By Taruna Arora, BWSS Legal Advocate
At BWSS, women who access our services often deal with an intersection of the law. As a legal advocate, I cannot provide legal advice but I provide legal information and help complete court forms. I also accompany women to court and sometimes, to lawyers. To assist women in dealing with the justice system, we offer advocacy workshops once a year where lawyers from the community deliver presentations on various topics related to family, immigration, and criminal law.
I work primarily with family and immigration law, but women often deal with other concerns such as rental tenancy or Ministry of Children and Family Development. In these situations, the women are often without savings and an understanding of the law in Canada. Some of the women who access our services are immigrants and others are Canadian citizens by birth. In either case, the law is complex and the overlap of different areas makes it even more difficult to problem solve. There are services available in the community such as access pro bono were women can see a lawyer for 30 minutes of free legal advice but these lawyers can only advise on one area of the law. Therefore, if a woman is dealing with multiple or intersecting law issues the problem is not solved.
Often time’s women do not have the finances to hire a lawyer. In these cases women need legal representation in court that a legal advocate cannot provide. The woman will then have to apply for Legal Aid. Legal Aid provides lawyers in limited circumstances for a limited number of hours and even if the woman qualifies, these hours are usually not enough to finish the work. The outcome is that women are forced to self represent. I have had numerous conversations with my friends who are lawyers and most have them lose sleep over a trial. So, women who barely speak the language, have minimal (if any) understanding of the legal system and are dealing with trauma find it extremely difficult to self represent especially since they are asked to stand up against the man who abused them for years. These women also find it hard to retain a job (if they have one) because they need so much time off to prepare for trial and then attend court.
At BWSS we help women apply for legal aid and appeal legal aid decisions as well. We also have a list of lawyers who understand the issue of violence and abuse against women; we make referrals to these lawyers as well. We hope that our role and services including counselling and legal advocacy help women navigate these resources and fill a gap that exists in the current system.
BWSS has written resources in response to this growing problem which are now available. Please visit our Legal Resources page to download the toolkit or manuals.
Last year, Battered Women’s Support Services responded to over 10,000 crisis calls from women and girls to get help and end violence. We could not provide this essential support without your contribution.