OTTAWA - A major federal investigation into spousal violence says it cost society at least $7.4 billion for the thousands of incidents that occurred in just one year.
The Justice Canada study examined a broad range of economic impacts, from policing and health-care to funerals and lost wages, for every incident of spousal violence in 2009.
Drawing on a Canada-wide police database, researchers found almost 50,000 cases of spousal violence reported to police that year, more than 80 per cent of them involving female victims. The cases included 65 homicides, 49 of them women.
The study also mined an annual Statistics Canada telephone survey, which estimated some 336,000 Canadians in 2009 were victims of some form of violence from their spouse. The definition of spouse included married, common-law, separated, same-sex and divorced partners.
The authors then meticulously accounted for all costs associated with the violence, from the obvious — legal bills for prosecutions and emergency-room visits — to the painfully personal.
The latter includes purchasing special telephone services, such as call display, to identify a stalking spouse or ex-spouse, usually male; or moving expenses incurred to escape harassment and assault by relocating to another community.
Altogether, total costs were conservatively estimated at $4.8 billion for female victims and $2.6 billion for male victims.
"Spousal violence is a widespread and unfortunate social reality that has an effect on all Canadians," says the 145-page report, completed this fall and obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
"Victims of spousal violence are susceptible to sustaining costly and long-lasting physical, emotional and financial consequences. ... Every member of society eventually feels the impact of spousal violence through the additional financial strain imposed on publicly funded systems and services."
The study is the third produced by Justice Canada since 2011 on the comprehensive cost of crime, all using similar methodology.
The first looked at the economic impact of all reported crimes in 2008 ($99.6 billion); the second, the costs of gun-related crime in 2008 ($3.1 billion). The latter was never published, given the politically charged subject matter, but was obtained earlier this year by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
A Vancouver academic who has conducted her own costing research into women who have left abusive partners welcomed the study as strong evidence that violence against women remains all too prevalent in Canada.
"There's this 'you've come a long way, baby' kind of ethos in Canada ... where people have a sense that perhaps violence is lessening, perhaps it's less of a problem, perhaps women have greater equality, and that translates into less violence," Colleen Varcoe said in an interview.
"There simply isn't any evidence of that."
Varcoe was lead researcher for a 2011 study that examined in detail costs associated with a sample of 309 women who left abusive partners. The study then extrapolated the annual economic impact across Canada for all such abused women at $6.9 billion. Differing methodologies do not allow for direct comparison with the Justice Canada study.
In the Justice Canada study, researchers found Canada's justice system bore only about seven per cent of total costs, including legal aid. Third parties — such as employers, social-service agencies and children — incurred some 12 per cent.
Victims themselves bore the greatest cost burden, at more than 80 per cent or some $6 billion in 2009.
The sometimes murky estimates for the dollar value of victims' pain and suffering, loss of life, and other so-called intangibles amounted to $5.5 billion. The researchers were careful to draw on commonly accepted amounts established by courts, insurance companies and even the Treasury Board of Canada.
The report is also deliberately conservative: "Some cost items are underestimated as a precaution while others are omitted entirely."
Varcoe says such studies help demonstrate to service-cutting governments that reducing access to housing, social services or legal aid does not make costs disappear but simply shifts them onto victims, employers, and troubled families, including vulnerable children.
A spokesman for Justice Canada says the report "was designed to fill a knowledge gap in Canada and raise awareness and understanding on the impact of spousal violence among the public and professionals in the criminal justice, health and social services sectors, among others."
Christian Girouard also said the research helps fulfil Canada's commitments under the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.