Manitoba Justice Minister and Attorney General Gord Mackintosh believes the deaths of two women in October reveal substantial gaps in protection for victims of domestic violence.
The province receives approximately 1,500 applications for protection orders every year and most applicants are women, Mackintosh told As It Happens host Carol Off Wednesday. In 2014, 54 per cent of the applications were denied.
Mackintosh wants to fast track legislation that will make it easier to get protection orders and strengthen the orders themselves.
New legislation could be introduced as early as December 2015.
Camille Runke, 49, and Selena Rose Keeper, 20, both applied for protection orders against their alleged killers. Runke's application was successful; however, she was found shot and killed Oct. 30 behind the company where she worked. Keeper's application was denied; she was found seriously injured Oct. 8 and died later in hospital.
Keeper's death prompted Mackintosh to ask the Manitoba Justice Department to review into how many protection order applications were granted last year. He was not pleased with the result.
"The majority of applications were not succeeding; they were getting dismissed," he said.
His early conclusion: the bar for how dangerous a situation has to be to grant a protection order ought to be lower.
"We have to make sure that when people come to the doors of justice, we open them wider," said Mackintosh.
"We have to keep plugging the gaps as they become identified."
The criteria given to judicial justices of the peace who hear applications for protection orders may be too rigid, Mackintosh said. They rely on specific dates and locations to determine the risk level, but this may leave out other important considerations, he said.
"I want to look to see if there's better training [that] could be provided to the decision makers," he said.
Tweaking laws not enough, some say
People who work with women at risk of domestic abuse say tweaking current legislation is not enough.
Deena Brock, provincial co-ordinator for the Manitoba Association of Women's Shelters, said justice officials need more training to understand the situation victims are in so they will stop turning away those who are looking for protection orders.
"It's a large number of people that are being refused, and we know some of those women have come from shelters," she said.
"We know they have safety issues. They wouldn't be in a shelter if they didn't. So why are they being refused?"
Brock said victims need someone to help them through the court process when applying for a protection order, and when they have that support, the protection order is more likely to be granted.
She said in her experience, women have more success with the help of a protection order designate.
"The person's been able to mentor them a little bit, explain what the process is so that they understand, and get them calmed down so that they can speak succinctly as opposed to freezing [up]. Because it is a scary process," she said.
Kim Storeshaw echoes that call. She runs the family violence programs at NorWest Co-Op Community Health, which offers legal support for women applying for protection orders.
Storeshaw said many of the women her organization tries to help have their applications denied.
"[A woman seeking a protection order] needs to indicate that she's fearful," she said.
"Sometimes what women will do is they'll go on their own down to the law courts and they won't get any coaching and they will not use the word 'fear.' She might be in an extremely high-risk situation and she'll be denied help."
Storeshaw recalls one case in particular, in which a woman who was desperately frightened asked for a protection order.
"She had a gun pointed to her head three days prior and went to see her lawyer who referred her to us," she said.
"When she went in front of the [justice of the peace], the JP said, 'Well, he hasn't called you for three days, so you're not in imminent danger.' That was extremely frustrating."
NorWest Co-Op's A Woman's Place program offers legal advice to women free of charge. Storeshaw said last month, they had 48 cases of people needing legal help on domestic violence issues.