DECEMBER 18, 2013

British Columbia’s Representative for Children and Youth issued the following statement today after the first element of the federal government’s Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act came into force:

The federal legislation that came into force this week is a welcome step toward addressing the safety and security of First Nations women and children who live on-reserve in Canada.
As the Representative, my mandate includes a responsibility to review the deaths and critical injuries of children who have received B.C. government services in the year prior to the incident. Through my work, I am well aware of the devastating effects of domestic violence on the well-being of all children. I am therefore pleased to note that this new legislation now enables judges to issue emergency protection orders and remove violent partners from family homes on-reserve.

In short, this bill provides First Nations women and children on-reserve similar protections to their off-reserve counterparts and allows First Nations to develop their own laws and approaches in this area. Prior to this change, First Nations families living on-reserve and governed by the Indian Act did not have these protections.

This legislation also takes important steps toward creating an obligation for the equitable sharing of matrimonial real property assets in the event of the break-up of a couple living on-reserve or the death of a spouse or common-law partner. I hope that clearer provisions for enforcement of child support orders on-reserve will follow this initiative. The end goal is that women and children, in particular, living in these communities will experience greater financial security going forward.

I also look forward to seeing the work of the newly created Centre of Excellence for Matrimonial Real Property. In particular, I am hopeful that the centre will include a strong research component around domestic violence and intergenerational cycles of violence and their effects on children.

In November 2011, I presented to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights regarding the creation of this Bill so it is very positive to see it becoming a reality and I hope it can make the difference needed.

I trust the necessary resources will be provided across Canada to ensure enforcement of this important legislation. As we know, a protection order without enforcement is not a real system of support.

Better still, a First Nations domestic violence prevention and intervention plan could go a long way toward protecting children and providing them aclear message that violence in an intimate relationship, or any relationship, is not acceptable.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
B.C. Representative for Children and Youth