While Canadians have largely been staying at home since mid-March in order to promote public safety during the COVID pandemic, staying at home hasn’t been the safe option for many. A byproduct of staying indoors has unfortunately been an increase in domestic violence in many areas of the country. As a result, there has also been an increase in applications for Emergency Protection Orders (EPOs). In Alberta alone, over 800 EPOs were granted between January and April 2020, a 5% increase over the same time frame last year.
With people largely contained in their homes, family law conflicts have increased, and sometimes those conflicts have turned violent. Provinces across the country have reported an increase in domestic violence incidences since March. According to the Minister for Women and Gender Equality, Maryam Mosef, calls for help with domestic issues have increased by 400% in some areas.
On the other hand, in some areas, particularly those that are more remote, calls have been quieter than usual:
“In some pockets, and many of the more rural communities … some frontline organizations are reporting it’s eerily quiet,” said Monsef, who is also responsible for rural economic development. “That’s because likely she’s under surveillance. She can’t call for help. She doesn’t know to call for help. And that’s another challenge we are seized with right now.”
Despite the fact that courts remain limited in their services, lawyers and legal aid clinics are prioritizing EPO hearings in order to address as many as possible. There is a strong desire on the part of the legal community to encourage anyone experiencing violence during self-isolation to know that they have options, and shouldn’t feel trapped.
In April, the Alberta government made it possible for EPO hearings to proceed via teleconference. Alberta Community and Social Services released Ministerial Order 2020-011 dated April 7, 2020, which provides an outline of how the proceedings will work, allowing courts to hear as many urgent matters as possible, while also limiting physical contact. Ordinarily, section 4(1) of the Protection Against Family Violence Act requires that such hearings be held in person. However, the new Order temporarily suspends that requirement, allowing applications to be made via telecommunication.
Claimants should first reach out to their local law enforcement agency and request an EPO. If the law enforcement agency will not make an application on behalf of the claimant, the claimant should then contact Legal Aid for assistance. Potential claimants should note that Legal Aid is only available between 3-10 pm Monday to Friday.
If neither organization is willing or available to make an application, the claimant can contact their local Provincial Hearing Office, located either in Edmonton or Calgary. Depending on the claimant’s location, they may be asked to attend in person. However, if they are unable to do so, they will be asked to complete the Telephone Application for Emergency Protection Order by Claimant form provided by Alberta Courts.
Once a form is completed, including a telephone number where the claimant can be reached, a Justice of the Peace will contact the claimant when they are ready to hear the application. If the application is granted, the EPO will be sent to the claimant via email or mail. Full details of the procedure can be found here.
While families remaining at home is in the interest of keeping Albertans safe from infection, keeping families facing domestic issues at home may endanger them. Couples who were contemplating separation or divorce before the emergency measures were put in place may find their issues escalating, and this may lead to anger and abuse. It is also possible for EPO applications to be used maliciously in highly contentious family disputes. In either case, an experienced and empathetic family lawyer can provide detailed guidance and advocacy when it is needed most.
If you need assistance with legal issues stemming from an emergency protection order, Mincher Koeman can help you. We will work to quickly and effectively to ensure that you are adequately protected. Contact our office for an urgent consultation today by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.
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