The New Family Law Act – Implications for Battered Women and Our Legal Advocacy Work
by Rosa Elena Arteaga, Manager, Direct Services and Clinical Practice
In March 2013, the new Family Law Act (FLA) replaced the Family Relations Act. We started taking action immediately in order to ensure we were prepared to best support women to navigate the new law in the pursuit of justice. 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 and through training. 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.
Our work related to the new FLA :
- 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 (FLA).
- 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.
- Angela Marie MacDougall, BWSS Executive Director, 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, in March 2012.
- On October 2012, we joined other groups and anti-violence organizations and submittedrecommendations for government ministries and professional bodies who are creating regulation, policy, or professional training pursuant to the (FLA) 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 (FLA) 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 Angela Marie MacDougall participated in a panel were we were joined by the Representative for Children and Youth British Columbia, 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.
- 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.
- Annie Zhang, former BWSS Legal Advocate wrote (FLA) Guide-The New (FLA) and its Implication for Battered Women. 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. 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 through our publications.
- We were also part of the consultation for ‘(FLA) Plain Language Guide’ that provides basic information on the new (FLA) for women who are leaving or thinking about leaving an abusive relationship. It has information on what the law considers “family violence” and what impact it may have on family law issues; court orders to help protect you and your children from violence; what will happen with your children after separation (including guardianship, responsibilities for children, time with children, and moving with children); what dispute resolution is and what different types of dispute resolution professionals do; and where you can get more help, information, and legal advice. Please find our announcement and resources on (FLA) here.
- In January 2013, Taruna Arora joined Battered Women’s Support Services as Legal Advocate and began supporting women during the implementation of the new act. Taruna has worked hard to support women navigate through the numerous forms and requirements as women continue to not have access to Legal Aid due to funding cuts. Taruna has delivered training workshops supporting advocates from across BC better respond to the new (FLA) including delivering a workshop during BC Society of Transition Houses Annual Forum.
- In October 2013, Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director joined the faculty at Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia (CLEBC) in the delivery of Family Violence Screening Training for Litigators and Dispute Resolution Professionals focusing her presentation on Gender Violence, power and control in relationships and implications for women navigating the legal systems. Our involvement in this training is significant because the new (FLA) emphasizes out-of-court dispute resolution, and creates new duties for “family dispute resolution professionals” which are defined by the FLA as mediators, arbitrators, and parenting coordinators. BWSS has been critical of the application of dispute resolution when abuse and/or violence is present in relationships. The new FLA has regulated a set minimum training and practice standards for family dispute resolution professionals that emphasizes screening for power imbalances, helping women determine which dispute resolution processes might best keep them and their children safe and empower them to negotiate effectively. Family dispute resolution professionals (mediators, arbitrators, and parenting coordinators) have until January 1, 2014 to meet the training and practice requirements. While all family lawyers are not at this time required to attend family violence screening training, the FLA does require that all family lawyers certify that they have screened for family violence with every client.
After eight months since the new act has been in effect, BC has not be able to determine if new domestic violence protection orders are being provided, how many have been properly enforced, violated or prosecuted in court. The new protective orders came into effect in March 2013, as part of changes to the new (FLA). The move was intended to protect mainly children and women from harassment or violence by replacing old restraining orders with new protection orders. Violation of a protection order is a criminal offence. Historically, we have noted that police frequently fail to enforce protection orders. Boosting protection orders was a key recommendation in two-high profile tragedies — the murder of six-year-old Christian Lee by his father in Oak Bay in 2007, and the 2008 deaths of three children in Merritt by their mentally ill father, Allan Schoenborn.
We remain vigilant. Since our inception until present day we remain steadfast in our commitment to legal advocacy through supporting individual women navigate the matrix of laws and the legal system, through law reform, legal research, writing publications with legal information, public awareness campaigns and education and training workshops for professionals.
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.