Federally appointed judges will now receive greater education on domestic violence and coercive control due to a private member’s bill named after a four-year-old girl whose life came to a tragic end in Milton.
Bill C-233, informally known as ‘Keira’s Law,’ was passed by the Senate on Tuesday, April 18.
The bill will establish and enhance educational seminars for judges on matters related to intimate partner violence and coercive control.
It will also introduce into the Criminal Code electronic monitoring control, in some cases at the judicial interim release phase.
This measure is intended to help ensure the safety and security of intimate partner complaints and their children.
The law is named for four-year-old Keira Kagan, who died while on a court-ordered visit with her father, Robin Brown, at Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton in 2020.
Keira’s body was found at the bottom of a cliff, her father’s nearby.
While a coroner was unable to determine whether Keira’s death was an accident or a result of murder-suicide, her mother, Dr. Jennifer Kagan-Viater, has been adamant that her daughter was murdered by Brown as an act of revenge amid a long-standing custody dispute.
Kagan-Viater and Keira’s stepfather Philip Viater, who both advocated for the creation of Keira’s Law, spoke about its passing during a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 19.
“This bill signals a change in the way domestic violence will be treated by the family and criminal court system. Time’s up in terms of victims of domestic violence not receiving the protection they need, in terms of children being put in unsafe hands, into the hands of an abuser like what happened to our daughter Keira,” said Kagan-Viater.
“We need to see a change in the way judges understand domestic violence and coercive control and this bill brings about that change…We have gone through an immeasurable tragedy and we want to spare other children and other families from the horrific outcome we experienced.”
Viater said it was an emotional time for his family.
He said he and his wife were happy to see the bill passed unanimously by both the House of Commons and the Senate.
Viater noted the support the bill received shows that Canada as a whole takes these issues seriously and believes they require urgent attention.
“We hope that Keira’s legacy will be one of protection for victims and other children,” he said.
Member of Parliament Anju Dhillon, who brought the private member’s bill forward, said this legislative initiative aims to protect an intimate partner and their children against further violence following a separation, especially from partners where coercive control was exercised over their spouses.
“The message is clear, we all agree that more needs to be done to protect women and their children who are victims of domestic violence,” she said.
“Bill C-233 is a concrete step in the right direction.”
Oakville North-Burlington MP/Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety Pam Damoff said it is in the best interest of everyone that judges be well informed on the topic of family violence, and that their primary focus in considering custody in such cases be the the best interests of the children involved.
Kagan-Viater said that despite numerous red flags, Keira’s father was given access to Keira by a judge who had a background in labor and employment law.
“He (the judge) cut me off when I was on the stand talking about domestic violence and parenting and the effect on our daughters,” said Kagan-Viater.
“He said, ‘domestic violence is not relevant to parenting.’”
Keira’s mother is hopeful Bill C-233 will result in a shift in understanding that will prevent similar tragic outcomes.
She described her daughter as fierce and spunky and said she would have done great things.
“Keira had a motto, ‘Ninjas never quit.’ Even in the face of insurmountable obstacles you keep going, you keep battling,” said Kagan-Viater.
“That’s what Keira would want us to do and that’s what we’ve done. We’re not going away.”