We are proud to announce the expansion of our Gender Equity Learning & Knowledge Exchange, the Research and Policy Division of Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS). This new section of BWSS strengthens our impact by mobilizing community-based experiences and evidence-informed resources from an intersectional, anti-oppressive, feminist and critical race theory, analysis, and practice.
As part of the Gender Equity Learning & Knowledge Exchange, the recently formed Intersectional Feminist Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative (IFJROC) aims to democratize data, research and policy. It maximizes the synergy between research and community organizing, magnifies the voices of grassroots Indigenous, Black and communities of colour, including Migrant, Refugee and Immigrant communities. It also advances the capacity of organizing efforts to design solutions, make demands, and sustain policy wins for gender equity and ending gender-based violence.
The growing team will be led by a newly appointed Manager of Research and Policy, Harsha Walia, who has a long standing reputation of impactful work in these spaces. She is joined by Melody Yin Yun Wise as Research and Policy Analyst.
Learn more about IFJROC and our work here.
For the past two decades BWSS has worked to highlight the problems with mediation also known as alternative dispute resolution. We highlighted the problems in an open letter to BC Attorney General David Eby. Our ED appeared on CBC News Canada Tonight with host Ginella Massa and guest David Morneau to discuss the Divorce Act and the impact of mediation related procedures for women dealing with abusive partners (found here)
Pamela Cross a feminist lawyer and a well-known and respected expert on violence against women and the law has written the following article on the issue.
Mediation Should Not Be Default Resolution Process in Cases of Abuse
Monday, August 30, 2021 @ 3:15 PM | By Pamela Cross
Image: Pamela Cross, Lawyer, Women’s Activist
In his Aug. 19 article, “Considering mediation as a default resolution process in light of new family law duties,” Oren Weinberg makes a strong case for the value of mediation for people seeking to resolve family law disputes. I don’t disagree with anything he says. Mediation can be extremely helpful and is, for many families, a better way of working out their differences than is litigation. Everyone who meets with a legal adviser to discuss their family law issues should be told about alternative dispute resolution options, including mediation.
However, as a coalition of women’s equality organizations argued in our submissions during the legislative process that led to the changes to the Divorce Act:
Those involved in the family law system should have a duty to prevent violence against women and their children. This duty extends to the advice to be given on the process options that are available in relation to divorce. Before advising in favour of any particular legal process, legal advisers should be required to screen for family violence. In addition, they should fully inform their clients on all available processes and advise them based on the facts of their situation. The blanket duty on legal advisers proposed in section 7.7 to “encourage” a family dispute resolution process may put abused spouses and/or children at risk of family violence.
Mediation should not be off the table for cases involving intimate partner abuse; but neither should it be positioned as a preferred or default process. I have worked with women who, after leaving an abusive relationship, have found mediation helpful. They felt they had more of a voice in shaping their family’s future and said they thought their former partner would be more likely to follow the agreement because he was part of crafting it.
But, there are a number of special considerations in family violence cases that argue against the present requirement in s. 7.3 of the Divorce Act that legal advisers encourage clients to consider alternatives to litigation.
Some of those concerns would be abated if legal advisers were required to screen all new clients for family violence. The soon-to-be-available Department of Justice tool to assist legal professionals in identifying whether or not family violence is present is a good start. Hopefully, it will encourage legal advisers to engage in screening, even if it is not mandatory.
If family violence is identified when the file is opened, the legal adviser can approach their duties under s. 7.3 accordingly, given that the duty to encourage ADR is limited to situations where “it is appropriate to do so.”
For example, if the client identifies a small number of incidents of abuse and indicates they are not fearful, it may well be appropriate to discuss ADR. However, where the screening identifies serious, ongoing coercive controlling behaviours and the client’s words or actions indicate fear, it is likely not appropriate to do so.
Letting the client lead
Many survivors of intimate partner abuse have been subjected to coercive control. In many cases, the abuse continues post-separation and throughout the family law process. As a result, the default position of many survivors is to agree with any person they see as being in authority over them. This includes their legal adviser. The survivor may lack the self-confidence to say no to a suggestion — no matter how mildly made — that they give mediation a try. When it is presented as the preferred option, the survivor may feel they are being a bad parent or uncooperative or unreasonable if they don’t agree.
Some safety concerns — especially those that are psychological rather than physical — are difficult to detect, even with the screening process used by accredited mediators in Ontario. Further, in relationships where one partner has engaged in coercively controlling behaviours, the nature of the abuse may not be apparent to even a well-trained and observant outsider.
This is why it is important that the option of mediation be presented to clients as simply one of a number of possibilities rather than given a position of preference. If the client indicates discomfort with it, there should be no further discussion about it, even if the legal adviser does not understand why the client is rejecting it. The conversation should move on to discuss other legal processes. If the client indicates an interest in mediation, the legal adviser can proceed to provide more information.
Where there is a history of family violence and the client has decided to engage in mediation, the lawyer then has an ethical duty to ensure the client receives professional assistance with safety planning specific to the mediation situation, so should connect them with a shelter or victim services organization in the community.
There is no perfect process for survivors of intimate partner abuse, particularly when there has been coercive control and when the partner continues to engage in abusive behaviours. There are dangers — physical and psychological — to the survivor and, sometimes, to the children, of both litigation and ADR processes themselves as well as of not obtaining an outcome that will allow the survivor and children to move on to lives free from abuse and threats of abuse.
That’s why it is so important that legal advisers present all process options and leave the choice to the expert: the client.
Pamela Cross is a feminist lawyer who works on issues related to violence against women and the law. One of her key roles is as the legal director of Luke’s Place in Ontario.
This week Surrey Women’s Centre will be participating in a 2-day intensive workshop with facilitator Angela Marie MacDougall of BWSS. The Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression and Ending Gender Violence workshop intends to deepen the application of an anti-racism and anti-oppression framework in the frontline work of women’s and anti-violence organizations.
Surrey Women’s Centre (SWC) is a crisis centre for women and girls escaping domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence. For over 25 years SWC has been helping to protect and empower women and girls. SWC is the only women’s centre in Surrey, BC – as often the first and sometimes the only place victims call for help they provide women and girls in the community a safe place to turn. Surrey Women’s Centre is open 24 hours per day. 7 days per week. 365 days per year.
The Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression and Ending Gender Violence Workshop
Racism, racial abuse and racial violence are factors in the lives of women who access anti-violence organizations and racism is itself a distinct social determinant of the impact of gender-based violence. Individual and systemic racism present barriers to quality anti-violence services and programs.
Anti-racist practice is a strategic approach to addressing all forms of oppression in the anti-violence sector and system. The focus on racism does not mean we are competing with other “isms” or are creating a hierarchy of oppressions, and instead we see anti-racism as an entry point.
- Identify how values, beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, assumptions, preconceptions, and biases can influence attitudes and behaviours
- Identify how to remain open when values, beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, assumptions, preconceptions, and biases challenged
- Examine our values, beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, assumptions, preconceptions, and biases regularly to ensure they are not negatively influencing the support services and in co-worker relationships
- Understand how values, beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, assumptions, preconceptions, and biases are influenced by the systems and institutions we live and work in
- Define the key components of an anti-racism and anti-oppression analysis
- Define and understand the forms of racism including anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism
- Describe the structural links among different forms of oppression within a societal context that is both local and global including colonization, racism, class structure, economic models, environmental issues, heterosexism and homophobia, gender, and disability
- Describe the importance of working with women who have experienced violence from a decolonizing, anti-racism and anti-oppression approach
- Increase their understanding of anti-racism and anti-oppression best practices ending violence work
For More Information:
On the Surrey Women’s Centre and their services and programs click here.
On Battered Women Support Services training programs and workshops click here.
Angela Marie MacDougall of BWSS will be taking part in the Men, Family and Community Learning Series hosted by Kiwassa Neigbourhood House taking place September 21st – November 30th.
Join us Tuesday, September 21st and Thursday September 23rd from 10:00am – 2:00pm for Angela’s workshop: Anti Racism and Gender-Based Violence: Building Practices to Work with Men.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the source of multiple stresses impacting the health and well-being of Canadian families, parents and children. Anxiety, depression, fear, grief, trauma, difficulty in adaptation, and relationship conflicts are some of the overlapping challenges facing individuals and their families. And some individuals and families suffer more adversely than others depending on their unique needs, resources, and resilience. Consequently, the pandemic has resulted in people living in volatile situations of family violence.
These sessions will:
- Deepen your understanding of the structural and cultural roots of violence and power
- Offer strategies to support men with examining attitudes and actions and taking responsibility for their harmful behaviour
- Offer tools to support men with making choices that will enable them to reflect, speak and act differently
- Highlight best practices, such as restorative justice and relationship-centred work
- Encourage community organizations, leaders, workers and men to work toward change
Sign up to one or all of the sessions!
This is a FREE training series funded by Vancouver Coastal Health for Support Workers and other frontline staff who have an interest in growing their ability to engage and support men with developing positive family relationships.
Date: September 21st to November 30th, 2021
Time: Tuesdays & Thursdays 10:00am to 2:00pm
The training will be provided by subject matter experts over Zoom and there is no cost to the participant. Should COVID restrictions change, there may be in-person training at the end of the sessions.
To RSVP, contact:
Vancouver Reopens & Sexual Assaults by Strangers Rise
July 1st saw the long awaited return of Vancouver’s nightlife after months of closures and restrictions. As BC moved into Step 3 of it’s Restart Plan the hospitality industry rejoiced having struggled to stay afloat through the pandemic. The reopening signals a return to another normal – one of unaddressed, rampant stranger-based assaults in Vancouver’s nightlife.
Vancouver’s Granville Strip at Night (Photo Credit: Will Young, ThinkPol.ca)
BWSS Takes to The Streets! Safety Changes Everything.
In the last year, BWSS saw a growing number of women and girls in need of street-based interventions and resources and in May of this year launched their street-based Outreach Program ‘Safety Changes Everything’. The goal of the Safety Changes Everything Team is to be a visible presence within communities. Building relationships with women and girls to community-based resources, as well, and providing immediate crisis-interventions.
Responding to the to growing numbers of street-based, stranger-based assaults on the Granville Strip , BWSS teams are increasing their presence amongst Vancouver’s nightlife. The Safety Changes Everything Team, wants people to know if they are in distress and experiencing sexualized-violence or abuse to reach out. The Safety Changes Everything Team is available to provide immediate crisis response, emotional support, connect people to resources, advocacy and accompaniment to police, the hospital or medical services.
BWSS has been calling for action by the City of Vancouver, particularly in the Downtown Eastside and Granville Entertainment District since early this year. Confirming what the Safety Changes Everything Team had been reporting, last week VPD released new figures which show a 129% increase in reported cases in the month of July alone – prompting them to relaunch the Hands Off! campaign.
Rarely though are sexual assaults reported to the police.
Vancouver police Const. Tania Visintin says even with the recent increase in reports, sexual assaults are vastly underreported. (CBC News)
City of Vancouver and the UN Safe City Initiative
Vancouver is one of six Canadian cities which is part of the UN Safe Cities and Public Spaces Initiative – a global initiative led by UN Women. The initiative aims to address gender-based and sexualized violence and harassment by focusing on the City’s policies, planning, programs and services and how they can be changed and applied to increase safety and build safer public spaces.
BWSS knows that gender-based, sexualized violence and physical expressions of violence are systemic issues. We know that prevalent normalization of violence and attitudes and beliefs rooted in racism, colonialism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia and ableism express themselves in ways that harmful and often deadly – particularly for Black, Indigenous, immigrant Women of Colour and 2SLGBTQQIA+ communities.
BWSS has been on the frontlines of work to create safe public spaces for decades – working in partnership with TransLink, bars & night clubs, and through our street-based community outreach team. As advocates for women and children experiencing gender-based, sexualized violence and harassment we routinely bring forward recommendations at all levels of government on policy and legislation which directly impacts Women’s safety in public spaces.
The City of Vancouver is now in the first phase, scoping study of the initiative. This involves a survey to gain a deeper understanding of gender-based violence and sexualized violence and harassment in public spaces.
The survey is open to anyone who has experienced or witnessed gender-based and sexualized violence or harassment in Vancouver. Examples include unwanted touching, cat-calling, being followed, or homophobic, transphobic, and racist harassment.
The survey is available in English, Mandarin, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Punjabi and Spanish
TAKE THE SURVEY
Some of the questions on the survey could bring back or remind you of upsetting or traumatic memories and trigger uncomfortable to intense emotions, sensations or other responses. If you are feeling triggered during the survey, feel free to stop at any point or take a break and come back to it.
BWSS is available through our 24-hour Crisis Line by phone 604-687-1867 or by text 604-652-1867 for those requiring support and resources.
More details on this The City of Vancouver’s Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Initiative can be found at https://vancouver.ca/people-programs/un-safe-cities-and-safe-public-spaces-initiative.aspx
Tune in at 5:45pm PT today to CBC News, Canada Tonight with Ginella Massa, as Angela Marie MacDougall, BWSS Executive Director, discusses gender-based violence in Canada.
A National Action Plan is Ready to Get on the Road
According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, 92 women and girls have been killed by violence so far in 2021 – with a male partner or acquaintance as the prime suspect. At the top of the list of number of killings, Ontario, Quebec and BC. And a continued overrepresentation of Indigenous women and girls.
On Monday, a woman was killed in Montreal. Her male partner is the primary suspect and he’s on the lam. This is Quebec’s 14th femicide of the year. And most likely it won’t be the last – as sadly we’ve seen that the upward trend of femicide rates continues across Canada.
BWSS was part of an expert group to develop the framework and content of Canada’s first National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence, delivered to government. This is a historic project led by Women’s Shelters Canada. With our contribution to this project, we are committed to amplifying the voices and resilience of marginalized communities –Black, Indigenous, Immigrants, LGBTQ2S and non-binary people.
The Canadian government must invest billions not millions to address this epidemic.
Society is not doing enough to prevent gender-based violence and protect survivors and their families. Gender-based violence can’t continue to be ignored as thousands of women live in fear.
So this is why we stay on the frontline.
2021 Mid-year Report, Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability from femicideincanada.ca