January 26, 2009

Contact: Angela Marie MacDougall
Executive Director
Battered Women’s Support Services
The Province of British Columbia Chooses to Deny Justice to Battered Women!

Cuts to legal aid mean things just got worse for women seeking safety from violence

Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) is on the frontline where women survivors of violence are placed at risk of injury and even death due to their inability to secure legal representation in family and civil law proceedings that routinely accompany a woman’s flight to freedom.  In recent times, our community has told women to leave abusive relationships and crisis services have been established.  Now more than ever women are leaving abusive relationships and when they do they are routinely forced to interface with the criminal, family, immigration, child welfare and civil legal systems.  This interface represents the second stage of living free of violence.
A determined group of women started Battered Women’s Support Services in 1979. Thirty years later, BWSS has grown into a strong and dynamic organization. We continue to provide support and advocacy for women who have experienced abuse, as well as education about violence against women. As part of the feminist anti-violence movement, our long-term goal is the elimination of all violence against women.
In 2008, Battered Women’s Support Services conducted research on violence against women and legal aid and published Battered Women Justice Denied detailing how the current legal system specifically target and disadvantage women victims of violence, additionally the international community has put Canada on notice for these violations of women’s rights.  January 2009, things just got worse for women and the province of British Columbia has made the choice to tell women to leave abusive relationships and then to penalize women victims by denying their basic rights for legal representation.
“It would have been easier to stay with the abuser and not deal with the courts and the painful separation”.  A woman who accesses Battered Women’s Support Services

The BWSS research concluded that of 304 women who access BWSS services only 16% of women who wanted legal aid received it and were satisfied with their experience.  The impact for women when they do not get proper legal representation and advice are:

1. women are forced to provide unsafe access to their children with their violent ex-spouses,
2. women must share custody with violent, unpredictable ex-spouses who often know where they live,
3. women do not receive fair or just child support and spousal support payments to provide themselves and their children,
4. women are threatened with deportation by their violent spouses,
5. women are forced to take hours of time to access different types of support services to get preliminary advice (working women are losing income in order to access support services),
6.  women are forced into mediation services when the power and violence issues make them susceptible to more abuse,
7. women must research and use self-help resources for complex legal problems that should be handled by a lawyer, and
8. women who do have Legal Aid report that they deal with lawyers who do not take violence seriously and leave it out of the proceedings when it is integral to fair legal outcomes for battered women.

Violence against women is a significant social issue that continues.  BWSS recognizes that in addition to securing housing adequate legal advice and representation is a key factor in a battered woman’s decision to escape abuse.  It is unacceptable that the province of British Columbia has chosen to cut women’s access to justice while establishing a barrier for women victims of violence.  The international community has already put Canada on notice for violating the rights of women, now the province of British Columbia leadership has entrenched this violation and therefore is putting women and children at risk.

Battered Women’s Support Services has been in contact and will continue to be in contact with women from around the province who are impacted by these cuts with the intention of drawing attention to these safety/justice issues and to bring voice to women who have survived so much already who are now faced with a steeper uphill climb.