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Shofar FTP Archive File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-007-00

Archive/File: orgs/canadian/canada/justice/ethnocultural-groups/ecg-007-00
Last-Modified: 1997/01/28
Source: Department of Justice Canada

                                             CHAPTER SEVEN
                                   JUSTICE ISSUES RELATING
                                   TO WOMEN AND THE FAMILY


It would appear that women in ethnocultural minorities face
a range of justicerelated problems which combine gender
specific, cultural and linguistic, and immigrant experience
elements. These may reflect a degree of powerlessness that
comes about not only because of economic dependency, but
also because of language and other cultural barriers that
inhibit women from seeking the protection of the justice
system. Many of the problems faced by women may arise from
the strains and stresses experienced in integration. These
may reflect the changing dynamics of relationships between
spouses as more traditional male dominant norms begin to
change with exposure to gender equality ideals and practices
in Canada. Related strains in family life may also arise as
family members face the challenges of finding stable
employment and other adjustment problems.

7.1 Settlement Support for Families

Families are of central importance in a multi-ethnic
society.<205> An understanding of the importance of families
within ethnic communities is fundamental to understanding
why and how these families should be supported for reasons
relating to justice issues.

Ethnic minority families perform two basic functions that
relate specifically to the immigrant or minority experience:
they ensure some measure of cultural continuity; and, they
enable family members to face the many changes and
challenges encountered in the process of integrating into
Canadian society.<206> These functions are not
contradictory. The ethnic communities generally, and the
ethnic family in particular, are an important basis to
mobilize resources to meet the economic and social needs of
minorities. Thus, rather than producing social isolation
from the mainstream, ethnic communities and families may be
important vehicles for achieving integration in an
ethnically plural society.

At the same time, however, families within ethnocultural
communities, and in particular immigrant families, often
experience considerable strains. The strains may be
intergenerational resulting in rejection of the constraints
of traditional family structures by children who then seek
out the support of peer groups which may lead to social
deviance.<207> The strains may be inter-spousal, resulting
in male violence.

The University of Victoria Institute for Dispute Resolution
study<208> indicated that family disputes were the most
common disputes reported by the key informants from
ethnocultural groups. It is important that the settlement
support services provided by the various levels of
government focus specifically on family problems with legal
implications. Further research and consultation would be
useful to determine specifically what problems should be
addressed, and what means might be appropriate.

7.2 Domestic Violence

Spousal abuse may be a long-standing problem that began
before immigration. Family violence may also occur because
of the strains associated with difficult changes and
experiences relating to adaptation to the new society.<209>
The changing power dynamics between husbands and wives which
emerge with departures from traditional male dominant
patterns because of exposure to gender equality ideals and
practices in Canadian society may lead to male violence
against women. The stresses and possibly the disappointments
encountered in finding stable employment and achieving other
status and mobility aspirations can engender family
violence. The "Clients Study" discussed above, revealed some
evidence that problems of domestic violence may be related
to integration.

The observation that "the problem shows up after the
immigrant has been in Canada for awhile" is another
indication that the occurrence of justice-related problems
may follow patterns which are connected to the process of
settlement, adjustment and integration. Different problems
appear to manifest themselves with increasing time, as the
individual encounters stresses associated with new
adaptation problems.<210>

7.2.1 Support for Victims of Family Violence

Domestic violence is a problem affecting Canadians of all
class and ethnic backgrounds. Immigrant women caught in
abusive situations may find themselves in extremely
difficult circumstances, lacking the knowledge and language
skills, and the economic resources to exercise sufficient
independence to escape the abuse. Taking action may result
in women being totally isolated from the community, the only
source of support available because of barriers to accessing
the existing helping agencies. In spite of problems, the
centrality of the family in many ethnic communities often
produces a situation in which family problems are less
likely to be revealed because of a strong desire, on the
parts of both perpetrators and victims of abuse, to protect
the honour of the family.<211>

Women need adequate information about the law. Immigrant
women, particularly those who are sponsored by their
husbands, may fear that they will be deported if they leave
an abusive family situation and thus they may be reluctant
to seek the help of an agency to deal with their problems.
In addition to these fears, many immigrants fear the justice
system, in part because of negative experiences with
authorities in their countries of origin. Because of the
cultural, linguistic, and psychological barriers to
accessing the justice system, access might most effectively
be accomplished through existing ethnocultural women's
organizations, possibly
with main stream public legal information organizations
providing technical and professional support.

The next need is for access to immediate protection and
support. It is necessary to make available to women
systematic information about the availability and adequacy
of "safe houses" to which women and children could go. The
magnitude of this need for women from ethnocultural
minorities, and the extent to which it can be most
effectively and cost-efficiently addressed must be
determined through consultation and empirical research.

Because a woman and her children may be isolated from the
community after
leaving an abusive partner, the issue of adequate support is
crucial. Many existing

women's refuges may not be able to adequately meet the needs-
of immigrant women
because of language and other difficulties. The availability
of culturally appropriate
community-based facilities is not known.

Finally, follow-up counselling and support services must be
available. Many immigrant women lack the necessary
marketable skills and the language capability to find
employment. The need for, and the adequacy of, existing
counselling and support services should be reviewed, and
community-based approaches considered. Settlement support
programs could also alleviate these problems in a proactive
and preventative way, by supporting community-based
employment skills and language training.

7.2.2 Equality of Access to the Courts

Closely related to the need for immediate protection
discussed above, there may be a need for measures to assure
equal access to the courts. Such measures would include
public legal information about the law and the legal
process; and how to access the legal system. How to
effectively develop and deliver this type of information to
groups that are difficult to reach is the subject of ongoing

Knowledge about, and access to, legal aid is important. The
"Client's Study" showed that the multicultural services
agencies involved in the research do provide assistance to
those applying for legal aid, in some cases by establishing
legal aid intake clinics within the organization. The
provincially operated legal aid organizations must provide
accessible services with interpreters available and, to the
extent possible, paralegal and legal staff who speak the
language and have adequate insights into the problems and
needs of the groups being served. This might be done by
establishing linkages with appropriate community
organizations,<213> and by establishing community-based
legal aid clinics such as the Chinese community legal aid
clinic in Toronto.<214>

In-court assistance by interpreters is important in family
law cases as well as in criminal law matters (see Chapter
Three). Women are often more limited in terms of language
capacity by virtue of isolation within patriarchal family
structures, and the limited availability of language

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