Women from around the world leave violence in their home countries to come to Canada. Arriving in Canada they often face discrimination and isolation, afraid to report violence usually in fear of further victimization and/or deportation. This fear of deportation, even though they may have the right to remain in Canada, often comes from their abusive partner who may keep them uninformed of their full rights as a form of control. Many women new to Canada are at a higher risk for violence due to economic and language barriers.
Immigrant and refugee women as well as women with precarious immigration status who are experiencing abuse in their relationships can fall through the cracks of social safety nets as many social service providers find they are unable to include, Refugee or non-status women that experience violence, in their mandate.
For the past 36 years, Battered Women’s Support Services has developed innovative programs, entered into partnerships, created resources and publications to become an organization that is truly responsive to the unique and diverse needs of women new to Canada. We work with immigrant and refugee women and women with precarious immigration status dealing with violence in their intimate relationships assisting them in navigating the legal system while providing crisis intervention and related supports.
In January 2015 alone, 337 women accessed services at Battered Women’s Support Services: victim services, support groups, legal advocacy, employment program, and counselling. 42% self-identified as immigrant and 2% identified as refugee, furthermore, some women were unsure of their immigration status.
Language Specific Support
Our range of services in over 20 languages to women new to Canada including Crisis Support, Counselling – Long term and Stopping the Violence Counselling, Victim Services, Legal Advocacy, Advancing Women’s Awareness Regarding Employment (AWARE) Program, Latin American Women’s Program. Battered Womens Support Services offers language specific programming and can provide services in 29 languages. Language service programs are: Latin American support groups, AWARE Farsi speaking group, and counselling services provided in Spanish.
BWSS Specialized Support for Immigrant Women
Battered Women’s Support Services has embarked on several initiatives to facilitate change in our communities and to end violence against women as well publications and resources for women, services providers and the public.
Changes in Immigration guidelines continue to have a negative impact on the lives of immigrant women and their children. Specifically, in October 2012 Canada’s federal government amended immigration regulations by introducing the status of “conditional permanent residence” for spouses. This amended means that as a condition of their permanent residence status, some spouses “must co-habit continuously in a conjugal relationship” for two years after they receive their permanent residence. What is problematic with Conditional Permanent Residence is sponsored spouses in abusive relationships are predominantly women of colour, an already disadvantaged group. This amendment puts already vulnerable women at greater risk of abuse by creating additional barriers, on already existing barriers, to leave an abusive spouse.
Gender Persecution and Law Reform
For several years, Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) has been raising the alarm about the relationship between gender violence and precarious immigration for women, in general, and specifically from Mexico. The devastating situation for Lucia Vega Jimenez, a Mexican woman, who strangled herself, December 2013, while in custody at Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) at Vancouver International Airport awaiting deportation to Mexico. During the inquest BWSS applied, was denied participant status into the inquest, however after issues of gender violence were illuminated, BWSS applied to the Coroner again and appeared as a witness Monday, October 6, 2014.
For women who have experienced violence, an interview can happen within 20 days after they have arrived in Canada or filed a refugee claim in Canada is too soon for them to be prepared to discuss the basis of their claim with an official of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). No matter how friendly or well-trained officials from the IRB are in asking questions of claimants, trust is something that takes time to build. The challenge is that there will be many women who slip through the cracks, who do not have access to counsel making these types of requests on their behalf. If the norm is to have the hearing within 60 or 90 days without any type of written statement, there is grave concern that for many claimants this will mean decisions are made on their cases without an opportunity for them to fully present the facts of their case.
There is an understanding that violence is significantly felt by women with precarious immigration status and that there is a need to prevent this violence from occurring by challenging and shifting unjust practices in Vancouver. Although more work remains to be done, the forum in Vancouver was an inspiring example of how service providers, immigrant women and Indigenous leaders can work together to support women whose full humanity remains unrecognized in Canada.
Resources For Service Providers
A manual that takes a woman-centred approach to managing the spectrum of needs for women new to Canada from settlement to empowerment. Though not meant to be conclusive, it is written as an exploration of ideas illuminating, present recurring issues, and critique existing practices.
Resource Manual for Lawyers Working With Battered Immigrant Women
The lawyers’ toolkit provides lawyers with practical tools which will foster effective communication with and legal representation of battered Immigrant women. The toolkit emphasizes the importance of placing women within a larger social context by providing a broad analysis of the various social and psychological factors impacting Immigrant women’s lives. More importantly, this resource offers practical tools and strategies for lawyers.
Integral to BWSS Engaging Immigrant Women in the Legal System Project is the involvement of and input from our communities. Immigrant women who are also community workers and/or women support workers in their own communities carry a wealth of knowledge gained from their own experience, and from working directly with immigrant women, that they willingly agreed to share with us. BWSS held three separate discussions with workers from the Persian, Latin American and South Asian communities. During these sessions, women spoke about their communities and how culture affects immigrant women’s lives in every aspect. The cultural context in which immigrant women live is unique to each community; however, similar themes of women’s oppression, manifested through cultural norms, values, histories and beliefs, emerged during each discussion. Each discussion revealed the distance between these identified communities and the Canadian legal system.
Resources For Women
The Toolkit for Immigrant Women Working with a Lawyer provides practical tips and tools for Immigrant women working with lawyers. The toolkit is framed in the cultural background of Immigrant women; it is designed to be accessible and informative. Currently the toolkit will be translated into Farsi, Spanish and Punjabi.
For Immigrant Women: Online Publications & Resources for Immigrant Women
This is a list of legal publications and resources that are available online through external websites; they are helpful for immigrant women who are negotiating the legal system in BC.
Additional Resources and Information
In recent years, Battered Women’s Support Services has become increasingly alarmed by the growing number of women accessing our services who have been arrested for allegedly perpetrating domestic violence against their partners. In our experience these arrests are occurring despite the fact that in all cases women were in relationships where they were being abused.