Manitoba has the second highest rates of intimate partner violence in the country behind Saskatchewan, according to data from Statistics Canada. And sometimes those cases end up in court.
Navigating the justice system can be stressful, and for victims of domestic violence it can be re-victimizing.
“If the abuser is completely denying the existence that it happened during the relationship without evidence from third parties like family members who’ve witnessed this or pictures, or past police involvement, it can be very difficult to prove,” Robynne Kazina, family lawyer with Taylor McCaffrey LLP, said.
Statistics Canada says from 2013 to 2017, there were 399 people killed by their intimate partner across the country.
“Of course any family lawyer that sees a client is wanting to make sure they’re not involved in those percentage of cases. Often there needs to be connection to other resources,” Kazina said.
“It’s about 20 to 25 per cent of cases that come across our desk where there’s some kind of violence and that can mean many things — where a woman in my office tells me she’s afraid for her life, to the other end of the spectrum where there’s emotional abuse, right, but they’re not at fear for their physical safety.”
The challenge for family lawyers is also to make sure their clients are safe if they are choosing to leave a dangerous relationship. Experts say the most risky time for victims is when they try to terminate their relationship.
“They’re often afraid of how their partner will react when they know they’re separating. We often see a lot of women coming to us before they separated because they’re so fearful of their partner receiving these papers,” Kazina said.
WATCH: See something, say something – domestic abuse survivor sends message
Kazina says clients don’t always understand their rights if they want to get a divorce.
“Often we see women who are in violent relationships are really financially isolated, so it’s really difficult for them to leave because they don’t have access to funds and they often don’t have their bank account and there’s been control around the money,” she said.
“In any type of separation, whether there’s violence or not, there’s often entitlement for spousal support, child support and a family property division. Although it takes time to get that money flowing there’s often an entitlement and that money will get flowing once there can be lawyers involved.”
In Winnipeg there’s a courtroom just dedicated to domestic violence issues. And Stats Canada explains that 60 per cent of all violent crime in the country happens between intimate partners.
However, Kazina says, except in extreme cases requiring a determination by a judge, it is always better for family matters to be handled without litigation.
“Outside of court is always the best resolution for people.”
Kazina adds that the federal government is developing a standardized screening tool, to be launched in 2020, to better help family lawyers support clients in dealing with violent relationships.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship there are some local resources you can reach out to for support.
WATCH: Standardized screening process being developed to improve legal supports