April 18, 2024

The Battered Women’s Support Services says in 2021 they received 11,000 calls from women needing legal advocacy.

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Battered Women’s Support Services is substantially expanding a legal clinic in Vancouver for women who have experienced domestic violence.

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The Justice Center at BWSS legal clinic will provide trauma and violence informed, multilingual, and culturally responsive legal services to survivors of harm. Its location will be in Vancouver but the organization is not disclosing the address to protect women fleeing abusive relationships.

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It is a center for survivors, created in response to the urgent need to address systemic barriers that prevent women from accessing legal services and obtaining fair and just outcomes, said Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services.

She said they were in the process of moving into a bigger space, and had gone from one staff member to six, and had the help of law student interns.

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With the extra staff they should be in a good position to handle the volume of calls they receive, she said. For example, in 2021 they received 11,000 calls from women who survived domestic but needed legal help.

At the center, women can speak up as a legal advocate to help them with family law, immigration, child welfare, or criminal legal systems. They will also help them out in court.

Another area that the clinic can help with is the sponsorship breakdown.

“A woman may have been sponsored by her husband and then comes to Canada and often they find out that sponsorship documents were never filed. Often abusive partners will hold the immigration status as a weapon in order to maintain power and control,” said MacDougall.

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Because witnessing a child being harmed is considered child abuse, there are some women who are wrongfully arrested for perpetrating domestic violence, and then have a deep mistrust of the police so don’t turn to them as a resource, she added.

“We support women who have been arrested for dealing with their immigration status that could be compromised because they’re considered a criminal. Their children may have been appreciated because they’ve been removed from their house and brought to jail. And then there’s child protection. So we deal with all of that in order to deal with the way in which the law ends up harming the victims,” she said.

The clinic has legal advocates rather than lawyers on staff but they do also have lawyers who will come in on some cases pro bono, as well as law school students pitching in to help.

MacDougall said because of the high number of cases of domestic violence going through the provincial court, the court changed the rules to allow legal advocates to help survivors.

“So what we end up doing is helping lawyers… we’re helping gather evidence, and creating a strategy to appeal, and preparing for cross examination questions. You know, so that’s really special in the sense that we support the lawyers,” she said.

The legal clinic also works with trans women and people who identify as non-binary.

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