The Justice Centre at BWSS

Add a Comment by Rebecca Bollwitt

Battered Women’s Support Services (“BWSS”) has launched the Justice Centre at BWSS, a community-based legal clinic providing trauma and violence informed, multilingual, and culturally responsive legal services to diverse women who have experienced violence in BC.

This is an all-encompassing one-stop-shop that supports women survivors of violence to navigate the complex Canadian legal system and have access to justice which is crucial for women’s long-term safety and freedom from an abusive partner.

Staff, legal interns, and volunteers from the Justice Centre at BWSS - Photo credit BWSS
Staff, legal interns, and volunteers from the Justice Centre at BWSS – Photo credit BWSS

The Justice Centre at BWSS

The Justice Centre at BWSS is a substantial expansion of the Legal Services and Advocacy Program (“LSAP”) at BWSS, providing women survivors of violence improved and thorough legal assistance as they navigate intricate legal systems, encompassing family, immigration, child protection, sexual assault, and criminal law. 

This is urgently needed to address the systemic barriers that the Canadian legal system creates for women survivors of violence, especially given the continual cuts to government funding for support services. These barriers leave survivors with more obstacles than opportunities, highlighting the critical need for comprehensive legal supports like those offered by the Justice Centre.

One woman or girl is killed every 48 hours in Canada. From 2019 to 2022, there was a 27% increase in killings of women and girls involving a male accused.

Documented femicide numbers were the lowest in pre-COVID 2019 but there has been a steady increase of intimate partner violence (IPV) against women and girls during COVID-19; with a 16 percent increase in 2020, 20 percent increase in 2021, and a projected 24 percent increase in 2022. With rising rates of IPV in Canada and progressive cuts to Legal Aid since 2002, there is an urgent need for a Justice Centre to provide legal advocacy and safety for women survivors. 

80% of women accessing BWSS need support with at least one legal issue. Between March 2020 and March 2022, BWSS has received an alarming 94,736 outreach attempts from individuals who have experienced domestic or sexual violence. 

The legal clinic is staffed with legal advocates, including those with law degrees, legal interns working towards their law degree, and volunteer lawyers, all of whom are dedicated to offering women survivors access to justice and increasing their chances of achieving a just result. These enhanced services offered by the Justice Centre are available in BC, and aim to increase the chances of women survivors of violence receiving legal and social protection from the legal system, and include:

  • Legal Advice and Representation;
  • Family Law Clinic;
  • The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls;
  • Legal Advocacy Workshops;
  • Court and Immigration Forms;
  • Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) Advocacy Clinics—BWSS is one of the first organizations in the province of B.C. to provide advocacy workshops to women who have involvement with the MCFD

This launch comes nearly 45 years after the LSAP was established, and has the following objectives to reflect current needs:

  • To ensure that the issue of violence against women is taken into consideration throughout the entire legal process;
  • To work towards ensuring that the legal system is accountable to women, by advocating with police, lawyers and others who work within the legal system;
  • To improve legal responses to women who have experienced abuse in intimate relationships;
  • To lobby for the right of women to have accessible legal representation throughout their legal proceedings;
  • To lobby for the right of women to have adequate and secure social assistance.

Additional barriers faced by women survivors: 

  • Mistrust of the legal system and other state systems, and being minimized or disbelieved; 
  • The reduction of Legal Aid to a mere 28 hours;
  • Denied legal representation by the Legal Services Society (now known as Legal Aid BC);
  • Language, disability, complexity of legal issues, gender orientation, and impact of trauma;
  • The use of the court system by the abuser as way to intimidate or harass or to continue any form of violence;
  • The inability to privately retain a lawyer, such as financial difficulties; and
  • Indigenous, Black, and newcomer immigrant/refugee survivors face heightened barriers to justice as survivors of gender-based violence, including often being criminalized for reporting violence, having their children apprehended, or facing deportation. This is further magnified for those who are low-income, single parents, and/or working in criminalized or under-the-table economies such as sex work or garment factories.

Battered Women’s Support Services has been at the forefront of the national conversation about domestic and sexualized violence against women since 1979. The founding women at BWSS recognized that gender-based violence does not only take place between two individuals in isolation but rather, in a social context and a world view that systemically reinforces the power of some people to oppress others, including through gender, race, ability, citizenship, sexuality, and more. Their long-term goal is to eliminate all violence against women and girls. 

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