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Domestic abuse and family violence on the rise in Alberta, organization says


As COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted across Alberta, a different pandemic wages on as family violence rises in the province.

Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) says the number of emergency protection orders (EPO) filed by the agency has risen 17 per cent since 2018. An EPO is a court order that can protect people facing violence by keeping away an abuser and removing them from the home.

The agency offers free services for people filing applications for an EPO, and the number of orders they open in 2020 spiked to 2,267. It’s part of what advocates call the “shadow pandemic,” said Christina Riddoch, a staff lawyer with LAA. She said lockdowns isolated victims of abuse, and job losses and financial strain put families under pressure - leading to higher cases of family violence.

Despite restrictions being lifted, the organization remains busy.

“It’s showing a pattern that I don’t think is going to change,” Riddoch said. “With a number of factors, we’re going to see those numbers increase.”

Riddoch said a looming recession, rising inflation and higher costs of living are all continuing to drive family violence - increasing the rates and severity.

She used to process four or five a day in Edmonton. Now, 14 is not uncommon. Over the last year, the number of cases assessed as “extreme danger” have also increased. This means the complaints involved weapons, sexual assault or physical abuse.

“The most common form of physical abuse I see that results in an ‘extreme danger’ assessment is assault by strangulation,” Shilpi Walia, a Calgary staff lawyer for LAA, said in a written release. “If claimants aren’t given support, this is something that could easily turn into a fatality.”

The LAA has also seen a shift in demographics, with more seniors, many of them men, calling in for help. Riddoch said that elder abuse is also on the rise as families supporting seniors struggle with increasing costs of living.

The increased number of orders being filed has led to an extension of the time in courts set aside to hear them, and more people are calling and zooming in. Riddoch said these measures are increasing access to justice for victims of family violence. She adds that an EPO can help victims get help right away, but the process to maintain or renew one is long and difficult.

There are other ways to seek assistance for yourself or someone you suspect is a victim of family violence, and Riddoch encourages people to reach out to LLA with any questions. Family violence thrives in isolation, said Riddoch, so the best way to help is to be vigilant and check in with people regularly.

“Family violence is so prevalent in our communities, and because it’s behind closed doors, there is a tendency to not even think about it – to sweep it under the rug,” Riddoch said. “Every community, every walk of life, of every income bracket – it is there. And we see it every day.” Top Stories

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