APPEAL VoLuME 18
Spouses and children who experience domestic violence face both substantive and
procedural legal barriers in accessing family justice. ese barriers must be seen as
interrelated. erefore, eliminating them necessitate s coordinated, systemic law reform.
After an ex tensive community consultation process, BC recent ly introduced a new piece
of family law legislation that attempts to alleviate some of the substantive legal barriers
to family justice in the context of family violence.5 Although this legislation represents
important steps in addre ssing these problems, without reform of the system in which
this new law wil l be administered, these change s will not eectively address some of the
underlying structural barriers faced by survivors of domestic violence. I argue that the
implementation of an integrated domestic violence court (IDVC) system would help
to address some of the struct ural barriers faced by survivors of domestic violence in
navigating the court system.6 e IDVC is a specialized court where one judge decides
almost all leg al matters relating to one fami ly, that arise in t he context of family violence,
whether they are family, civil, or criminal proceedings. is st ructure renders the court
system more accessible to sur vivors of violence while reducing the opportunity for
information gaps, conicting orders, and other barriers to arise. ese changes may go
some way towards improving acce ss to justice; however, it would be incorrect to suggest
that legal cha nge alone can end family violence. is paper acknowledges the sy stemic
causes of fami ly violence as rooted in structural inequa lities created by patria rchy that
break down along lines of gender, but also of ra ce, class, age, sexua lity, and other facets of
socia l identity.7 Ending family violence therefore necessitates commun ity-based support
and advocacy alongside deeper social cha nges that remedy structural inequalities facing
women and other margina lized groups.
I begin by discussing historical trends in domestic violence law reform, both inside and
outside Canada, and t he emergence of the IDVC in other jurisdictions as a solution
to structura l problems in access to justice for victims of domestic violence. I then
analyze how adopting the IDVC model in BC would address some of these ba rriers,
focusing on the issues of protection orders, custody, and access. While noting that
issues of constitutionality and respect for the diversity of Canadian families, including
indigenous fami lies, must be recognized and accom modated in any court structure, t his
paper concludes that implementing IDVCs in BC would increa se the availability and
eectiveness of family law remedies to sur vivors of domestic violence, with the overall
result of improving the safety of families. IDVCs, if structured appropriately and with
regard to issues of constitutionality and diversity, represent a potential model for law
reform in BC.
5 Bill 16, Family Law Act, 4th Sess, 39th Leg, British Columbia, 2011 (assented to 24 November 2011),
SBC 2011, c 25. Bill 16 was introduced on November 14, 2011, into the BC Legislative Assembly
and received Royal Assent o n November 24, 2011. It will come into force in March, 2013. I discuss
these reforms in Part II of t his paper.
6 The barriers associated with access to famil y justice cannot be fully understo od without mention
of the erosion of access to legal aid in f amily law proceedings over the last sever al years in BC.
Although the issue of access to lega l aid is beyond the scope of this paper, it must be re cognized
as one of the many interlocking s tructural barriers that weake ns access to justice for survivors
of family violence: see Al ison Brewin, Legal Aid Denied: Women and the Cuts to Legal Se rvices in BC
(Canadian Centre for Policy Alter natives and West Coast LEAF, 2004).
7 This paper draws on both feminist and socio logical theories of family vi olence. Common to both
theories is the premise that v iolence is a means of exercising power and cont rol. While structural
inequalities such as class, ag e, race, ethnicity, and sexuality all imp act how power and control
are exercised, feminist th eory helps to explain how these i nequalities aect men and wom en
dierently in the context o f family violence: see Kristin An derson, “Gender, Status and Domesti c
Violence: An Integration o f Feminist and Family Violence Approache s” (1997) 59:3 Journal of
Marriage and the Family 655.