Domestic abuse victims wait almost a year for emergency protection orders
Act that allows victims of domestic violence to apply for immediate custody of children still not proclaimed
Victims of domestic abuse who are in urgent danger have yet to get access to the emergency protection orders that were promised by the provincial government nearly a year ago.
The new emergency protection orders were included in the Intimate Partner Violence Intervention Act, which was introduced in February 2017.
While the orders have not materialized yet, some groundwork has begun, including a round of training for front-line workers on how to help victims with the lengthy applications.
"These emergency protection orders will reduce the barriers for someone who says, 'I'm not going to leave without my kids," said Julia Forgrave, a social worker with Second Stage Housing in Saint John.
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The legislation, which has yet to be proclaimed, will enable victims in high-risk situations to apply for immediate custody of their children, without going to court.
They'll get an answer and enforceable order within 24 hours.
An order may also force the respondent to leave the family home, under police escort, if necessary.
Ability to seize weapons
Peace officers can also be authorized to seize the respondent's weapons, ammunition and any documents that allow for the purchase or possession of weapons.
"Many of the women who have been murdered in our province, have been murdered by firearms," said Forgrave.
"So for me, that is something that I feel would greatly reduce the risk."
She was also trained to instruct others. In the months to come, this select group of individuals from around the province, will be expected to pass along what they've learned.
Among those they will train are: social workers, shelter and transition staff, victim service co-ordinators, domestic violence outreach workers and members of police organizations.
These individuals will be authorized to help victims make application or do so on their behalf and with their consent.
They can also help victims forward their applications to the emergency adjudicative officers.
They are the quasi-judicial authorities who review the applications and determine whether orders will be granted.
The Department of Justice and Public Safety says it's in the process of recruiting those officers.
Identifying victims at risk
Over the past few months, since the act received royal assent, the province says it's on track for implementing the law in early 2018.
One of the goals of the act is to create a wide circle of people who can identify victims at imminent risk.
According to the legislation, recognized risk factors include an escalating pattern of violence or abuse.
For many women, they have witnessed not just themselves and their children, but [also] their pets being abused, being hurt.- Julia Forgrave, social worker with Second Stage Housing
The adjudicator is also supposed to look for evidence that the respondent has a mental illness, a substance addiction, financial stress or has just lost a job.
If the victim has informed the respondent of his or her intention to separate, that also must be considered.
The only evidence presented to the adjudicator is the victim's completed questionnaire.
"It's very in-depth," says Forgrave.
"It's an exceptionally long form."
She recalled it being about nine legal size pages.
Forgrave says the province was right to create a tier of designated supports, like the one she'll be training.
She says it will be their role to help the victims complete the paperwork and educate victims as to the kind of orders they might be seeking.
Getting a safety plan
Forgrave says a woman living in a rural setting may be advised and agree that it's not ideal to seek exclusive possession of the house.
She says there's no guarantee that an abuser won't go to the house, even under threat of arrest for breaching the order.
If it's a long time for a police response, Forgrave says it may be best that the victim go to a shelter.
Intervention orders may also include a provision to restrain the respondent from taking or damaging property in which the applicant has interest and a provision to have a peace officer accompany the victim to retrieve belongings.
Forgrave says these protections also cover pets.
"For many women, they have witnessed not just themselves and their children, but [also] their pets being abused, being hurt," she said.
"And in some cases, the family pet may have been murdered right in front of them, out of spite and retaliation."
The orders, which take effect immediately, must be reviewed by a judge within about a week.
The judge can choose to affirm the order, vary it, or schedule a hearing to consider the evidence.