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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Homicide, as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada, includes all acts of first degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter and infanticide. Essentially, criminal homicide involves "...causing the death of another person without legal justification or excuse" (CSC, 1995). Homicide does not include "deaths caused by criminal negligence, suicide, accidental or justifiable homicide" (Motiuk and Belcourt, 1995). For homicide to be defined as murder, it must be deemed intentional. According to section 231 of the Criminal Code, murder is considered first degree when it is planned and deliberate. It is also considered first degree when the victim is a police officer or a similar official acting in the course of his/her duties, death caused while committing or attempting to commit sexual assault, kidnapping and forcible confinement, hostage taking or hijacking an aircraft. Second degree murder is murder that is not defined as first degree murder while manslaughter is culpable homicide which is not defined as murder or infanticide. Infanticide is defined as when, by commission or omission, a woman causes the death of her newly born child at a time when she is not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth and her mind is disturbed.

Although the occurrence of homicide is fairly infrequent in comparison with other crimes, it is a crime that is often given considerable attention by the media and hence draws much public attention. In 1994, 15.5% of the women's incarcerated population was serving a sentence for homicide compared to 13.7% of the men's incarcerated population.

Past research examining homicide has limited utility for the women offender population, as it tends not to explore the differences between men and women homicide offences. As well, most of the research examining homicide has focused mainly on the American population. Thus, the results may not be generalizable to the Canadian population. It was the purpose of this study to examine the nature of homicide offences committed by women in Canada.

Based on the research that has examined women offenders convicted of homicide and public perception, the profile of women who commit homicide appear to be Caucasian and married and who rely on their partners for financial support while caring for children at the time of the offence. As a result of enduring years of frustration and abuse the women killed their abusive partners with a knife or a gun (Nouwens, 1991). Women convicted of homicide are usually thought to exhibit symptoms of the battered women's syndrome. Although this profile may be true for some women, it certainly does not capture all of the different reasons why women commit homicide. This belief is supported by research that suggests that the literature has understated the number of women who commit homicide for reasons other than to escape an abusive relationship (Brownstein et. al. 1994). It was also the purpose of this study to examine other motivations for why women commit homicide.