Toward a holistic approach to reform of the Canadian legal system.

AuthorGander, Lois

People experiencing domestic abuse must often deal with several legal matters while addressing that violence. Some matters will need urgent attention. But which ones?

When the neighbours called 911 on Saturday night, Maria's life went into a tailspin. As the police were arresting Paul, they told her to expect a call from Children's Service. They also suggested that she call Legal Aid on Monday to see about getting an Emergency Protection Order to keep Paul away. She freaked out that Children's Services might take her children and thought about fleeing with them--but where would she go? And what would she do for money? Paul had run up charges on her credit card but had not made payments on it. She had no credit and a ruined credit rating. And now the landlord was threatening to evict her. Paul had already run his business into the ground. She was a director of their company, but she never had anything to do with the actual business. Revenue Canada was after them for not paying taxes. What other surprises were coming?

She spent most of Sunday crying or on the phone to her friend who told her that at least she could get out of her lease early because of the domestic violence. How would that help if she had no money and nowhere else to live? And what was up with the police? When would Paul be released? When he did come home, he would be furious. Last night's beating would be nothing compared to what he would do next. What to do? Should she go to a shelter? Would they even take her? How would she get the kids to school? What did she need to tell the principal?

If only the neighbours hadn't phoned the police. If only her uncle hadn't cheated her out of her share of her father's estate. If only...

Can it get any worse?

Actually, it can. If Maria is an immigrant, especially if her ability to communicate in English is limited, Paul has another whole set of ways he can exercise coercive control over her. He might be able to limit access to local support, turn her local community against her, or use community leaders to intimidate her into staying with him. He might threaten to withdraw his support for her application for permanent resident status or that of other family members who want to come to Canada. He might even threaten to harm family members back home. Would she even be able to stay in Canada or would she be separated forever from her children?

While no two cases of domestic violence are the same, they are rarely simple. People experiencing...

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