Cultural & Linguistic Competence
Domestic violence occurs in all age, racial, cultural, socioeconomic, educational, occupational, and religious groups. No group is more susceptible than any other.
For further information see the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website
African Nova Scotian Women
Women with Disabilities
Immigrant and New Canadian Women
Discrimination against someone because of their sexual orientation is illegal. A woman can file a human rights complaint if she experiences discrimination, threats, insults, or physical violence because she identifies as lesbian.
Abuse occurs in same-sex lesbian relationships and takes many of the same forms as in any other relationship before, during, and after separation. However, for lesbians, the abusive partner can threaten to “out” (make public) their sexual orientation as a tactic of holding the woman in the relationship or to coerce the woman. Lesbians whose families and friends are unsupportive of their relationship have fewer sources of support, thereby increasing isolation and making it more difficult to end abusive relationships.
In Nova Scotia, if they are married, a lesbian partner qualifies as a spouse under the Matrimonial Property Act. If the couple is not married, the Matrimonial Property Act does not apply unless they have registered as a domestic partnership under the Vital Statistics Act. A Registered Domestic Partnership gives common law couples rights similar to those of a married couple if the partnership ends.
Lesbian partners can apply for custody and access of children in the same way as other couples. Applying for custody and access for a child is easier if the lesbian partner is married or is in a registered partnership. If a lesbian partner who is not married or in a registered partnership has cared for a child but is not the child’s biological parent, she must first get permission from the court to apply for custody or access. See www.nsfamilylaw.ca for further information on this issue.
A survey conducted by the Survivor Project, an organization that provides services to trans and intersex victims of domestic violence, found that 50% of respondents stated they had been assaulted or raped by a partner, and 31% identified themselves as domestic violence survivors. As with other women, they have to surmount many barriers in order to leave an abusive partner, and once they do leave, trans women are not only also vulnerable to post-separation abuse from their partner but they also face many barriers to accessing support services.
The most important way that service providers can begin to support trans women is to understand that this is about gender identity. Gender identity is our deeply felt sense of who we are as male or female, regardless of our physical bodies. Whether they have undergone surgery or not, trans women feel they are women and should be treated respectfully and non-judgmentally as women, not men. One of the difficulties pre-surgery trans women face is that they cannot change their legal sex marker (the “Male” or “Female”) on legal documents such as birth certificate, driver’s licence, health card, and passport. This often complicates their access to health and legal services.
According to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act, discrimination against transgender people is illegal. Both gender identity and gender expression are protected in the Act. They can file a human rights complaint if they experience discrimination, threats, insults, or physical violence.
Trans women need to feel safe in order to seek support. Because they are so often misunderstood, they need to know that the service providers they are dealing with will treat them with respect and understanding. Service providers can signal that they are trans-friendly by displaying appropriate posters and quotations in their office, and using a person’s preferred name and pronoun.
There are a number of organizations in Nova Scotia that have staff who provide safe, accessible and confidential services for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (GLBTIQ):
•prideHealth, a partnership of Capital Health and the IWK Health Centre, provides health care services for adults and youth at a number of safe community locations in Halifax. prideHealth serves the greater Halifax community but will respond to requests for information from anyone in the province. To contact prideHealth Tel: (902) 473-1433 Email: [email protected]
• The Youth Project is a provincial non-profit organization dedicated to providing support and services to youth 25 and under around issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Youth Project will provide some support to people over 25 who are seeking assistance, such as resources and referrals. Their education services are available to everyone, including professional development training for anyone who would like to know more about expanding their services to better include LGBT people. They do workshops by request and can tailor them to specific needs, including gender identity and working with transgender people. They host hundreds of workshops each year at various levels, including schools, shelters, government departments, business, non-profit, policy and more.
The Youth Project is located at 2281 Brunswick St., Halifax and can be reached at Tel: (902) 429-5429 or by email [email protected]
• The Family Service Association offers professional, confidential counselling and education services to individuals, couples and families in HRM and has trans-friendly counselors who address such issues as relationships, parenting and family, depression and anxiety, stress, violence and anger, grief and loss, separation and divorce, gambling problems, substance abuse, credit counselling and other issues that may impact an individual or a family. Fees are based on the person’s ability to pay. www.fshalifax.com
• The LGBT Project, run by the AIDS Coalition of Cape Breton, offer support and runs a support group for trans women. Tel: 902-270-3719 Web: www.accb.ns.ca
Information about the needs of trans women can be found on the following web sites:
Vancouver Coastal Health Transgender Program
The Survivor Project, an organization dedicated to addressing the needs of trans and intersex survivors of sexual assault, rape, or domestic violence through caring action, education, and expanding access to resources has a website that includes educational resources, tips for services providers, and survivors' stories. www.survivorproject.org
First Nations/Mi’kmaq Women
Although woman abuse occurs in all cultural, racial, and religious groups, women in First Nations communities face a number of additional difficulties when they want to get support or leave an abusive situation. Women who must leave their community often experience distress due to the loss of support systems, kinship and cultural roots. Stereotypes and myths about family violence also say that abuse is part of traditional First Nations cultures. This belief is false. Violence is not part of traditional culture, and it is unacceptable.
Some issues First Nations women may face:
• Language barriers
• Limited access to information (for example, about legal issues and legal rights) and support services (for example, to transition houses and crisis centres) for women in isolated and minority communities
• Lack of transportation
• Loss of kinship ties, support networks, cultural community, and sense of identity
• Isolation and distress
• Fear of keeping alive stereotypes and negative images of First Nations people
• Fear of being misunderstood by support staff
• Lack of resources for treatment or support
• Feeling that services are not suited to their culture
• Misunderstanding and/or fear of the justice system and law enforcement officials
• Lack of anonymity and confidentiality in seeking services on reserves
• Reluctance to involve a justice and other systems that they see as racist
• Fear of Child Welfare taking her children
First Nations women living on reserve do not have the same legal rights and remedies relating to the matrimonial home. Provincial and territorial courts do not have the authority to deal with the matrimonial home and land on reserve. Even though a woman is living in a home on a reserve, her name may not be on the Certificate of Possession. The courts cannot order the spouse with a Certificate of Possession (usually the man) to leave the matrimonial home, even in an abusive situation. This means that an abused woman with custody of the children has no legal right to the family home on a reserve after separation unless her name is on the Certificate of Possession. Because of housing shortages on reserve, women leaving abusive relationships may be forced to leave the reserve with their children. In some cases, if children are involved, the chief and council may override the Certificate of Possession and allow the woman and her children to remain in the home.
Mi’kmaq is the first language of many Mi’kmaq people and some women may better understand legal terms in their first language, therefore it is important to ascertain whether an interpreter is needed by asking the woman if she would be more comfortable with this arrangement. Service providers should not assume that just because a woman can speak English this service is not required. Women may be too embarrassed to admit they do not understand and to ensure this is not the case, service providers should invite women to repeat what they have heard. Elders are an important part of First Nations communities and should be welcomed to act as supports if clients want this. Several communities, have elders who are available to provide support services and/or traditional/cultural support. In addition, Eskasoni residents can also avail themselves of Case Management services, available to any Eskasoni community members who are involved with multiple agencies/organizations and who may also be struggling with mental health/addictions issues.
The Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network (MLSN) is a registered not-for-profit Aboriginal organization that provides justice support services for all Mi’kmaq and other Aboriginal peoples in Nova Scotia. MLSN administers two main programs the Mi’kmaw Court Worker Program and the Mi’kmaw Customary Law Program. (Visit www.eskasoni.ca/Departments/12/ and www.cmmns.com/Legal.php for more information on MLSN)
There are two Mi’kmaw Family Healing Centres in Nova Scotia located at the We’koqma’q First Nation in Whycocomagh and at the Millbrook First Nation in Truro.
We’koqma’q Family Healing Centre is a shelter providing survivors of family violence a safe, affordable shelter for a period of up to one year. The centre serves all Mi’kmaq/aboriginal individuals and families who are victims of family violence. It offers a warm, friendly place in the company of other aboriginal families where volunteers and staff provide safe and supportive guidance, enabling families to nurture and grow through caring, sharing, helping and understanding.
Millbrook Family Treatment Centre
P.O. Box 665, TRURO NS B2N 5E5
Tel.: (902) 893-8483 Fax: (902) 893-2987
Waycobah First Nation, Whycocomagh, NS
Crisis Lines: Local 756-3440
Toll Free: 1-800-565-3440
The Healing Centres operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and provide these services:
• Protection, safety, shelter, and basic life necessities to women and children.
• 24-hour crisis support telephone line.
• Support and information to women, men, and children to enable them
to develop and maintain a healthful and violent-free lifestyle.
• Individual and Group Counselling for women, men, and children.
• Outreach services to women, men, and children.
• Referral and follow-up to other social services programs.
• Community Education in Family Violence Intervention, Treatment,
The Healing Centres both run 12 week men’s intervention programs called Two Wolves.
For further information about services offered by specific Reserves, contact 211. The 211 service is a United Way Service funded by the provincial government to help Nova Scotians across the province find the community, social and health services they need. People can call 24/7 to get info about service by dialing 211 or search an on-line database at ns.211.ca. 211 has access to a wide variety of languages through interpretation services.
First Nations women and children living on reserve in Nova Scotia, and First Nations children who have been taken into care and have status are served by Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services. The organization delivers culturally relevant services and programs to all 13 reserves in Nova Scotia and has its main offices in Indian Brook and Eskasoni. Like all child welfare offices in the province, Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services operates under Nova Scotia’s Children and Family Services Act.
The Mi'kmaq Native Friendship Centre in Halifax provides social-based programming for Urban Aboriginal People while serving as a focal point for the urban aboriginal community to gather for a variety of community functions and events. For more information and contact details visit: www.mymnfc.com or Phone: 902-420-1576
Women of the Acadian community and other francophone women face many difficulties when they seek help or want to leave an abusive relationship. They often have to leave their support networks, kinship and cultural backgrounds when they must leave their community. This increases their feelings of anxiety and isolation.
In addition, there is limited access to information available in French (e.g., legal rights) and support services (e.g., women centers and shelters) for women who live in isolated communities and minority groups. However, they may receive assistance from the Association des juristes d’expression française de la Nouvelle-Écosse (www.ajefne.ca) that provides legal information and referral services throughout Nova Scotia. The Fédération des femmes acadiennes de la Nouvelle-Écosse (www.ffane.ca) and Transition House Association of Nova Scotia can refer women to the appropriate resources. When services are available, women often face other obstacles or problems, including:
• The language barrier
• Fear of being misunderstood by the staff that provides support
• Lack of resources for treatment or support
• The perception that services are not adapted to their culture
• Feelings of fear or misunderstanding with the justice system and the enforcement of the law
• The lack of anonymity when making use of these services in remote areas, which are often very small communities
• The reluctance to have recourse to a judicial system perceived as discriminatory.
African Nova Scotian Women
Women suffering abuse in African Nova Scotian communities also face additional challenges and barriers to leaving their relationship and getting help. They may face the prospect of leaving kinship, social support networks, and their own communities. This is often more difficult if they live in isolated communities and have limited transportation services. Some issues African Nova Scotian women may face:
• Historical oppression, discrimination, and unequal treatment have resulted in mistrust and fear of justice and social service systems, and a reluctance to turn to these agencies for help.
• The extended family is highly valued in African Canadian communities, so many women feel pressured to keep silent about abuse or downplay its severity because of kinship.
• Reporting abuse may be seen as betraying her partner and furthering stereotypes of African Canadian men.
• Concern that her partner may be subjected to racism makes it even more difficult for a woman to report her abuser.
• Fear of being shut out or blamed by the community may lead to silence about abuse.
• She may not see herself reflected in community organizations and therefore is less likely to rely on help and support from such groups.
Women with Disabilities
Women with disabilities are often more vulnerable to abuse and face additional barriers and further abuse because of the limitations they may have due to their disabilities. Society’s negative images and myths about women with disabilities increase the risk of abuse.
Some issues women with disabilities may face include:
• The disability often gets used as the basis for the inequity in the relationship.
• Destruction of property can often be more dangerous if an assistive device or helping dog is harmed.
• Access to support services may be limited.
• Women who have difficulty walking, understanding, hearing, or speaking may be unable to flee, get help, or report their abuse.
• They are often not considered capable parents.
• Some women may not be aware they are experiencing abuse.
• The abuser may have blamed them for their illness or disability, or have told them they are making it up or seeking attention.
• They have been made to feel worthless by the abuser.
Women with disabilities can obtain a free one-hour consultation with a lawyer through ReachAbility’s legal referral service. Interpreters are provided free of charge to deaf clients during this consultation. ReachAbility Information is available through:
Email: [email protected]
Tel/TTY: (902) 429-5878
Toll Free/TTY: 1 (866) 429-5878
Hearing-impaired women and other women with disabilities may have special needs in the courtroom, such as a sign language interpreter or help with mobility. For help with special needs, clients may contact ReachAbility’s Legal Referral Service.
In the courts, deaf and hard-of-hearing clients are provided sign language services for all criminal cases and as directed by the judge in family and other civil matters. These women should let court staff know they need sign language services as far in advance as possible, since interpreters may have to travel from Halifax to other areas of the province. The Nova Scotia Department of Justice has also started to install infrared hearing devices in court rooms. For other disabilities, women should be advised to contact the courthouse they will be attending to discuss their needs with court staff. Each court has its own characteristics and, depending on when it was built, may be more or less accessible. As always, the more advance notice given to court staff the better.
Even before becoming involved with the family court, women with disabilities who are mothers may already be facing extra scrutiny because of their disability. Lack of information about and misconceptions toward women with disabilities and their ability to parent effectively can pose particular challenges in family court. For example, abusive men or their lawyers may try to bring up a woman’s disability to suggest she is a poor parent.
There is no official protocol for assessing the best interests of the child of a disabled parent. However, the child’s father may present himself as the competent, non-disabled parent, or stress the difficulties the mother may experience as a disabled parent. It is very important that women with disabilities are represented by lawyers who understand disability issues.
It is important for women with disabilities to be prepared to deal with the issue of their disability directly in a child custody and access proceeding. They can do this by:
• Being prepared to have medical or other records introduced as evidence for their side.
• Being prepared to enter their own medical or other records where helpful. For example, documentation showing that a degenerative illness is currently in its early stages along with a parenting plan to accommodate ongoing changes to your health could be helpful.
• Gathering detailed evidence of their parenting abilities. If they have been the primary caregiver in the past, they can produce detailed descriptions of this.
• Presenting third-party evidence from people who can support their case, especially those who can describe their parenting skills and ability.
• Presenting expert witnesses (for example, a doctor or skilled community advocate who can confirm that the disability is not negatively affecting their parenting skills).
Women with disabilities and deaf women may need their lawyer to perform specific tasks, such as:
• communicate disability-related issues to the court accurately and without bias
• find expert evidence
• find and prepare expert witnesses
• ensure that the woman understands exactly what is going on in her case
• prepare the woman to be the best possible witness in her case.
For suggestions on how to help clients find a lawyer with experience representing clients who are either deaf or disabled, try contacting a women’s organization, such as a transition house, women’s centre, Family Resource Centre, or an organization servicing women with disabilities and deaf women.
Immigrant and New Canadian Women
Service providers need to be aware of the additional challenges and barriers that immigrants and newcomers often face when they experience violence. Some issues these women face may include:
• fear of losing immigrant status and fear of being deported
• culture shock
• lack of information about Canadian laws and their rights as women living in Canada
• fear of losing their children
• fear of being turned away from their community
• fear and distrust of the police
• fear of being without male protection
• experiences of prejudice, discrimination and racism
• lack of English-language skills
• fear of bringing shame to family
• low income and job insecurity
• coming from cultures where women’s rights are restricted or where men have more rights in child custody matters, the division and disposal of property, and family law in general
Accessing support services is often difficult for women in this demographic, either because they lack information about services, or because there is a lack of services that meet their needs, or both. When they do access services, newcomers, whose first language is not English, may find there are no funds available for interpretation services, and may encounter a lack of cultural competency among service providers.
A woman new to Canada may hesitate to report incidents of abuse to the police because she is concerned that her partner will be deported if he is found guilty of assault. If her partner is a Canadian citizen, he cannot be deported, but if he is a permanent or temporary resident, or a refugee claimant, he could face deportation if he is convicted of assault or another criminal offence. However, each case is dealt with on an individual basis. The deportation process can take a long time.
Newcomers may wonder if they will be deported if they leave their abusive partner. Here are a few facts:
• If they are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, they cannot be deported for leaving their partner for reasons of abuse.
• If they have been granted convention refugee or protected person status, they can apply for permanent resident status.
• If they are the dependent spouse or common-law partner of a refugee or a protected person, but do not have refugee/protected person status themselves, and if their partner is in the process of applying for permanent residence for both of them but withdraws the application, they can submit their own application for permanent residence on humanitarian or compassionate grounds. (They will probably need a lawyer for this.)
• If they have made a refugee claim that is joined with their abuser’s claim, they can make a request to the IRB (Immigration and Refugee Board) their claim to be separated, and, if granted, they will have their own hearing.
• If they are sponsored by their partner, they will not necessarily lose their status just because their sponsorship has broken down.
Permanent Residents can contact Immigrant Settlement and Integration Services (ISIS) for information and support around issues such as court, domestic abuse, parenting, and any other challenges they face. www.isisns.ca . Refugee Claimants, people with temporary status or people without status who cannot afford a lawyer can contact the Halifax Refugee Clinic for this information, support, or referrals to other appropriate organizations (www.Halifaxrefugeeclinic.org). The Salvation Army ARIS project (Atlantic Refugee and Immigrant Services) can help newcomers who are experiencing post-separation domestic violence with their immigration paperwork to file an application to stay in Canada. In most cases, this is if it is in the best interests of the children. www.salvationarmy.ca/maritime/tag/aris. Nova Scotia has 11 Rural Regional Development Authorities (RDAs), each with a Newcomer Navigator specialist to help newcomers make informed decisions about living and understanding life in Nova Scotia and can refer newcomers to the appropriate resources. For a list of local Newcomer Navigators check www.newcomernavigator.ca
“My experience is different because Canadian women know their rights and they know the language. They have support from their family, I don't have family here.”
“Big difference, they can call the police easily there is no cultural misunderstanding. Divorce and separation is easy here, they can separate and they are still friends.”
“Marriage is a relationship between two families, this is why I can't call the police for him. If I was in my country elder people will involve to dissolve the dispute but here I have to take all ....the action.”
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