Social Justice and the Law

At BWSS we have a long history of engagement with social justice through the law. Our work involves us thinking critically and analytically about the ways in which gender-based violence interfaces with various areas of law and to what extent survivors can achieve justice within the Canadian legal apparatus.

80% of women who access BWSS are dealing with a legal issue.

Every member of our staff team and volunteers provide some type of legal support for survivors who access our services. And our specialized Legal Services and Advocacy Program assist women to navigate these legal systems. Our work extends into legal research, law reform and public legal education. Over the years, BWSS has developed strong collaborations with women’s organizations, immigrant-serving organizations, Indigenous organizations and First Nations, lawyers, law enforcement services and a number of community-based networks and organizations.

We are pleased to continue our work with the University of British Columbia Peter A. Allard School of Law through interns, and events.

And we are thrilled to work with Allard Law School at this year’s Social Justice Law Conference 2020. The conference features Changing Systems –What Can Lawyers and Advocates Do?

Our contribution this year is hosting two case studies of collaborations for effectively changing systems.

1) Coalition of Interveners. Anti-SLAPP Strategies for Cases of Gender Bias at the Supreme Court of Canada – a coalition of anti-violence organizations successfully obtained leave to intervene at the SCC’s November hearing into Anti-SLAPP legislation.

2) Coalition of  Challengers. Pushing Back on Bill 97’s Legislative Amendments to  Refugee Determination – Immigration and refugee lawyers, anti-violence organizations, and women’s organizations challenged the Federal government’s attempts to pass significant amendments to the refugee process in their budget implementation bill that have negatively impacted refugees transiting through the US and, particularly, women refugees who are survivors of domestic violence.

Please join us at this year’s Social Justice Law Conference. Register here.

Saturday, 1 February 2020 from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM at  SFU’s Segal Building – 500 Granville St in Vancouver with Keynote Address by Kasari Govender, Human Rights Commissioner of BC.

We’re grateful for our collaborators Dalya Israel: Executive Director, WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre, Lobat Sadrehaschemi: Lawyer, Embarkation Law, Raji Mangat: Executive Director, West Coast LEAF  and of course our own Rosa Elena Arteaga, Manager of Direct Services and Clinical Practice who will moderate the sessions.  

Conference Agenda:

9:00 – 9:20 am
Doors open – Registration and Coffee/Light Refreshments

9:20 – 9:35 am

9:35 – 10:00 am
Keynote Address: Kasari Govender, Human Rights Commissioner of BC

10:00 – 11:10 am
Climate Action: An Intersectional Approach to the Climate Crisis – ways that various legal fields need to collaborate to find approaches and solutions to the climate crisis.

-Brent Eichler: Environmental Advocate
-Lee Loftus: Union Activist
-Eugene Kung: Lawyer, West Coast Environmental Law
-Anjali Appadurai: Climate Justice Campaigner, Sierra Club BC
Moderator: Shannon Daub, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

11:10 – 11:25 am

11:25 – 12:35 pm
Trans Rights: Barriers to A2J – issues and approaches to addressing barriers to A2J for Trans Folks such as equitable representation, access to education, healthcare, housing and social inclusion.

-Kareem Ibrahim:  Trans Rights Advocate
-Naomi Moses: Lawyer, KFK Law
-Adrienne Smith: Lawyer, Adrienne Smith Law
Moderator: TBC

12:35 – 1:30 pm

1:30 – 2:45 pm
Automating Access to In/Justice – issues arising from the expansion of artificial intelligence (AI) into the realm of judicial, tribunal and government decision-making such as the ability to appeal or judicially review AI-assisted adjudication/decisions.

-Sancho McCann: Law Student
-Jennifer Raso: Professor, University of Alberta
-Shannon Salter: Chair, Civil Resolution Tribunal
-Darin Thompson: Lawyer, BC Ministry of Attorney General
Moderator: Mary Liston: Professor, Allard School of Law, UBC

2:45 –3:00 pm

3:00 –4:15 pm
Two  Case Studies of Collaborations for Effectively  Changing Systems: presenters will speak about the issues and the power of organizing to affect systemic changes as well as the challenges, opportunities and outcomes of this collaborative work
1) Coalition of Interveners. Anti-SLAPP Strategies for Cases of Gender Bias at the Supreme Court of Canada – a coalition of anti-violence organizations successfully obtained leave to intervene at the SCC’s November hearing into Anti-SLAPP legislation.
2) Coalition of  Challengers. Pushing Back on Bill 97’s Legislative Amendments to  Refugee Determination – Immigration and refugee lawyers, anti-violence organizations, and women’s organizations challenged the Federal government’s attempts to pass significant amendments to the refugee process in their budget implementation bill that have negatively impacted refugees transiting through the US and, particularly, women refugees who are survivors of domestic violence.

-Dalya Israel: Executive Director, WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre
-Lobat Sadrehaschemi: Lawyer, Embarkation Law
-Raji Mangat: Executive Director, West Coast LEAF
Moderator: Rosa Elena Arteaga, Battered Women’s Support Services

4:15 – 4:30 pm
Closing Remarks

4:30 – 5:30 pm
Wine and Cheese Reception



Thank you for commemorating with us!

On November 25, 2019, over 1,000 people in our community came together commemoration of International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence and BWSS 40th anniversary. 

There could be no better way to honour BWSS 40-year history. With our community, we celebrated how far we’ve come and how far we have left to go. A historic occasion, marking four decades of grassroots efforts to support survivors and end gender-based violence. 

BWSS 40 Years Later…Event Highlights

filmed and edited by Shyah K. Films

A special reception held in advance of the event including words from one of the founding women of BWSS.

Jan Barnsley spoke and reflecting on the history and creation of the organization at the pre-show reception with Tarana Burke.  

Jan Barnsley pictured here with another founding woman of BWSS, Gillian Walker.

Patricia Massy of Massy Books pictured here with Magnolia, BWSS volunteer.

Opening and territorial welcome by Cecilia Point, member of the BWSS Board of Directors. Cecilia spoke to the importance of the momentous occasion and the vital work of BWSS.

Jennifer Johnstone, BWSS Board of Directors, Board Chair shared the important impact of BWSS and introduced the event Emcee, Angela Marie MacDougal, Executive Director at BWSS.

Setting the tone for the evening, contemporary, singer/songwriter Tonye Aganaba took to the stage with a beautiful and powerful performance. 

M’Girl, an Indigenous singing group graced the stage singing songs and inspiring the crowd. 

40 Years Later…Teaser
filmed and edited by Kharé Communications 

Next up, a screening of  BWSS 40 Years Later… documentary at the chronicling key moments for BWSS in the last four decades. Watch the teaser below! 

Interview with Tarana Burke 
filmed and captioned by Shyah K. Films 

Engaging and inspirational Tarana shared the importance of keeping the movement going. Anti-violence work, as BWSS demonstrates, has been happening long before moments like “me too” and will continue long after. Watch the full interview linked below. 

Leah McFly, Maris Gold and Mamalia gave an electric performance. These three powerhouse queens represented the; reserved, wild and businesswomen of the streets, sharing their strength of dealing with the struggles and joining forces in becoming the “Me too Angels.” 

To end the night, Wildflower, Women of Turtle Island Drum Group closed the evening with the Women’s Warrior song. A poignant moment for a powerful evening.

In her review of the event, Michelle LaFlamme wrote, “It was truly electrifying to share this experience with so many powerful women. As I left the theatre, two themes emerged for me.  The words of Pointe rang in my head, reminding me of a principle that activates my life choices, “our job is to leave something for the next seven generations” and secondly, Burke’s voice as she wisely stressed the importance of “getting the story out of your body” and yes, even this must be done by whatever means necessary”, capturing key moments of the eventful evening.

Read Michelle’s full review here.

BWSS would like to thank everyone who commemorated with us, the 40 years of trans/women and femmes, volunteers, and donors who make the work of BWSS so impactful. 

Thank you to Isabella, This Is It Studios for capturing the event in photos.


A Review of Battered Women’s Support Services Forty Years Commemoration Event

Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver BC

November 25, 2019

By Dr. Michelle La Flamme

Photo by Isabella, This Is It Studios

Often in front-line social justice work, people are all too busy doing the work to take time to breathe and look at what has been have achieved.  However, on November 25, 2019, visionaries in the fight to end gender-based violence gathered to commemorate forty years of the BWSS (Battered Women’s Support Services) in Vancouver. On this night, the decadent and visually stunning Orpheum theatre was filled with powerful social-justice advocates and bright and creative women who are dedicated to moving forward the agenda to support survivors of gender-based violence.

The purpose of the evening was to recognize what has been done to date and to provide inspiration and strategies for a renewed commitment to women’s empowerment.  Leaders from many sectors of society, educators, politicians, clients, students, social-justice advocates, artists, and public intellectuals mingled together for this one night to look back at what was accomplished during the last forty years at BWSS, to consider the present moment of the “ME TOO” movement and to chart new paths into future activism to address gender-based violence locally and globally.  That is a tall feat for one evening! Even getting everyone seated proved a challenge but once the show started the room was filled with electric energy that was palpable.  Independent Producer Barbara Chirinos should be commended for this diverse programming and the high production values of the show.  The visuals, the lighting, and the stage was used to great effect and the sound cues were entirely on point.  It was a very well-produced show with inspirational content throughout. The BWSS motto “Safety changes everything” was shown on a slide for the majority of the event reminding people of the importance of the last forty years of work done at BWSS and providing a visual link that connected everyone in the room to the overall goal of the gathering.

Photo by Isabella, This Is It Studios

In the opening, Musqueam (Member of the Musqueam Nation and BWSS Board Member) Cecilia Point reminded us that that we are “doing the work of the last seven generations for the next seven generations”.  The event had a throughline stemming from this moment in the opening and that is, recognition for the knowledge keepers and feminists and social justice advocates who broke trails in order to make life easier for women who are survivors of gender-based violence.  The empowering message that opened the show manifested itself through a celebration of the numerous ways that women have created community for other women.  Contemporary, singer/songwriter Tonye Aganaba took to the stage with her guitar in hand and filled the space with her vocal melodies, blessings, and comments.  The powerful Indigenous three-part harmony group M’Girl added to the resonant power of the evening.  While gracing the space with songs that lifted the spirit, Rem Morrisseau reminded the audience of “the importance of making hope actionable” and this inspirational call to action was also at the heart of the evening.

Photo by Isabella, This Is It Studios

After these opening acts, a documentary on the last forty years of BWSS was screened, opening with a collage of images connected to key moments in each wave of the feminist movements in North America.  Following this, the video featured specific women who were connected to the BWSS from its early years to the present.  We learned from individual women who had a vision about how to create space for women when core funding was not available and everything was done on a shoe-string.  Hearing these trailblazers speak of the vision they had to create the BWSS and learning about the numerous people who have been trained and mentored by women in this space was very uplifting!  In addition, the documentary showed several speakers who offered nuanced perspectives on the utility and evolution of BWSS.  These voices ranged from visionaries to front-line workers, to volunteers, to board members who reflected the central principles of the organization and all expressed their commitment to creating more safety.  Some speakers addressed the evolution of the organization in very candid ways including the shift to more inclusivity, the addition of Indigenous paradigms and ceremony, and the inclusion of support for the trans community.  Two threads connecting the opening performances to the documentary included the important link between colonization and violence and the essential need for intersectionality in our analysis of the complex problems surrounding gender-based violence.

Photo by Isabella, This Is It Studios

The documentary briefly explains some of the work done at and by BWSS. The organization offers numerous resources including counseling, training programs, the crisis-line and they deal with 13,000 direct calls a year which is only a fraction of the women affected by gender-based violence. This statistic alone hints at the need for continued resources and vigilant programs to address gender-based violence.

Photo by Isabella, This Is It Studios

The featured speaker was Tarana Burke who is cited as the founder of the ME TOO movement.  By the time she came to the stage the crowd was eager to hear her pearls of wisdom and she absolutely inspired the room to consider the direct effects of social justice activism in the move towards ending gender-based violence.  The interview was staged well with Angela Marie MacDougall sitting comfortably on stage with Tarana in large chairs making the format feel natural.  It was as though we were witnesses a living room conversation between these two amazing, intelligent Black women.  Both are invested in institutionalizing change for thousands of women and inspiring social justice advocacy by creating space for women’s stories to come to the light in their different, but complementary, professional roles as change-makers.  Burke cautioned us to be mindful of how our stories of gender-based violence are used in social media.  She suggested we should be very cautious about posting narratives of trauma without a clear result or purpose in mind.  While she adamantly expressed that it is “important for our stories to get told” she was also clear that we must also “tell a new narrative”- one that was not simply the traumatic sexual violence we may have experienced.  Highlights from her talk included Burke stressing the need for self-care and her encouragement that we remember to engage in the cultivation of joy.  Burke suggested that we must strive to be mindful of our emotional and spiritual needs and foster self-care as we pass into and through the trauma inside these narratives that are surfacing.  Burke declared that she is mindful that not everyone has the same access to tools for “self-care” but she firmly believes that this deep healing part of the struggle toward emancipation should be acknowledged as part of the goal. She firmly stated that “healing and action” are required and she encouraged every one of us to find ways to “generate healing and joy for yourself”.  In terms of the utility of the ME TOO movement, Burke said that the global ME TOO movement has brought multiple instances of gender-based violence to the attention of many in the mainstream, causing a paradigm shift.

Photo by Isabella, This Is It Studios

MacDougall discussed the link between colonial violence and gender-based violence facing Indigenous women and girls in Canada and Burke reflected on her recent experiences with Aboriginal women in Australia.  Burke and MacDougall also discussed the precarious position of undocumented migrant workers in the US who are ever more reluctant to disclose violence due to their complex relationship with authorities and their particularly vulnerable position vis-a-vis immigration officials.  How can we create support for these vulnerable communities and work with advocates in these communities to extend resources?  There is still so much more work to be done and, as ardent feminists, we must always ask who is not at the table.  Burke said that the ME TOO movement was also introducing the concept of healing and the importance of speaking to truth to a larger audience than the hundreds of thousands directly affected by gender-based violence. She used the shift in thinking about cigarette smoking as an analogy to inspire us to consider multiple modes of engagement and to remind us of the multiple visions and interventions that are required to move us towards shifting the culture around gender-based violence.  Her voice was resoundingly clear when she said “don’t stop!” to the crowd of inspired women raising their hands and voices in a resounding standing ovation.  At this moment, like several others during the night, I felt goosebumps as I recognized the power of this historical scene and the larger global movement that is a part of this cultural shift.

Photo by Isabella, This Is It Studios

The interview between Angela Marie MacDougall (Executive Director, BWSS) and Tarana Burke was layered and complex and it was a very hard act to follow.  A young dance troupe came to the stage to enact an uplifting set of dances and songs that seemed to speak back to Blacksploitation films with a cross between the power of Jackie Brown and an homage to Charlie’s Angels!  However, it was difficult for me to link this exuberant performance to the strategic planning inherent in the interview that was the highlight of the evening.  The close of the night returned to Indigenous drumming as Wildflower Women of Turtle Island Drum Group sang us out with the Women’s Warrior Song.  I thought it would have been better to have them close on stage rather than from the orchestra seats where the power of their voices was diminished in the daunting space of the Orpheum theatre.

Photo by Isabella, This Is It Studios

Women were clearly afire with empowering messages at the close of this evening and many greeted each other in the lobby filled with enthusiasm and renewed commitments and strategies to ending gender-based violence.  It was truly electrifying to share this experience with so many powerful women.  As I left the theatre, two themes emerged for me.  The words of Pointe rang in my head, reminding me of a principle that activates my life choices, “our job is to leave something for the next seven generations” and secondly, Burke’s voice as she wisely stressed the importance of “getting the story out of your body” and yes, even this must be done by whatever means necessary.

Photo by Isabella, This Is It Studios

Michelle LaFlamme

Michelle La Flamme hails from unceded Coast Salish territory.  She is a mixed-blood woman who is a passionate educator and an ardent social-justice advocate.  She is proud to have been a Director at the Justice Institute of BC in the Community and Social Justice Division tasked with a mandate to Indigenize the institution.  In her personal and professional life, she is dedicated to moving forward strategic policies around Indigenization and being a mentor. She has also been teaching students about Canadian literature and Indigenous drama for decades in university settings.  In her downtime, she enjoys riding horses, singing and spending time with her grandchildren.

5 Signs of an Abusive Relationship

1. Control

Abusive relationships are rooted in power and control—and feeling like your partner is keeping track of your every move is a huge warning sign. For instance, did they ask you for all of your private passwords? Invading your privacy is a form of control.

They may also control where you can and cannot go, and what you wear.

2. Isolation

Isolation is one of the first red flags in an abusive relationship. A partner who’s always finding fault with your friends or trying to distance you from your family is purposefully trying to separate you from your loved ones.

Isolation can also create a space for the abusive partner to escalate his other abusive behaviors. Because, ultimately, you may feel like you have no one to talk to about the abuse you are experiencing. This leaves you without a support system during a time where you especially need the support of loved ones.

3. Intimidation

An abusive partner will use a variety of intimidation tactics intended to scare you into compliance. Which, includes making threatening gestures, smashing things in front of you, destroying property, displaying weapons, hurting or killing pets/companion animals and making verbally abusive threats.

4.     Lack of Consent

It’s not consent if you’re being manipulated, pressured, or threatened to say yes. It’s also not consent if you aren’t able to give consent, which includes being asleep, unconscious or under the influence of alcohol, some prescription medications and other drugs.

5.     Put downs

An abusive partner will do everything they can to make you feel bad about yourself in some way. After all, if you believe you’re worthless and that no one else will want you, you’re less likely to leave. Insults, name-calling, shaming, and public put-downs are all used and designed to wear down your self-esteem and make you feel powerless.

Every week a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. For thousands of women and children across Canada there is no “Home Sweet Home”


Safety Planning

How to help a friend

Safety in relationships for Trans folk

Violence Against Trans and Non-binary People

How to break free from an abusive relationship

Resources in B.C.

Transition houses in Canada


Healing After You Leave an Abusive Partner

Leaving an intimate partner who is abusive can be one of the hardest things a person does. But after they are out of your life, many times, you may experience feelings of depression, guilt, anger, loss and sadness.

There is no right way to feel or heal after you leave an abusive partner.

It may be hard to stop thinking about your old relationship. It’s completely normal to feel this way, and often it can feel like leaving the relationship was the wrong decision. In relationships where your partner is abusive, it is common for partners to spend the majority of their time together. Also, people who are abusive have likely made you feel that you are not worthy of having friends or dating anyone else. When the relationship ends it can be easy to feel like there is no one else who cares about you.

It’s likely that your abusive partner made you feel guilty about breaking up and made threats to keep you fearful of ending the relationship. So a lot of the negative feelings you have after a break up are the result of the abuse that happened in the relationship. The important thing to know is that it’s OK to feel that way: your abusive partner made you feel that way.

Building a strong support network

Holding in all the strong emotions you feel after a break up and carrying them alone can be a overwhelming task. This is why it is important to build a solid support network to turn to in times when the break up is hard to handle. A support network can include any person(s) you feel comfortable and trust talking to, like family, friends, and Battered Women’s Support Services.

Counseling can be a good option to move on from the abuse because it provides you with the opportunity to talk about how you’re feeling after the break up.

If you are not comfortable with counseling, talking to someone who is a good listener (who will not tell you how to feel or what to do) can be just as helpful as counseling. It can be hard to open up to people at first, starting a journal can be a huge help as well. Not only will you be able to get your emotions out on paper, you will have a record of how you’re feeling on a regular basis.

Spend time doing what you want

Often the choice of how to spend time is controlled by an abusive partner. After the relationship ends, it can be incredibly liberating to know that you can go back to spending time how you wish to. The best part is that you can do what you love most. Whether that means spending time with family and friends, playing a sport, learning an instrument, going to the mall, or volunteering, pursuing things that give you joy are helpful to get past a break up. It may feel uncomfortable at first to hang out with others and try new things, but it will get easier.

A break up can be overwhelming but just know that you have already taken a difficult step to leave an abusive relationship. As time goes on, feelings of sadness will lessen. Know that’s it not your fault for feeling this way, that it is OK to have these feelings, build a strong support network, and pursue your interests, these negative feelings will start to fade. If you ever feel like you have no one to turn to, BWSS is here to support you.

CRISIS + INTAKE LINE: 604.687.1867 Toll FREE: 1.855.687.1868


What You Should Do When Someone Is Being Sexually Harassed on Public Transportation

Joanna Chiu, Canadian journalist, recently shared an experience of witnessing sexual harassment on a flight via Twitter, sparking a discussion on the role of bystanders. You can read the full thread below which includes an excellent resource created by BWSS on what bystanders can do when someone is being sexually harassed on public transportation. Joanna also wrote about the experience in the Vancouver Star and spoke to Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director at BWSS, about what people can do as bystanders when they witness harassment on public transportation. “Ask the woman,  ‘Are they bothering you?,’ loudly saying ‘ugh, that is so gross,’ making eye contact with some other bystanders and ask, ‘What should we do to help?’ Often people don’t know what to do”.

Despite the high levels of incidents, sexual harassment remains mainly unreported. That’s why, as Angela notes, “…People might think ‘It’s not my problem, it’s not a big deal.’ It comes from the fact that a lot of this behaviour is so normalized and we’ve only just started to address this publicly on social media”.


At BWSS, we don’t believe that harassment is an unavoidable part of our daily commute.  We believe that we must be able to move about and occupy the public space without being placed in danger or threatened.  It’s a fundamental freedom. Safe public transportation is about recognizing our experiences and needs.

We all have the right to feel safe. Let’s make this a priority.