Victims of domestic violence could take their children and pets with them right away when leaving their partners under new legislation introduced by the New Brunswick government.
The proposed Intimate Partner Violence Intervention Act was tabled in the legislature Thursday.
The bill would allow victims of domestic violence to apply for an emergency order that would grant them immediate rights to protect themselves, their children and pets, and to have access to their homes and finances.
"It really is about timeliness, that when you are waiting for a criminal proceeding to go forward you might not have access to your children, to your home — you were thrown into economic insecurity, housing insecurity," said Beth Lyons, executive director of the New Brunswick Women's Council.
"It's a stop-gap measure."
Getting away fast
New Brunswick is one of only four jurisdictions that do not already have such a mechanism.
Lyons said the legislation would help people who need to get away from their partners quickly but who are afraid of losing access to their children or home.
Victims of intimate partner violence would apply for the emergency order and get help filling it out from an outreach worker or someone working with the Department of Social Development.
The form would then go to a "quasi-judicial" person, who would grant the victims certain remedies. Who that person would be has not been decided, Lyons said.
Remedies might include having exclusive rights to live in the home, a no-contact provision or temporary custody of the children. They might also include seizure of weapons and temporary possession of personal property.
"It's about timing, getting to the victim when they are at the highest risk," Lyons said.
She added an order would not be meant as a long-standing or permanent solution, and will be reviewed by a judge within five days, who can then affirm the order, change it or call for a full hearing.
Orders would likely remain in place for about six months, to give the victims time to get their affairs in order.
"It really puts them at the centres, rallies around them, sees what they need to keep them safe," she said.
Education remains key to ending violence
Anything that makes it easier for a woman to leave a risky situation is important, said Carol Lynn Gamblin, an outreach worker at the Fundy Region Transition House in St. Stephen.
Women in rural areas often have a particularly hard time leaving an abusive or violent partner because there are few alternative housing options and economic opportunities.
And many women don't want to upset their children's schedule by taking them away from their school, their home or their possessions, she said.
"Anything that supports a woman and her children being safe in the short term until things can settle down, until things can be in place legally, logistically for the long term, is so important," she said, adding that the safest place for any woman in immediate danger remains a transition home.
While it is good to have legislation supporting a person's decision to leave, Gamblin said the main problem with domestic violence remains perception.
Too many people make excuses for their partner's behaviour, or people within their family and neighbourhood, she said.
"The laws could be stronger but there is still the perception that someone coming and hurting me, someone attacking me, a stranger attacking me, is a completely different thing than my partner attacking me," she said.
"We need to have an extremely different attitude towards domestic violence."
Women are most at risk
A Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2016 found women are more likely than men to be killed by an intimate partner, more likely to experience sexual abuse, and more likely to suffer severe and chronic violence.
The legislation was the result of recommendations from the New Brunswick Roundtable on Crime Prevention and Reduction.
Premier Brian Gallant, who tabled the order, said the government has often heard that victims of intimate partner violence hold off on reporting threats because they worry their cases will take too long to go through the court system.
He said the proposed act would provide them with more immediate remedies and build a culture where women and people of all genders feel comfortable raising a problem and asking for help.
"We believe this is an important step to keeping women and children safer in New Brunswick," Gallant said.