COVID-19 is a crisis unlike any when it comes to relationship breakdowns and intimate partner violence.
Canada’s Assaulted Women’s Helpline said it has fielded 20,334 calls between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, compared to 12,352 over the same period the previous year.
A Statistics Canada analysis of 17 police forces across the country shows that calls related to domestic disturbances from verbal quarrels to reports of violence rose by nearly 12 per cent between March and June of 2020 compared to the same four months in 2019.
Lawyers are reporting increased divorce rates, while many immigrant and refugee service centres across Canada say women in this group face complex barriers when accessing support to escape abusive partners.
Helping new Canadian couples create change
To help combat what the UN has termed as a “shadow pandemic”, MOSAIC, one of the largest settlement non-profit organizations in Canada has launched a unique new project for immigrant, refugee and visible minority couples who would like to make their relationship stronger and build a future together in Canada.
The project, ‘Enhancing Healthy Relationships,’ is free to participate for couples and is funded by the BC Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
It focuses on building and improving stronger family relationships and helping couples create change within their relationship. By providing newcomer couples with the right knowledge and skills, the project aims to help couples improve and strengthen their relationship.
“To the best of our knowledge, BC has a lack of prevention programs that place emphasis on improving family relationships and how to face the stressors associated with migration for newcomers,” said Pooja Tuli, Coordinator of MOSAIC’s Relationship Violence Prevention Program.
New Canadian couples at a higher risk
According to Tuli, newcomers are at high risk of facing stressors related to finances, loneliness, changing power dynamics between men and women, loss of professional and social status due to a lack of recognition for their education and professional experience in Canada, and other cultural and religious stressors of adapting to Canadian society.
“COVID-19 has added another layer of stress for newcomers,” she said.
“We hope that this project will help couples to not feel so alone in their journey of migrating to Canada and support their sense of belonging in Canadian society as a family unit.”
In addition to being free of charge, couples participating in sessions will be guaranteed high levels of confidentiality and culturally sensitive services. Translation services are available for those who need them.
Violence against women
Meanwhile, the Government of Canada said women account for almost 8 in 10 victims of reported intimate partner violence incidents, and they are even more likely to be the victim in incidents where a firearm is present.
The numbers were released as the Government of Canada introduced proposed firearms legislation (Bill C-21) and put forward additional measures to combat intimate partner and gender-based violence.
Amongst other things, Bill C-21 would create “red flag” and “yellow flag” laws. These laws would allow people, such as concerned friends or relatives, to apply to the courts for the immediate removal of an individual’s firearms, or to ask a Chief Firearms Officer to suspend and review an individual’s licence to own firearms.
“Each week in Canada, a woman is killed by her male partner. Gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive and deadly types of violence, and the presence of firearms within a household is the greatest risk factor for the lethality of intimate partner violence, ” said Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
“We are also partnering with front-line organizations that provide support for Indigenous Peoples, LGBT2QA individuals, women fleeing violent situations, victims of human trafficking and others.”