Legal Areas

Linking Violence Against Aboriginal Women and Law

The Canadian legal system wasn’t created to meet the needs and realities of women, and often doesn’t work especially well for women, particularly for women experiencing violence. This is even more true for Aboriginal women, and women living in remote and isolated communities. Though women experiencing violence have not historically been well-served by the Canadian legal system, knowledge can help women make better choices of when and how to use the legal protections that are available.

One purpose of the Building Service Capacity training was for staff at VAW services – and through them the women they serve – to understand the legal system well enough to have reasonable expectations about what a legal process might look like, and what the law might be able and unable to do for women. The legal process can be frightening and frustrating, and may often not meet the needs of Aboriginal women dealing with violence. As Justice Murray Sinclair, quoted elsewhere in this resource, has said, “…when the justice system can be fallible where Aboriginal people are concerned, it is fallible.”

Despite the many limitations of the law, legal remedies and legal protections remain an important tool for Aboriginal women experiencing violence. The Building Service Capacity legal training was intended to give VAW support workers an understanding of the family, criminal, child protection and domestic/family violence protection order processes “from A to Z” so that workers can provide better information to women.

The sessions talked a lot about “reasonable expectations.” The goal was for VAW support workers to know what the law can and cannot do and what procedures, barriers and issues to expect so as to better inform and support the women they work with.

The sessions were also designed to give VAW service staff new strategies and skills to improve their client’s interactions with the legal system. This resource includes tips and ideas to support more successful uses of the legal system by women experiencing violence.

There’s information here on six areas of law relevant to First Nation, Métis and Inuit women facing violence:

  • Child Protection
    Child protection law is important to women experiencing violence because child protection laws recognize that it is harmful for children to witness violence, especially if the violence is severe or prolonged, and require child protection agencies to investigate.
  • Criminal Law
    Women experiencing violence may need to call the police or may be involved in the criminal justice system as victims – complainants – or as accused. It’s important that they understand how it works and have realistic expectations of the process. Whether or not women choose to call the police, they may find themselves involved in the criminal law process.
  • Family Law
    For women with children who are considering leaving an abusive relationship, it’s important to understand their legal rights and options and the processes by which a court can give them custody of children, the right to remain in the family home, child support, spousal support and in some cases, a share in the value of property owned by the couple.
  • Protection Orders
    When a woman fears for her safety and the safety of her children or other family members, legal tools available under civil and criminal laws may help protect her and her family. Civil protection orders made under family law and domestic violence legislation may work for women who don’t want to report family violence to the police but are interested in legal protection.
  • Matrimonial Real Property on Reserve Legislation
    While recognizing that this legislation is deeply flawed, once in effect, Matrimonial Real Property on Reserve legislation will give women on reserve a legal right to seek an order for exclusive occupation of the family home when they are experiencing violence. This law also provides for other protection orders for women on reserve.
  • Income Supports
    A woman who is experiencing violence may need to access income support, if she has left her home and her abusive partner, and experiences a loss of income. Women may want also to apply for income support as part of a plan to escape an abusive relationship.

For each legal section, this resource provides:

  • An overview of the law
  • Overview of the process
  • Suggestions for how VAW support workers can assist their clients
  • A list of Useful Resources

Child protection law, domestic violence legislation and family law are all provincial or territorial legislation and are therefore different in each jurisdiction. Accordingly, this resource can only provide information at a general level. Sources that are specific to the jurisdiction offer more detailed information. The list of Useful Resources in each legal section includes selected materials specific for provinces or territories.