Brock University: Adding femicide to Canada’s Criminal Code first step in long road, says Brock prof

Including femicide in the Criminal Code of Canada is a needed move, but one that must be backed by an action plan for change to begin, says Cristina Santos.

The Associate Professor in Brock University’s Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures supports the London Police Board’s recent call on the federal government to see Canada legally recognize femicide as gender-specific homicide.

But she also knows the work doesn’t stop there.

“We need action points and timelines to implement,” Santos says, “and ways in which to enforce them.”

According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, 48 per cent of solved homicides with a female victim were committed by a spouse or other intimate partner in 2015, the latest year data from Statistics Canada are available. The observatory also indicates Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than other women in Canada.

Even with inclusion in the Criminal Code and an action plan, it doesn’t mean rates of femicide — the killing of females by males because of their gender — will change, says Santos.

“Several countries in Latin America have incorporated feminicide in their legal codes, yet these crimes continue to rise,” research assistant Sarah Revilla Sanchez (MA ’18) says of the term, which looks more broadly at how violence against women is rooted in ongoing social and political gender inequalities. “Feminicide was incorporated in the Mexican Criminal Code 10 years ago. Today, Mexico is one of the countries with the highest gendered killing rates.”

Through a project funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant, Santos and Revilla Sanchez are currently researching violence against women in the context of the Argentinian disappearances of 1976 to 1983. Their work looks at the psychological impact trauma has on both individuals and society as a whole, and includes the study of both femicide and feminicide.

“Canada is suffering a national crisis of missing and murdered women and girls, and this is also part of an international crisis of a specific brand of gender-targeted violence and murder,” says Santos. Canada and some Latin American countries, she adds, share common points of colonial past and its legacies of racism and perceptions of the female body as another colonized subject.

“The racism and gendered violence of colonization has persisted into our modern times and endures in how we talk about power, gender and dominant patriarchal ideologies,” Santos says. “It is a global pandemic that can mark female bodies as ‘disposable’ and less grievable because of their gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality, amongst other factors.”

Santos points to social movements such as the REDress Project in Canada, Ni Una Menos in Argentina, and Zapatos Rojos in Mexico as forms of testimonial art that seek to raise awareness of femicide and violence against women as well as providing alternative ways to mourn and memorialize murdered and missing women. These types of testimony have the power to challenge the social and political ideologies behind racialized and gendered violence against women, she says.

“By defining femicide within the Canadian Criminal Code, we hope that it is a step towards reconciling a history of gendered violence and providing a testimony of social injustices by acknowledging historical truths previously overlooked from national discourses.”