by Rosa Elena Arteaga, Manager of Direct Services and Clinical Practice
At Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), we have been preparing ourselves around the New Family Law Act. Through our Legal Services and Advocacy Program funded by the Law Foundation of BC, we have been offering legal support and information to battered women who are dealing with the Canadian legal system for over twenty years. As part of our commitment to eradicate violence against girls and women we are continually working on law reform and supporting women in our community legal education through our publications. It is impossible to only talk about Family Law in isolation from the other laws as the majority of women who access our services are interfacing with several areas of the law concurrently.
We want to thank the strong web of legal advocates who have been working individually and as a group to address the legal needs of girls and women who are facing a complex legal system as a result of the abuse and violence they have experienced.
On March 18, 2013, the family law legislation in British Columbia will drastically change. The current Family Relations Act will be replaced by the new Family Law Act (FLA). For women leaving or planning to leave abusive relationships, understanding their legal rights and limitations are often crucial considerations in the safety and financial planning involved for themselves and their children. As such, the changes that the FLA will bring to BC Family Law and its implications for women in abusive relationships have been a serious topic for discussion amongst advocates, lawyers, and other members of the community, since the first murmurs of its proposal were put forth in The White Paper of 2010.
In 2010, we submitted our recommendations for the White Paper Battered Women Support Services Response to White Paper on Family Relations Act: Reform Proposals for a New Family Law Act. Ever since, we have continued our work on this important matter. As part of our innovative work, we co-hosted a forum with West Coast LEAF and UBC law professor Susan Boyd Susan Boyd’s presentation: Women Violence BC New Family Law: Applying a Feminist Lens March 9, 2012. In addition, we hosted and attended a number of meetings with our networks to address the legal needs of battered women. We co-hosted a series of radio talks with W2 Morning Radio Project broadcasts on Co-op Radio 102.7 FM Women, Violence and the Law – W2 Morning Project on Co-op Radio. On October 2012, we joined other groups and anti-violence organizations and submitted recommendations for government ministries and professional bodies who are creating regulation, policy, or professional training pursuant to the Family Law Act Recommendations on Regulation, Policy and Training Developed Pursuant to the British Columbia Family Law Act. When developing these recommendations the goal was to ensure that the application of the Family Law Act through regulations, policies, and professional training requirements is informed by the lived conditions of women who have experienced violence.
Together with Atira Women’s Resource Society, Battered Women’s Support Services, Women Against Violence Against Women, and the YWCA of Metro Vancouver, we came together to endorse the recommendations in the Imagining Courts that Work for Women. This report was developed through the collaborative efforts of the Jane Doe Advocates’ Group. This report began in 2009 with an informal conversation among anti-violence workers and on October 6th, 2010 we participated in a panel were we were joined by the Honourable Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, public forum, exploring the benefits and pitfalls of domestic violence courts. This report offers recommendations for achievable reforms and effective program development, grounded in the perspectives of women who have been through the justice system as survivors of violence and the agencies that work with women every day.
We remain vigilant on the issue of women arrest while we continue supporting battered women who are faced with their own arrest and have to navigate the Criminal Justice System When Battered Women are Arrested/ A Growing Problem: Rosa Arteaga, Battered Women’s Support Services and Battered Women Arrests and Police Complaints – We Must Remain Vigilant by Angela Marie MacDougall. For the last three years, we have developed printed resources for front-line workers and battered women who are dealing with the issue of women arrest When Battered Women are Arrested: A Growing Problem.
We cannot talk about Family Law without talking of other laws and specifically about Immigration Law, the current changes and its impacts. On May, 2012, we issued a media release to expose the impacts of Bill C-31, “The Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act,” and the implementation of new changes to immigration policy and procedure that are going to severely impact refugees escaping from violence and persecution, particularly women, queer and trans-identified individuals, and their families. On April 2011, Lobat Sadrehashemi, Immigration Law Lawyer wrote an article for Battered Women’s Support Services on Gender Persecution and Refugee Law Reform in Canada. This article was updated in 2012 due to the fact that in June 2012 Bill C-11 was replaced by Bill C-31.
In 2012, Through Idle No More, Indigenous People across Canada draw our attention to the treaties and the Canadian law as it relates to Indigenous people and Canada. When we talk about violence against Indigenous women there is more legal analysis required in understanding the relationship between Indigenous Law, the Indian Act, the Canadian Law and the BC New Family Act. The Idle No More movement has commanded us to be on the right side of history.
Finally, we are very pleased to share our Family Law Act Guide-The New Family Law Act and its Implication for Battered Women by Annie Zhang. We recognized that there are already many excellent informational resources about the FLA that provide plain-language overviews of the changes in our legislation. As such, this guide is not intended to replace the wonderful work already completed by legal professionals, or to provide a comprehensive summary of legislative changes. Rather, this guide intends to focus specifically on sections of the FLA that we believe will have the most significant impact on our work at Battered Women’s Support Services, where we provide legal information, support and advocacy with an anti-oppressive analysis and understanding of the unique issues, concerns, and barriers experienced by battered women in the legal system.
We are very happy to connect with other advocates and offer our assistance and collaboration on the issue of violence against girls and women and the justice system responses to a spectrum of gendered violence, including sexual violence.