Since the start of the pandemic, concerns around family and intimate violence have escalated, with more people at home most of the time, and in close contact with their family members on a daily basis. The federal Assaulted Women’s Helpline reported a 65 per cent increase in calls between October and December of 2020, compared with the same period the year prior. In addition, a survey of 17 police forces across the country reported a 12 per cent increase in domestic disturbance calls between March and June 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. Women are disproportionately impacted by family violence. One in 10 Canadian women reported being concerned about violence in the home, and 79 per cent of intimate partner violence reported to police is against women.

Legislative Reform and Support for Victims of Family Violence

Family violence has been a key area of focus in recent amendments to family law legislation, such as the federal Divorce Act, which underwent significant changes earlier this year. In recognizing the importance of keeping families and especially children safe, family violence is now a required consideration when examining the best interests of any child involved in family law proceedings in the courts, such as a divorce, or the determination of parenting arrangements.

In addition to updating the family legislation already in place, the federal government is looking at other ways to provide support to those who experience or are at risk of experiencing intimate partner violence. To that end, Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health recently announced a plan to provide $100,000 in funding to Western University to support the development of an app aimed at helping victims of family violence.

MyPlan Canada App – Identifying and Preventing Intimate Partner Violence

The app, which will be called the MyPlan Canada App, was developed in conjunction with researchers from the University of British Columbia, Western University, and the University of New Brunswick. The app will follow the model set by an existing American resource called the MyPlan App, with input from the American team as well.

The app is meant to be a free and all-encompassing resource for people across Canada to help them identify and prevent intimate partner violence, as well as provide a wide spectrum of information and support on topics ranging from mental health, finances, and employment. Often, victims of intimate partner violence have other concerns that keep them in a cycle of abuse, such as a lack of funds, which the creators of the app hope to address through ongoing and detailed support. According to Dr. Marilyn Ford-Gilboe, the Project Lead at Western University, the app is primarily designed to support the needs of women and children across Canada:

“Given increased rates of gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re very excited to develop this made-in-Canada app to support women, and their children, in finding safety and improving their health and well-being. The app can be used by women themselves as they consider options, and together with service providers as an additional form of support.”

The app is customizable to reflect the user’s specific location and family situation, and features include:

  • An assessment of whether the user should be concerned about intimate partner violence;
  • The ability to create a safety plan if needed; and
  • Information about local resources accessible by phone, online, or in person.

The app will be available in early 2022 for both Apple and Android devices.

Family Violence and Intimate Partner Violence in Alberta

As we previously wrote in a blog post about Clare’s Law earlier this year, Alberta has the fourth-highest rate of police-reported intimate partner violence in the country. For that reason, Clare’s Law was introduced by the province to provide a method for people to obtain information on their partner’s history of violence, if one exists.

One key to avoiding family violence is to identify and recognize early warning signs, as well as signs a person may be already experiencing domestic violence. The province of Alberta defines ‘domestic violence’ as “violent or abusive behaviours in an intimate, dependent or trusting relationship.” Depending on the place and context, that could refer to family violence or intimate partner violence”. Intimate partner violence is more narrowly defined as “harmful actions – physically, sexually, or psychologically – by a current or past partner or spouse”. Intimate partner violence, for example, could include non-physical violence, such as harassment, stalking, or even situations involving revenge porn. The behaviours included in the definition are wide-ranging, such as:

  • Physical abuse, such as hitting, kicking, biting, or threatening the use of weapons
  • Verbal abuse, including name-calling or repeated put-downs
  • Emotional and psychological abuse, including insulting one’s family, and threats of deportation or harm to loved ones or pets
  • Financial abuse which can include limiting one’s access to funds and bank accounts, forbidding one from working, or acquiring debt in a partner or spouse’s name
  • Neglect
  • Control, forced isolation, and confinement
  • Sexual abuse which can include degrading comments and behaviour, or refusing to use birth control

Resources for Albertans Affected by Family Violence and Abuse

If you or someone you know is at risk of intimate partner violence, below is a list of resources available nationally as well as in Alberta specifically:

  • Family Violence Information Line: 1-780-310-1818 (toll-free, 24/7, multilingual service available)
  • Alberta Abuse Helpline: 1-855-443-5722
  • Alberta 24/7 Community and Social Services Helpline: 211
  • Alberta’s One Line for Sexual Violence: 1-866-403-8000
  • Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-387-5437
  • Distress Line: 780-482-4357
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
  • Parent Information Line: 1-866-714-5437
  • Seniors Abuse Helpline: 780-454-8888

For Assistance obtaining Emergency Protection Orders against Violent Partners or Family Members, contact the Family Lawyers at Mincher Koeman

If you are looking to initiate a separation or divorce out of fear of violence, the family lawyers at Mincher Koeman can assist you. We will work with you to help ensure you remain safe throughout the duration of your family dispute. We frequently work with clients on issues related to family violence including emergency protection orders and revenge porn. Contact our office for an emergency consultation today by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.

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