New domestic violence law enables victims to break their leases

Dec 19, 2015 at 4:50 p.m. ET
Image: Angelika Schwarz/Getty Images

During the holiday rush, happy shoppers on Queen Street West in Toronto stumbled across what appeared to be a festive, Christmas-themed storefront window.

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Untitled & Co. Store DV windows display
Image: Oaith Shelters / YouTube

But upon peeking through the glass at Untitled & Co. Store, many were like shocked to discover that the seasonally-attired female mannequin and her children were not enjoying a nice holiday roast, but instead were victims of domestic violence.

"The holidays can be a confusing time for women in abusive relationships, especially when there are children involved," says Charlene Catchpole — the chair of the Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses, the group who created the window scene in partnership with the Yellow Brick House shelter — in an interview with Adweek.

"Many women put on a good face and project an image of stability to keep the holidays a happy time. Our hope is that this campaign will break the lingering culture of silence that exists around violence against women.”

Thankfully, for women in Alberta, the Legislature just passed a new domestic violence bill into the law books this month, which should make life just a little easier for victims of domestic violence as the holidays approach. Bill 204 enables victims of domestic violence to break their leases early and forbids landlords from penalizing them.


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Changes to domestic violence laws

The NDP's Maria Fitzpatrick helped gain traction for the bill, sharing a story of her own battle with domestic violence, leaving tears in her fellow politicians' eyes.

She spoke of beatings, black eyes and broken bones, and recalled being raped by her husband, who had threatened to kill her daughters. She says she was unable to escape the brutal situation she endured in the 1970s, as the apartment she and her husband shared was in her name — she was scared that if she broke her lease, she'd have difficulty finding another place to live.

"The trap was being set and I was the game," said Fitzpatrick. She stressed that she would be "horrified" if any of her colleagues voted against the bill. They all unanimously voted to pass it.

These changes come at a time when many Canadian provinces have seen increased rates of domestic violence. Andrea Silverstone, co-chair of the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective, tells CBC that calls to her organization shot up by 40% this year.

Following a year of brutal, high-profile crimes against women across the nation, Manitoba recently introduced new legislation as well that would make it easier for courts to grant domestic violence victims protection orders.

"The status quo needs to change because we can and need to do more," Maddie Laberge — a woman whose sister, Camille Runke, was a homicide victim earlier this year — told CBC.

"Intimidation can no longer be a tool abusers use to scare women into coming back to them. Fear of bodily harm (even death) for oneself or for family members cannot be tolerated. We have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make our communities safer."

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