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Indigenous victims of domestic violence face significant barriers to accessing justice services
(May 16, 2018)

OTTAWA, May 16, 2018 /CNW/ - Victims of domestic violence living in remote and rural First Nations communities are at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to accessing police, hospitals, lawyers, and courts. The physical distances, along with the cost of travel, create real inequities for the individuals trying to access justice services, according to a new Conference Board of Canada report.

"Many Canadians living in urban centres wouldn't think twice about being able to get to courts, hospitals, lawyers, and police stations. However, for victims of domestic violence in rural or remote First Nations communities, attempting to engage the justice system can require substantial funds and travel commitments," said Adam Fiser, Principal Research Associate, The Conference Board of Canada. "Acknowledging these distances are critical to understanding the barriers faced by Indigenous victims of domestic violence when seeking to find justice and begin healing."


  • Indigenous individuals were more than twice as likely as non-Indigenous individuals to experience spousal violence.
  • Most individuals living on-reserve face significant geographic distances to access courts, hospitals, lawyers, and police stations that require monetary, travel, and time commitments.
  • The more remote a First Nations community is, the more likely its residents are to experience disadvantages when it comes to benefiting from the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act.

Indigenous people face higher rates of spousal violence than other Canadians. The most recent national survey on domestic violence indicates that roughly 9.0 per cent of Indigenous individuals experienced spousal violence compared to 4.0 per cent of non-Indigenous individuals.

For victims of domestic violence in rural or remote First Nations communities, attempting to engage the justice system can require significant travel. The distance to the nearest permanent provincial court can range from an average of 99 to 300 kilometers, depending on whether the individual lives on reserve and if the reserves has access to a main road network. Many reserves and other First Nations communities are not connected to a main road and require other means of transportation such as air travel. In the case of law offices, more than 113,000 people living on-reserve must travel beyond 50 kilometres to reach a lawyer. Similarly, more than 60,000 people living on-reserve in 2011 did not have a police station within 25 kilometres.

Beyond the geographical distance, accessing the appropriate justice and health care services can also cause a disruption in childcare and employment, in addition to potentially separating the victim from her or his family and friends. Fears that reporting acts of domestic violence will result in the loss of custody of children are a real concern for Indigenous victims of domestic violence.

The Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act (FHRMIRA) was introduced in 2013 to support residents of First Nations reserves during the breakdown of a spousal or common-law relationship. It includes important provisions that protect rights to the family home and provides greater protection for on-reserve victims of family violence. However, the geographic distance between many remote and rural First Nations communities and justice services mean that many are not able to fully benefit from the protection provided under the Act.

The report, Matrimonial Real Property Rights in First Nations Communities: A Statistical Profile, recommends several policy measures to strengthen the implementation of FHRMIRA, including:

  • Further educate law enforcement agencies, the courts, and broader legal community about their roles in helping first Nations establish FHRMIRA.
  • Review the access on-reserve residents have to justice services and identify the judicial services needed.
  • Strengthen First Nations-driven, anti-violence solutions and victim support services.
  • Increase funding and support to First Nations that are developing community specific matrimonial real property law.

Funding for this report was provided by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada—Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs. It is publicly available from our e-Library.

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SOURCE Conference Board of Canada

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