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26482Law extends matrimonial rights to those living on reserves

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  • Don
    Dec 19, 2013
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      Law extends matrimonial rights to those living on reserves

      Act seen as 'welcome step' in addressing safety of women, children


      Women, children and families living on reserves will now have the same matrimonial rights as those living off reserve after legislation that was first introduced in 2008 finally came into effect this week.

      "We can be proud as Canadians that we are closing a longstanding legislative gap that has hurt families and communities for too long," said federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt on Wednesday. "Many Canadians are not aware of the legislative gap - that a spouse (living on reserve) could sell the house and keep all the assets, or a spouse could bar the other spouse from the home. Or in the event of domestic violence, the courts could not order a spouse, who held the interest to that home, to leave the home to protect the other spouse and children."

      With the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, judges will be able to issue emergency protection orders to remove violent partners from reserve homes.

      B.C.'s representative for children and youth, who attended Wednesday's media briefing with Valcourt, called it a "welcome step" toward addressing the safety and security of First Nations women and children living on reserves throughout Canada.

      "It's exciting that this day has come. I just know from my work how much this means for women and families," said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

      "It's so important. For decades there have been no tools to apply on reserves to protect women and children. Particularly when there is family violence, the women would have had to leave and been impoverished."

      The federal government has committed $500 million over five years to assist First Nations communities across the country to understand the new legislation and to help guide First Nations who opt to develop their own matrimonial property laws.

      Wendy Grant-John, a former Musqueam chief, said the creation of the Centre of Excellence for Matrimonial Real Property is critical because it addresses the need for "capacity building" among First Nations.

      She added that during a consultation process she also heard from many men who were forced out of their matrimonial homes after a marriage breakdown, leaving with just a bag of personal items.

      The new Act will apply to married couples and commonlaw partners living on Canadian reserves, where at least one of them is a First Nations member.