Deborah Sinclair (Canadian social worker)

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Deborah Sinclair
Occupation social worker
Known for serving as a expert witness in cases involving intimate partner violence

Deborah Sinclair is a Canadian social worker who has specialized in working with women who are victims of intimate partner violence.[1] She is known for serving as an expert witness in court cases where intimate partner violence has played a role. She has been working with victims of violence for over thirty years. [2]

In 1985 the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services published a 185 page manual Sinclair wrote, entitled "Understanding Wife Assault A Training Manual for Counsellors and Advocates".[3][4] Lois Mitchell quotes Sinclair's book in the Baptist Atlantic: "Two-fifths of all homicides in Canada are between spouses. The vast majority of the victims are women.Those women who do kill their partners are usually acting in self-defence."[5] Transition House, a shelter in Newfoundland, quotes Sinclair's defintion of abuse on its home page.[6] In her 1998 book "Search for a Safe Place" Vijay Agnew notes a gap in Sinclair's book -- that it does not address the complications of abuse in minority communities from different cultures.[7]

In 2002, Sinclair gave several days of testimony before the inquest into the deaths of Gillian Hadley and Ralph Hadley, a murder-suicide.[8] She noted that support for men at risk of abusing their partners was not available, unless they had already been charged with a violent crime.

In 2010 the YWCA gave Sinclair a woman of distinction award.[9] Sinclair was the keynote speaker at the Second Annual Health Equity Forum. In 2010, she was a member of the organizing committee, sat on the Plenary Panel, and several other panels, at the Reducing the Risk of Lethal Violence conference, sponsored by the Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women and Children.[2]

In 2014, when she was a witness in R. v. Hutt, the judge agreed with objections from the lawyers for the Defence, and barred Sinclair from characterizing brutal treatment as "torture", and from introducing documents about torture from Amnesty International.[10][11]

Sinclair's testimony at Joshua Boyle's trial was challenged.[1] Prosecutors had Sinclair prepare a 19 page report on the case.[12] Under questioning from Boyle's lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, Sinclair acknowledged she "did not profess to be an expert on whether certain effects resulted from domestic abuse or long-term captivity."[13] Christie Blatchford noted that Greenspon seemed to intend to challenge both Sinclair's expertise and her neutrality.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kristy Nease. Joshua Boyle's trial opens with estranged spouse electing to lift publication ban, CBC News, 2019-03-25. Retrieved on 2019-03-27. “The Crown's first witness, registered social worker Deborah Sinclair, testified in general terms Monday about abusive relationships and how victims of abuse and trauma behave, citing a report she prepared for the Crown.”
  2. 2.0 2.1 Threat Assessment and Risk Management in Domestic Violence Cases: An Overview of Ontario Justice and Community Collaboration for 2010 and Future Directions, Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women and Children, 2010. Retrieved on 2019-03-27. “Deborah Sinclair is a senior social worker, consultant, trainer and community organizer in independent practice in Toronto, Ontario. She has served as an expert witness in court cases, and in October 2002, testified as an expert witness at the inquest into the murder of Gillian Hadley and suicide of Ralph Hadley.”
  3. Deborah Sinclair (1985). Understanding Wife Assault A Training Manual for Counsellors and Advocates. Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services. ISBN 9780772905406. Retrieved on 2019-03-27. 
  4. Deborah Sinclair leads the struggle to end domestic violence, The Globe and Mail, 2010-10-29. Retrieved on 2019-03-27. “When Ms. Sinclair began her career nearly 30 years ago, there were few places for abused women and children to seek help, and social stigmas that put the victim at fault were still accepted. At her first job at Family Services Association of Metropolitan Toronto in the late 1970s, Ms. Sinclair co-founded the Domestic Violence Project, a community intervention model that set the groundwork for her manual, which is still used as a teaching tool both nationally and internationally for police officers and counsellors on the front lines of domestic violence intervention.”
  5. Lois Mitchell. Family Violence: Breaking the Silence, Baptist Atlantic, December 2005. Retrieved on 2019-03-28.
  6. WIFE ABUSE: A Crime. Transition House. Retrieved on 2019-03-28. “Deborah Sinclair, defines wife assault in Understanding Wife Assault, as "involving the intent by the husband to intimidate, either by threat or by use of physical force on the wife's person or property. The purpose of the assault is to control her behavior by the inducement of fear.”
  7. Vijay Agnew (1998). In Search of a Safe Place: Abused Women and Culturally Sensitive Services. University of Toronto Press, 41, 74, 155. ISBN 9780802081148. Retrieved on 2019-03-28. 
  8. Peter Smalls. Don't let accused abusers free: Expert `Contain' those who face charges, inquest told, Toronto Star, 2002-12-01. Retrieved on 2019-03-27. “Workers in the justice, women's shelter and children's aid systems who help abused women are "a beleaguered group" under tremendous stress, Sinclair said. "They don't feel that they have the resources to do the job, and we get a tragedy like this."”
  9. Keynote Address - Second Annual Health Equity Forum. Nova Scotia Government YouTube channel (2014).
  10. (2018) Intimate Partner Violence, Risk and Security: Securing Women’s Lives in a Global World. Routledge. ISBN 9781351791991. Retrieved on 2019-03-27. 
  11. Meghan Hurley. 'A living horror': The tales of two abused women — and how one survived, Ottawa Citizen, 2014-12-22. Retrieved on 2019-03-27. “Deborah Sinclair, a social worker and domestic violence expert who testified at Hutt’s trial, compares the tactics abusers use with intimate partners to the way human traffickers groom victims. They become quickly, intensely involved, saying everything the partner wants to hear. It’s called the entrapment stage, Sinclair says.”
  12. Christie Blatchford. BLATCHFORD: Neutrality of Crown witness questioned at start of Joshua Boyle trial, The Telegram, 2019-03-26. Retrieved on 2019-03-27. “Thus far the only witness to testify has been Deborah Sinclair, a social worker-cum-feminist-activist Crown prosecutors want to have qualified as an expert in domestic violence and trauma. It appears, by the way Boyle’s lawyer Lawrence Greenspon questioned Sinclair’s credentials Monday, that he disputes both her expertise and neutrality.”
  13. Jim Bronskill. Assault trial begins for Joshua Boyle, former Afghanistan hostage, National Observer, 2019-03-29. Retrieved on 2019-03-27. “Lawrence Greenspon, Boyle's lawyer, took the court through various aspects of Sinclair's work. He noted she did not profess to be an expert on whether certain effects resulted from domestic abuse or long-term captivity.”