Duncan’s Judge Wood remembered for commitment to curb violence

Judge Josiah Wood may have died in early June but his legacy to the Cowichan Valley will be a special court that helps victims of domestic violence.

Wood, 73, who was Joe to many, was notable for his humanity, according to Cathy Welch, program supervisor at the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society.

"Watching him in court, you could see he respected everybody who came before him. That didn’t mean that whatever they’d done was fine. It included accountability as well but the respect was there," she said.

Safety was another priority for Wood, she said.

"Particularly in the realm of domestic violence; safety for women and the community as a whole. That was particularly important for him; it was a quality where he went above and beyond others."

A number of Cowichan Valley agencies have been using a team approach to deal with domestic violence, particularly where prolific offenders are involved and, although Judge Wood was not directly a member of that group, his actions on the bench were still part of the follow-through moving forward.

"We were involved because our mandate is to work with the victims of violence, domestic violence or childhood abuse or sexual assault. We’ve always had relationships with the police and with Crown," Welch said.

An initiative almost a decade ago between then North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP Inspector Linton Robinson and Judge Keith Bracken, who was a provincial court judge at the time, led to the starting up of a special domestic violence court.

There was a backlog in those days that meant it might take some time for a case even to be heard.

"And by that point, who knew what had happened," Welch said.

"The idea of having a designated court day where they only deal with domestic violence cases – on Wednesday every other week – allows cases to move through a lot faster."

Wood took that idea and ran with it, partly because of his history presiding over a huge case in Vernon in 1996 where a woman was murdered by her estranged husband and she and eight of her family members were also murdered before the perpetrator himself committed suicide.

"The domestic violence court initiative here started with Judge Bracken but I think [Wood] moved it further than it would have gone, in part because he presided over that enquiry in Vernon and he made many, many recommendations in his report which are some of the founding framework for our domestic violence court here," Welch said.

It’s important that families don’t feel isolated because some people come from backgrounds where it was considered the normal response to problems.

"One of the key elements Judge Wood stumbled upon is that victims must have a chance to meet with the victim service community and identify the risks in the relationship."

Three sessions are usually arranged and these are often the first time the victim has come into contact with any of the helping agencies like CWAV, she said.

When the RCMP arrest someone on domestic violence charges, a no-contact order may come into effect but often the people involved want to change that right away.

With the court meeting every two weeks, it was possible to act on these requests sooner but "Judge Wood wasn’t comfortable till they’d talked about safety planning," Welch said.

"Most women try numerous things before they phone the police. Judge Wood understood that they would need a period to reflect. From our perspective that definitely has made a big difference for women. That practice has become part of the domestic violence response by the court. Many women will say that over the three sessions they have learned a lot."

Wood will be missed but "he was part of a community of social responders and it’s up to the rest of us to see this continues," Welch said.