By Jensen, Randy on November 3, 2020.
To mark Prevention Against Family Violence Month in November, Legal Aid Alberta is reminding those in need in the Lethbridge region there is help out there through the police and the court system.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic we at Legal Aid Alberta have tried to do our best to help victims of domestic violence during this difficult time,” explains Andrea Doyle, senior adviser council for family law with Alberta Legal Aid. “You can appreciate with people being in the home all cooped up together even more stable marriages can have problems with domestic violence. Legal Aid Alberta has been at the forefront of trying to make the court system more streamlined to help victims of violence to allow them, rather than having them travel to court for Court of Queen’s Bench reviews when an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) is granted, we have worked with the court to set up a more streamlined process where people can appear through WebEx, and not actually have to travel to court.”
It works slightly differently in other cities, explains Doyle, but in the Lethbridge region the process to attain an EPO generally begins when the victim contacts her local police service, either Lethbridge Police Service, RCMP or Blood Tribe Police Service, who will bring an EPO application on behalf of the victim to the provincial court. The vast majority of victims seeking an EPO are women, she confirms.
“When they go before a provincial court judge or a Justice of the Peace, that is an ex-parte hearing,” she explains. “We are only hearing from the applicant or the police officers representing the applicant. If the EPO is granted it is a court order that is in place immediately, and it is reviewed nine days later at the Court of Queen’s Bench. They are provided protection during that period of time.”
Legal Aid Alberta represents free of charge the victim who has attained the initial EPO at her Court of Queen’s Bench hearing after nine days, says Doyle, and will work with the victim to allow her to appear remotely so she does not have to attend the court in person.
“Moving to the electronic way of dealing with these matters has made it easier for the victims of domestic violence to appear either by WebEx or by phone in certain areas to help with the EPOs, and have lawyers there to help them,” she states. “It saves them time and energy by not having them come back before the court.”
“(At Legal Aid Alberta) we are happy to help fill gaps during this time,” she adds, “and we want people to know there is help out there for domestic violence.
Doyle says EPOs fall under civil law under the Protection Against Family Violence Act and have a broader range of situations they can be applied to than Criminal Code offences. EPOS may cover actions like the use of intimidation or threats instead without overt physical violence, for instance, or actions like stalking.
The victim also has more say in crafting the EPO to decide a term limit for the order, and how it should be applied to their spouse, partner or family member who has victimized them, often making it a preferred tool for them rather than Criminal Code charges.
“We want people to know there is help for victims of domestic violence,” Doyle states. “No one needs to stay in their situation of domestic violence because there is no help out there. There is help.”
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