The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Ethnocultural Groups
The Justice System in Canada
A Review of the Issues

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 research.<212>

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 training.

The original plaintext version of this file is available via ftp.

[ Index | Next ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.