Violent partners and people accused of domestic violence in Quebec could be ordered to wear tracking bracelets as early as next year.
Geneviève Guilbault, the province's public security minister, unveiled the $41-million project during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
It's the latest in a series of initiatives from the Quebec government meant to fight domestic violence, in a year where the province has been shaken by the deaths of well over a dozen women.
The tracking system will be made up of two pieces of equipment: The bracelet for the accused, and a notification device for the person the accused has been ordered to stay away from.
Should the accused enter what the province describes as a "pre-alert" zone, meaning that they are getting closer to the person in need of protection, authorities will advise the accused.
If the accused enters an "alert" zone, and is essentially in breach of conditions, both the authorities and the person in need of protection will be notified, and police officers will head to that person's home to make sure they are safe.
The person charged with a domestic violence offence will need to wear the bracelet at all times. The notification device doesn't need to be worn and can be put in a bag, for example.
Wednesday's announcement comes almost exactly a year after the public security minister announced that a feasibility study for the bracelet system would be carried out.
Guilbault described the project as "historic," and said it puts Quebec in a leadership position in the fight against intimate-partner violence.
"We're launching ourselves into something new," the minister said.
"It's been years that women demand the [tracking] bracelet. We had to do it the right way. We had to take the time to study it, evaluate it, see what was being done in other countries, and see how we could integrate it into our judicial system."
According to the minister, Quebec will be the only province in the country with such a system, and only six countries in the world have implemented it — England, France, Spain, Portugal, Australia and the United States.
To start, 16 tracking bracelets will be rolled out in the Quebec City region as early as next March, before gradually adding more across the province.
In order for the bracelet and notification device to be used, it will have to be imposed by either a judge, the director of a provincial detention centre, or the Commission québécoise des libérations conditionnelles, which is a provincial parole board for people who have been given sentences ranging from six months to two years less a day.
It can only be ordered with the consent of the person who would be protected by the tracking system. The violent partner, or the accused, has no say.
Tracking bracelet can 'frankly change my life'
During the news conference, Guibault was joined by Isabelle Charest, the minister responsible for the status of women, and Christine Giroux, an author and a victim of domestic violence.
Giroux said the tracking bracelet system would be a game changer for her and others who have suffered at the hands of a violent partner.
"Today, it's the 11th time going outside in four years. So, the electronic bracelet would frankly change my life," Giroux said. "I'll be able to go outside. I'll be able to live my life like everyone else has a right to live their lives."
In a statement, the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale, an association that represents Quebec's shelters for women, applauded the government's project, saying the pre-alert and alert systems should make it easier for authorities to intervene in the event someone is in breach of conditions.
The group insists, however, that the tracking system should not be used as a substitute for jail time for someone who is violent.
"The bracelet is not the best option in every case, most notably in cases where offenders present a high level of danger," said Chantal Arseneault, the group's president.
"In certain cases, detention remains the best precaution."
Quebec Senator Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu, who has advocated for years for the rights of victims and their families, said he was satisfied with the province's announcement.
"Today is an important day for the victims of conjugal violence," he said in a statement.