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Canada still needs systems to apply changes to Divorce Act, women's advocate says

Last Updated Mar 4, 2021 at 2:28 pm EDT

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Summary

Changes to the Divorce Act are a step in the right direction, Battered Women's Support Services says


Feds make changes to promote the best interests of children caught up in the legal battle when it comes to divorce


Canada still lacking a system that's prepared to apply changes in the Divorce Act, according to women's advocate


VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – While Canada this week made the most substantive change to its federal family law in more than 20 years, a women’s advocate warns some of the amendments to the Divorce Act may be difficult to enforce.

Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services, says the change in language is a step in the right direction.

“What we essentially do have are words on a page and they come to life in the lives of women and children. And so it does matter to have family violence written into these acts and, in particular, the federal act has some language that’s specifically around coercive control, and that’s actually some great wording because it takes into consideration what we see within abusive relationships,” MacDougall told NEWS 1130.

However, she points out the country is still lacking a system that’s prepared to apply the changes.

“We’re still dealing with many of the same problems that we have when we’re talking about power imbalances. And that the language is really progressive, but all of the people within the system continue to operate from a perspective that does not work for lots of the women that access our services that are seeking separation,” MacDougall said Thursday.

One of the biggest changes to the Divorce Act is that it now includes measures for dealing with family violence. There are also changes to the wording used to describe parenting arrangements, as well as a change in the definition of family violence that goes beyond physical touch to include sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, and harassment or stalking.

MacDougall stresses that words can only go so far.

“Women are not believed, continue to not be believed, when they report on violence, and there’s a lot of myths about women — there are a lot that’ve said that women are making up their experiences,” MacDougall explained. “There are still far too many societal and social problems that the law can be a tool to address, but it’s going to take a lot more work to have the system and all of the people within the system applying those principles.”

She believes there needs to be more training, changes, and cultural shifts for this to make a difference.

According to the Department of Justice, the changes to Bill C-78 come in light of rising family violence rates against children and spouses both during and after separation.

The federal government originally planned for Bill C-78 to come into force this summer, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MPs moved quickly to pass the legislation.

MacDougall points to British Columbia, where changes have been made to the provincial Family Act. However, she notes that in B.C. — as is the case elsewhere — there are still “far too many societal and social problems.”

Battered Women’s Support Services provides education, advocacy, and support services to help women, with the goal of eliminating violence and promoting equality.