By Shari Narine
Sweetgrass Contributing Editor
August 9, 2016.
Legislation that came into effect Tuesday will help Aboriginal women living in urban settings but will have no impact on women in First Nations communities, who are trying to break leases due to domestic violence.
Safer Spaces for Victims of Domestic Violence, the amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act, allows survivors of family violence to end a tenancy agreement early, without financial penalty, by presenting their landlord with a certificate verifying that they are at risk.
“Reserve land is under federal jurisdiction. Unfortunately there are some areas in the province that are not covered under the Residential Tenancies Act because they fall under special jurisdictional arrangement and reserve land is included in that,” said Stephanie McLean, minister of Service Alberta and Status of Women.
Statistics offered by the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters from 2012 indicate that Aboriginal women make up more than half of the provincial women’s shelter population and this proportion rises to almost 70 per cent in northern shelters. And over half of Aboriginal women in shelters are in extreme danger of being killed by their intimate partners. General Social Survey on Victimization found that Aboriginal women are three times more likely to experience intimate partner violence than non-Aboriginal women.
While the new law offers no support for women living in in domestic violence on reserves, it will help Aboriginal women off-reserve.
Sue Tomney, CEO with YWCA Calgary, lauded the Safer Spaces for Victims of Domestic Violence amendment.
“Economic insecurity, fears about loss of housing or finding new accommodations are among the primary reasons women remain in unsafe and abusive relationships,” said Tomney. “Violence against women and children live in the shadows. This bill not only shines a light on the complicated issues that are associated with domestic abuse but provides women with choices and opportunities to ensure the safety of themselves and especially their children.”
In 2015-16, approximately 35 per cent of the women using YWCA Calgary’s shelter or housing programs were of Aboriginal descent.
The amendment allows tenants to present landlords with a certificate that confirms they or their children are in danger, allowing them to vacate their lease. Alberta Human Services provides the certificate within seven days of being presented with an emergency protection order, a peace bond or a statement from a certified professional - including a doctor, nurse, social worker or psychologist – from the woman. Tenants will also be connected with other services and supports for survivors of domestic violence.
The amendment was introduced by Calgary-Bow MLA Deborah Drever as a private member’s bill last fall. It was passed unanimously.
“(We’re) one step closer to ending violence here in Alberta. Alberta has one of the highest rates of reported intimate partner violence in Canada,” said Drever. “Domestic violence is the most common cause of injury to women.”
Drever pointed out that women leaving violent relationships were in more danger six to 12 months after leaving. The amendments provide women with the opportunity to change their residence and not be held back because of finances.
Drever said the new legislation removed financial barriers and would help end the cycle of violence.