawmakers working on the project.

Chinese officials “turned to Canada for inspiration” in the early stages of drafting the legislation, which explicitly outlaws physical and psychological abuse in domestic relationships for the first time in that country, according to Global Affairs Canada.

The Canadian foreign ministry even boasted that it “was able to influence” the drafting of the landmark legislation in its annual performance report for last year. The federal Justice and Public Health departments and local government agencies hosted visiting Chinese officials working on the legislation.

Passed in December 2015, China’s law “prohibits any form of domestic violence,” formally defines domestic violence, and streamlines the process for obtaining restraining orders, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. The law covers married and unmarried opposite-sex couples who live together, and children in foster care. It covers both psychological and physical abuse, but does not apply to same-sex couples.

A delegation of senior Chinese officials visited Canada in October 2014 to meet with Canadian counterparts in the Justice, Status of Women, and Public Health departments and “learn from Canadian experiences in combating domestic violence,” according to Global Affairs Canada.

Canada also provided input into the first two drafts of the Chinese law passed last December, according to the Canadian foreign ministry, which called it an “important milestone” despite “certain shortcomings.”

“Canada’s efforts … have to an extent helped shape the final text of the law,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Kristine Racicot in an emailed response to questions.

Chinese officials were interested in some of the definitions around abuse used in Canadian law, which behaviours are subject to criminal punishment, and when mediation should be used, said Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as Canada’s ambassador to China from October 2012 to October 2016.

Domestic violence had become a politically “safe” human rights issue for other countries to discuss with China’s government, which knew it had to make progress on the issue, said Mr. Saint-Jacques.

At the time of the Chinese delegation’s visit, former Conservative MP John Baird was serving as Canada’s foreign minister, and former Conservative MP Peter MacKay was serving as the country’s justice minister. Neither responded immediately to requests to be interviewed.

Under former Conservative MP and foreign minister John Baird, Canada’s foreign affairs department helped Chinese officials to shape the early drafts of what became their first major domestic abuse legislation, passed in December 2015. Photograph by Jolanda Flubacher courtesy of the World Economic Forum

CIDA laid the groundwork

“It’s a good example of reaping the fruits of long-term collaboration,” said Mr. Saint-Jacques in an interview.

The now-defunct Canadian International Development Agency helped to build ties between the two countries on the issue of domestic violence for years, funnelling $5-million between 1998 and 2005 towards a project with the All-China Women’s Federation, a quasi-governmental Chinese agency, to help increase co-operation between the women’s federation, police, and Chinese courts in dealing with domestic violence, according to Global Affairs Canada and Mr. Saint-Jacques.

Chinese officials approached Mr. Saint-Jacques early in the process of drafting the law to ask that he facilitate a visit of Chinese lawmakers to Canada, he said. Canada agreed, and the Chinese officials ultimately came to examine how Canadian government, judicial, and social service agencies handled domestic abuse cases, he said.

The Canadian embassy’s efforts were bolstered by Maureen McTeer, a Canadian lawyer and the wife of former prime minister Joe Clark, who participated in a series of events focused on women’s rights at the Canadian Embassy in China in 2015. The events were held to mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Fourth World Conference of Women, held in Beijing in 1995.

Routine to consult other countries: embassy

Domestic abuse has long been an issue kept hidden in Chinese society, but that is beginning to change. In 2011, Kim Lee, the American wife of Chinese celebrity entrepreneur Li Yang, sparked controversy in China by publishing a photo of a swollen head wound she said she had received from her husband, and was ignored by Chinese police. Mr. Li later admitted to the China Daily that he hit his wife, but said he didn’t think she would reveal it to the public since it’s “not Chinese tradition to expose family conflicts to outsiders.”

About one-quarter of married Chinese women experience domestic violence at some point, but few report it to authorities, says a press release from the Chinese government.

Chinese officials were willing to discuss the issue with Canada’s government thanks to their past co-operation, said Mr. Saint-Jacques, and would later say Canadian laws and practices around domestic violence served as the “inspiration” for the Chinese law.

The Chinese Embassy in Canada said it was a “long-standing practice” for China to learn, for reference, from the “good legislative experience” of other countries.

Canada and China have “sound exchanges” in the justice field, said a statement from Yang Yundong, a diplomat and spokesperson for the embassy.

Spousal violence occurred in about four per cent of Canadian couples between 2009 and 2014, down from about seven per cent from the decade prior, according to Statistics Canada.

Same-sex violence left out

Canada’s criminal code does not explicitly identify domestic abuse as a crime, but Canadian authorities can use a variety of offences within the code to prosecute various types of abuse, according to the federal Justice Department.

However, while Canadian laws against violence and harassment apply equally, in principle, regardless of sexual orientation, China’s law does not cover same-sex couples.

Guo Linmao, a Chinese government official, told Reuters that the law did not cover same-sex couples, since the government had “not yet discovered” a problem of violence between same-sex couples.

Same-sex relationships are not commonly discussed in Chinese society, said Mr. Saint-Jacques, and China’s government may have not been ready to publicly acknowledge those relations in its law.

peter@hilltimes.com

@PJMazereeuw

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