Speaking at “A Primer on Managing the Family Violence File” by the Law Society of Ontario
By: Tobi Ajibolade
As an Information and Resource Referral Coordinator, I was grateful to speak on the second day of the program held by the LSO while hearing various perspectives and practices in managing domestic violence in family law files. Domestic violence and abuse is a nuanced topic that can involves complex pieces such as; a breakdown of trust, fear, anger, power imbalances, shame amongst others. Nobody is immune to the effects of domestic violence as it occurs across economic status, culture, immigration status and sexual orientation. Although there may be overlapping themes on these cases, these social factors make each situation unique to the survivors of abuse. With this understanding, family law professionals, social workers and IRCs must use their prior knowledge of resources to point the individual in front of them in the right direction on a case by case basis.
Firstly, I spoke about a number of resources available to survivors
Assaulted Women’s Helpline:
For women who are survivors of abuse. The website helps provide information such as naming their abuse, and web security incase they are being stalked. It is a great first resource for someone who may not fully understand that they are being abused, or may be dealing with guilt or shock that they are in this position.
iDetermine.ca is also a great resource for being that first step in the door. It gives the survivor increased comprehension of what they are going through, helps them realize that they are not alone and provides safety planning as well. It’s a free resource that provides a questionnaire for users to assess the level of risk in their relationship.
Barbra Schlifer Clinic
This organization is often our initial referral as they provide legal assistance for survivors of abuse and can help clients name their abuse. They can also assist in creating a safety plan for them, providing them with legal resources, counselling and many others.
Housing (City of Toronto: Special Priority Program)
Under provincial housing legislation (the Housing Services Act) there is a special program called the Special Priority Program (SPP) for households with current or recent experience of domestic abuse or human trafficking that gives them priority access to Rent-Geared-to-Income Housing or Portable Housing Benefits. Access to Housing is responsible for determining eligibility for this program and helping individuals experiencing abuse apply for housing benefits and register for rental housing geared to their income.
Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities
Sexual assault and domestic violence care centre providing up to 18 sessions of free one on one counselling for victims of violence and sexual assault
Legal Aid Ontario
For folks experiencing domestic abuse, Legal Aid has special services.
During the COVID-19 crisis, LAO waived all legal and financial eligibility for people who identify as Indigenous and are domestic violence survivors. This was in effect until September 30, 2021.
For anyone who is not Indigenous but experiencing domestic violence, eligibility requirements will no longer be waived, but the financial eligibility threshold has been increased temporarily to:
|Number of family members||The amount of money your family makes in a year|
This program also provides two hours of free legal advice for domestic violence survivors in Ontario who need immediate advice and assistance in relation to family law and immigration and refugee law matters. There is no financial eligibility requirement. Anyone experiencing domestic violence is eligible for up to five two‑hour authorizations in a year (one per legal issue).
LAO has connected with various shelters and legal clinics who then provide a referral voucher to get two hours of free legal advice from a lawyer. Only lawyers with experience in domestic abuse issues will provide this service.
I also spoke about Onsite mediators and their ability to provide extensive screening to potential mediation clients.
Mediators value the importance of screening parties for coercion and control, domestic violence, power imbalances, and other matters that may affect their capacity to participate.
There is a preference for in-person screening rather than on the phone or online as we can look for things such as non verbal communication, body language, and means of coercion which can be better detected using the 5 senses. Sometimes it’s not just what is being said, it’s how it’s being said and what is not being said.
Even if counsel has done a screening, mediators will also complete their own screening before mediation proceeds.
The mediator will determine whether a file is appropriate and will refer clients to relevant supports if necessary. Safety plans that can be created with community organizations.
Also, if a mediation proceeds but circumstances change at any point, the process can always be paused & reassessed with another screening. The mediator will determine whether it is safe for parties to continue on with the alternative dispute process or go through the litigation process.
Mediation is a “Do No Harm” practice as the aim isn’t to get folks in trouble, but rather to assess what the most appropriate process is for the particular situation.
It is important to emphasize that screening does not mean we are intent on stopping the process.
Mediators look for more factors than simply past violence, as that alone doesn’t determine the appropriateness of the process. Also, we are aware that many survivors of domestic violence seek to avoid court. Going through family dispute resolution can also be empowering for IPV victims as it grants them more agency in the decision making process.