In 2011, the Ontario Women’s Directorate (the OWD) provided funding to the Law Commission of Ontario (the LCO) for an initiative to develop model course components for Ontario law students on issues related to violence against women, with particular emphasis in domestic or intimate partner violence. As stated in the LCO’s proposal,

. . . Cases of domestic violence pose challenges for lawyers for a variety of reasons, including the identification of clients who have experienced domestic violence, types of domestic violence, the complexities of relationships, protection of children, possible involvement of both family and criminal court, diversity and need for victims’ services and supports for their clients. Lawyers are often the first point of contact women have with the family court system.

Law school curricula provide limited training on VAW issues or on understanding and supporting clients who have experienced violence. While some law schools have faculty members who are experts in legal issues related to VAW and make efforts to integrate these issues into their teaching, most law students can graduate from law school without any exposure to these issues. Yet clients retaining a lawyer for issues unrelated to domestic violence may be experiencing domestic violence. It is therefore not only lawyers whose clients retain them specifically in relation to domestic violence or in areas in which domestic violence issues are most likely to arise, but all lawyers who can benefit from at least a basic understanding of this issue.

[. . .] This project will develop violence against women law school course modules to increase law students’ knowledge and skills on the dynamics, signs and consequences of violence against women, including effective management of domestic and sexual violence files. The modules will be flexible, to enable them to be used as separate intensive courses or workshops, integrated into existing courses (torts, criminal and family, for example) or combined in a full course, as each law school finds appropriate.

The LCO appointed a Coordinator, Pamela Cross, who had previously been involved in developing curriculum for the National Judicial Institute (NJI) judges’ training program and Legal Aid Ontario, among other projects addressing violence against women, to undertake the initiative. The Executive Director of the LCO supervised the initiative. An Advisory Group, including representatives from all Ontario law schools and members from a wide range of relevant constituencies, such as legal clinics, the NJI, the Ministry of the Attorney General, defence counsel and service organizations, provided input from a diversity of perspectives and experiences. The Coordinator consulted the Advisory Group at various stages of the initiative and several provided detailed comments on the final draft of the modules. The members of the Advisory Group are listed on page iv.

In addition, focus groups were held at the faculties of law at Osgoode Hall Law School, the University of Ottawa, Queen’s University and the University of Toronto. Comments from the student focus groups are included as Appendix B, since they may be helpful to law schools in considering whether or how to implement these modules.



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