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Abuse and Violence

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Creating Healthy Personal Relationships

*Recognizing an Unhealthy Relationship

Every couple has a fight now and then. Is this booklet meant for me?

Disagreements are a part of every relationship. However, they are never an excuse for violence and abuse. Healthy relationships are built on love, respect, caring and happiness. If your partner’s behaviour is disrespectful and hurtful to you and your children, then you must decide how to set things right. That might mean counselling for you, your partner or both of you, dealing with addiction problems, calling the police, getting legal advice, or just going some place safe to think about what you want to do.

You and your partner may be able to get the help you need to make positive changes and create a healthy relationship that makes everyone in the family feel respected, happy and safe. Or, you may have to leave the relationship to find safety, happiness and peace. This booklet is for anyone who wants more information about dealing with abuse or violence in a personal relationship. It includes an overview of the legal rights of Aboriginal women on reserves. Although men can be victims of spousal violence too, it usually is women and children. The booklet discusses how the community, the courts, and the police can help. Everyone deserves to live without fear of violence.

This behaviour is abuse.

Some people call this behaviour “family violence”. Although not all forms of abuse are against the law…all abuse is wrong! If your partner is treating you in this way, you may be at risk of further harm.

How do I know if my relationship with my partner is not healthy?

There are many signs of a hurtful, unhealthy relationship. Ask yourself, does my partner:

  • get very jealous when I am around other people?
  • make fun of me in front of friends and family?
  • destroy or threaten to destroy my things?
  • ask me not to spend any time with my family or friends?
  • put me down or blame me when things go wrong?
  • call me names and threaten to hurt me?
  • threaten to take the children from me?
  • push me around or hit me?
  • take away and control of all of the money?

I feel I’m to blame. Maybe if I try harder to please my partner, things would be different.

You are not to blame for your partner’s behaviour. Although many abused women blame themselves, you are not responsible for your partner’s actions – only your partner is. No matter what you did to upset your partner, no one has the right to hit you or constantly put you down. If your partner acts like this, you may feel:

  • Alone and isolated from family and friends
  • Anxious because you have to do everything just right … or else
  • Depressed, unhappy, unwell and unable to get to sleep
  • Afraid to say what you think because of your partner’s reactions or anger
  • Scared to break up or leave your partner
  • Embarrassed to tell people how your partner treats you
  • Sure that nobody will believe you if you tell
  • That you are the only one who is treated like this

*Did You Know - Women Who Experience Abuse Are Not Alone

The Family Violence Survey: A Statistic Profile 2002 found that First Nations and Inuit women experience high rates of family violence than non-aboriginal women.

What should I do if these things are happening to me?

Talk to somebody you trust. Find out about your options and make some plans for getting help and getting to safety if necessary. You should have a safety plan even if you stay. Know what you will do if your partner becomes violent. Be prepared to leave quickly. Make a list of things you should take. Have a small suitcase packed with a few clothes, medications, and important papers, like your bankbook, ID and so on. You should also have a safety plan for work to tell the people who work with you how to protect you from unwanted contact from your partner.

Consider making a safety plan with your children so they know who to call or where to go if your partner is hurting you. Check out the last section in this booklet about getting help. It offers suggestions on who to turn to for support.

*Dealing With The Police

If my partner is hurting me, should I call the police?

Yes. Call the local police authorities when:

  • your partner threatens you;
  • your partner beats you;
  • your partner forces you to have sex.

You should call the police right away. The local number is on the first page of your phone book. In an emergency, call 911. If you cannot call when these things happen, is okay to call after your partner has hurt you. The longer you wait to call the police the more difficult it is to investigate the crime.

How can the police help?

The police can:

  • take you to a safe place.
  • arrest your partner and take him/her to the station for a short time, maybe overnight, or longer, if a judge agrees.
  • charge your partner with a crime.
  • tell you how to get a peace bond from a judge (a peace bond may take awhile to get, but it would order your partner to leave you alone).
  • give you a card that tells you about the services for victims of crime.
  • take photographs of the injury to you or your property
  • make a videotape of your statement about the assault if you are scared that family or friends will pressure you later to change your statement.

Will I have to go to court and be a witness if the police charge my partner with an offence?

Probably. If you were the only witness, you may have to tell the court what happened. However, if your partner pleads guilty, you will not have to speak in court. (See the PLEIS-NB pamphlet entitled, “Being a Witness”.)

Can I get a “no contact” order or peace bond to prevent my partner from contacting me?

Although it is possible to obtain restraining orders under the Criminal Code, the courts cannot order an abusive spouse to leave the matrimonial home if the Certificate of Possession is in the abusive spouse's name.

*My Status On-Reserve

Will I lose my Indian status if I leave?

No. If you have status under the Indian Act you cannot lose it, even if you leave the reserve.

Will I lose my right to my home if I leave? Will I have to leave the Reserve?

The Indian Act says who has the right to live on reserve lands. However, different reserves have different property systems or rules about who has the right to live in a house on a reserve. Some allow women to stay in the home if the relationship ends and others do not. You should ask your Band Council for advice. Here are some possibilities. Find out what applies to your situation.

  • Some Bands issue certificates of possession. The person who has a certificate of possession stays in the home. If your husband or partner has the certificate of possession in his name only, you usually will not be able to stay in the home. The band council could try to persuade him to leave and let you stay.
  • If there is no certificate of possession, your Band has a right to decide who stays. Your band can give your husband or partner another place to stay or just tell him to leave the home. Many Band Councils allow the parent who keeps the children to stay in the home.
  • Sometimes both names are on the certificate of possession. Unlike a couple living off-reserve, the courts cannot resolve this issue. This means that if you and your partner cannot decide who should stay in the home, a judge has no authority to make that decision for you. The court cannot even make an “interim order” (which is a temporary order) for exclusive possession of the marital home.

Where will I live if I have to leave my home?

If you are a Band member, your Band has an obligation to you and your children. If you are not allowed to stay in the family home, your Band must provide shelter for you and your children. Your need for a home should get top priority from the Band.

What if I am a non-status woman living on a reserve?

The Band owes nothing to people without Indian status. If your children have Indian status and you do not, the Band may be able to help the children. Otherwise, you may have to leave the reserve with your children to get help.

*Marital Property Issues

Can I ask the Court to give me my share of the marital property?

The Indian Act does not deal with family law matters and New Brunswick marital property laws do not apply to reserves. The courts have no authority in aboriginal family law cases concerning property. People living on a reserve have fewer rights to the marital home when a marriage or common-law relationship ends than do people living off a reserve. Most of the laws that provide legal rights and remedies to the marital home off-reserve, are not available to people living on a reserve. For more information about matrimonial property on-reserve, be sure to check out the reports and publications by Indian and Northern Affairs on this topic. They are available on the website at

Can I get a share of marital property other than the house?

Marital property legislation in New Brunswick is limited to a man and woman who are legally married. If you are legally married and you separate or divorce, a Court might order your former spouse to pay you compensation for your share of the marital property. Also, the divorce court can tell him to pay you money to make up for his right to stay in the home. But, it may be difficult for the Court to place a value on the house since it cannot be sold on the open market. And if the house is the only asset your partner has, the courts cannot force him to sell it. Non-status spouses would have a greater disadvantage compared to spouses with Indian status because they have less capability to execute judgments against a former spouse who is a member living on-reserve.

What if I was in a common-law relationship?

Recent amendments to the Indian Act define a common-law partner as a person who has lived in a conjugal relationship for at least one year. This appears to include same-sex partners. However, common law and same-sex partners do not have the same legal position as "spouses" for all purposes of the Indian Act. The rights of common-law partners in the Indian Act are limited to deductions from treaty money for support of a deserted spouse and residency rights. Other common law remedies for individual property disputes available to common-law couples off-reserve do not apply on-reserve. Also, recall that if you are in a common-law relationship with a status Indian, and you do not have status, the band does not owe you anything.

*You and Your Children

Do I have the right to ask for custody of my children if I leave?
Yes. You do not lose your rights to your children when you leave an abusive situation. Both parents have equal rights to custody of their children. Try to take the children with you when you leave. If you do not take the children, it may be more difficult for you to go back and get them. In either case, you should apply for custody as soon as possible

Should I stay for the sake of the children?

Many women stay in abusive relationships because they think it is best for their children to have two parents in the home. However, research shows that children who see or hear their mother being abused feel the effects. They are more likely to have emotional problems, anger or trouble in school. They may grow up to model the violent behaviour in their own adult relationships. Child protection laws in New Brunswick recognize that exposure to family violence may be a reason to remove children from the home if their own development and security is at risk.

What can I do if I am afraid my husband or partner will take the children away?

Once you have a custody order, it is easier for the police to help you if your husband or partner takes your children. If you think your husband or partner might want to take the children, and prevent you from seeing them, contact Child and Family Services on the reserve right away. They can give you information about getting an interim custody order. Or consider contacting the Domestic Legal Aid Program and tell them your concerns. They may be able to help you apply to the court for an interim custody order. (See PLEIS-NB pamphlet on Legal Aid in New Brunswick.)

My partner says I cannot take the children off-reserve. Is this true?

Unless your partner already has a custody order, both parents have equal rights to custody of the children. If you must leave the reserve to find someplace safe to live, you can take your children. However, you should apply for legal custody of your children as soon as possible. You will need a lawyer to help you apply to the Court for custody. If you are a victim of spousal abuse, the Domestic Legal Aid Program may be able to help you.

*Getting Help


Where can I go to get away when things are bad at home?

You should find a place where you and your children will feel safe like a family member's or a friend's house. Or ask your Band if they can put you up in a hotel until you get to safety.

You and your children can go to any of the transition houses in New Brunswick. There are thirteen around the province. All of them are open 24 hours. Look on the first page of your telephone directory for the number of the transition house in your area, as well as for other services for abused women. Your local policing authorities can help you locate the nearest transition home.

One of the houses, called Gignoo Transition House, is specifically for Aboriginal women.

What is Gignoo Transition House?

Gignoo ("Our House") is the only Aboriginal women's transition house in New Brunswick. It is located in Fredericton, but serves Aboriginal women from all 15 First Nations reserves around New Brunswick. The staff at Gignoo are Mi’kmaq and Maliseet and they are trained to work with women and children who are leaving violence. They will respect your confidentiality.

You can contact Gignoo by calling 458-1236 in the Fredericton area. If live elsewhere, you can call the toll-free number: 1-800-565-6878. Gignoo House staff will arrange for transportation from any of the New Brunswick First Nations reserves to Gignoo House at no charge to you. Counsellors at Gignoo can help you find out about your options, make contacts with agencies that can help you, and give you support and information to deal with abuse. They can also offer help with victim services, parenting skills, and traditional healing, as well as many other services. If you have questions, or just want more information, feel free to contact Gignoo.


Will somebody help if I have to go to court?

Victim Services Coordinators can help victims involved in a criminal case. They can support you, answer your questions about going to court, and show you the courtroom before the trial. If you wish, they can even go with you to court for support. They can also tell you about how to access other services such as counselling and crime compensation. If your partner is convicted, they can tell you how to prepare a Victim Impact Statement. This is a voluntary written statement that tells the Court how the crime has affected you. You may read this statement aloud at the sentencing hearing if you wish. The Judge must consider your statement when sentencing the offender.

The Crown Prosecutor's office will prepare you to be a witness. For more information about services for victims, contact the court for the nearest Victim Services Office or the Crown Prosecutor.


What support services are available?
There are services that might be available both on and off the reserve.

  • Gignoo Transition House Inc. (crisis line: 1-800-565-6878)
  • Chimo Helpline (crisis line: 1-800-667-5005)
  • Kids Help Phone (crisis line: 1-800-668-6868)
  • Child and Family Services
  • Mental Health Services
  • Family and Community Services
  • Alcohol and drug counselling
  • Crisis Resource Centres
  • Victim Services (may send you for counselling)

Can I get traditional help?

Yes. Your local Elder’s group may refer you to Talking Circles, Sweats, Smudges and/or Fasts. Services such as your local alcohol and drug rehabilitation program can also refer you to traditional support services. If your community does not have a Healing Lodge, you may visit the one at the First Nation’s community nearest to you. There may also be programs on-reserve or in the community that help children or youth, such as youth groups.

Can I make my husband or partner get counselling?

If your partner goes to court, the judge can order counselling. Ask the Crown Prosecutor to tell the court that your partner needs counselling. Ask if your partner could get into an anger-management program. You can also say he/she needs counselling in your Victim Impact Statement. If the court convicts your partner, the sentence might include counselling either on- or off-reserve.


Who can help me with my legal (family law) matters?

  • Your Band Council can refer you to their lawyer.
  • If you have contacted Child and Family Services, your social worker may be able to help with some questions about the court proceedings.
  • Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick provides general law information about divorce, separation, peace bonds, family violence, and so on. You can contact PLEIS-NB to order pamphlets, or check out the publications available on the web site at
  • You may be able to use the Domestic Legal Aid Program. It is offered through Family Division, Court of Queen's Bench. The program can help any person who needs child and/or spousal support to apply for support payments. The Court Social Worker can meet with you about your other family law issues and may refer you to the Domestic Legal Aid lawyer.
  • For help with parenting after the separation, there are courses off-reserve called, “For the Sake of the Children" They are available free of charge. These 6-hour courses recognize that family violence is sometimes present and offer information on dealing with high conflict situations. The separating couples are never in the same course.
  • If you are getting divorced and have some assets, a private lawyer may wait for payment until the end of the divorce proceedings. Or you may be able to use “Doing Your Own Divorce in New Brunswick"– a guide to divorce available for a small fee from the Public Legal Education and Information Service of NB.
  • If you are applying for income assistance off-reserve, your financial worker may be able to help with some of the court proceedings such as getting child support.
  • First Nation’s organizations (like the Native Women's Association of New Brunswick at (506) 523-4732) may be able to offer support and provide information about your rights.


National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence

Native Women’s Association

Family Violence: It’s Your Business (helps employers deal with family violence)

Directory of Services for Victims of Abuse (N.B.)

Violence Prevention (Government of New Brunswick) or see Province of New Brunswick Home
Select keyword “Violence Prevention”

Provincial Caring Partnerships

Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick

Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research

National Clearing House on Family Violence Health Canada

Education Wife Assault

Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick (PLEIS-NB) is a non-profit organization. Our mission is to provide plain language law information to people in New Brunswick. PLEIS-NB receives funding and in-kind support from the Department of Justice Canada, the New Brunswick Law Foundation and the New Brunswick Department of Justice. Project funding for the development of this booklet was provided by Justice Canada.

We wish to acknowledge and thank our partners, Gignoo Transition House Inc. Their expertise and dedication in assisting Aboriginal women who are victims of family violence was instrumental to the success of this project. As well, we wish to thank the New Brunswick Coalition of Transition Houses and the women from several of New Brunswick’s First Nation’s communities who provided feedback on the draft materials for this booklet. We also wish to thank the Women's Issues and Gender Equality Directorate (WIGE) at Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) who worked with PLEIS-NB in 2004 to offer an educational workshop for Aboriginal people in Atlantic Canada on their own research studies dealing with Matrimonial Real Property On-Reserve. Finally, we wish to acknowledge the members of the Law Society of New Brunswick who assisted with the legal review of the materials.

This booklet does not contain a complete statement of the law in the area and changes in the law may occur from time to time. Anyone needing specific advice on his or her own legal position should consult a lawyer.

Published by:
Public Legal Education and
Information Service of New Brunswick
P.O. Box 6000
Fredericton, NB
E3B 5H1
Tel: (506) 453-5369
Fax: (506) 462-5193

This booklet was produced in collaboration with:
Gignoo Transition House Inc.
PO Box 3385, Stn. B
Fredericton, NB
E3A 5H2
Tel (506) 458-1236
Fax (506) 459-2547
Toll free: 1-800-565-6878
October 2005
ISBN: 1-55396-596-5



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Disclaimer: Please note that our website contains general information about the law. This is not a complete statement of the law on particular topics. We try to update our publications often, but laws change frequently so it is important for you to check to make sure the information is up to date.  The information in our publications is not a substitute for legal advice. To receive legal advice about your specific situation, you need to speak to a lawyer.