A. Introduction

Based on the research and experience described previously and on the contributions of members of the Advisory Group and student focus groups, the LCO has developed a framework for the inclusion of issues relating to violence against women in the curricula of Ontario law schools. We have deliberately chosen a framework approach rather than developing a specific curriculum in order to allow greatest flexibility and to recognize the need for curriculum to evolve to meet changing circumstances. The framework is composed of the following elements:

  1. principles governing its formation;
  2. the objectives to be satisfied by including these issues in the curriculum;
  3. core competencies to be developed by students;
  4. curriculum content;
  5. course formats; and
  6. pedagogical techniques.

In addition, the framework includes examples of curriculum design for the following three courses: family, criminal, and legal ethics and professionalism.

 

B. Principles Governing the Framework’s Formation

Throughout this initiative, we have worked from the principles set out by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in its work on the Canadian common law degree, as well as by the other studies referenced above in this report. In particular, we have been mindful of the following:

The focus needs to be on learning outcomes and not necessarily or solely on the specific context to achieve those outcomes.

  • Individual law schools need to determine how their graduates accomplish the required competencies.
  • The principle of academic freedom and law schools’ own expectations about course content and teaching apply.
  • Law students need to learn about lawyering as well as about “the law”.
  • Students learn best when provided with an array of learning methods and formats and when they can apply doctrinal learning to real life situations.

C. Objectives to be Satisfied

At the macro-level, curriculum on violence against women has the objective of preparing students to enter the profession of law with the following characteristics:

  • a comprehensive understanding of the issue of violence against women and its implications across all areas of the practice of law;
  • the skills needed to competently manage files involving violence against women issues;
  • the knowledge required to play a role in working to shape social policy responses to violence against women; and
  • the knowledge required to play a role as members of their professional community in bringing an end to violence against women.

 

D. Core Competencies

1. Introduction

To assist us in developing model course components at the micro-level, we first established a set of core competencies for law students with respect to their learning about violence against women. To do that, we turned to existing work in Ontario and elsewhere.

Over the past several years, the Ontario Women’s Directorate has funded approximately 20 domestic violence training and education projects. These have been aimed at many sectors, including health, education, justice and social services.[31] Within the justice sector, training and education has been developed for the following groups:

  • judges, through the National Judicial Institute[32]
  • lawyers, through Legal Aid Ontario[33]
  • Ministry of Community and Safety and Correctional Services staff,[34] and
  • training of Crowns by the Ministry of the Attorney General.[35]

Each project has developed core competencies that are relevant to its sector and that have been helpful as we have identified the competencies for education for law students.

 

2. Competencies

Knowledge

Law students should develop the following competencies with respect to their knowledge of issues around violence against women:

  • familiarity with the dynamics and types of abuse, including how, when and where it can happen, and ability to recognize some of its indicators in clients and files;
  • an understanding of the differing ways in which violence against women is manifest in different communities[36];
  • an understanding of the impact of violence against women on both women and children;
  • an understanding of the relationship between violence and various legal issues and areas of law;
  • an understanding of the impact of violence on a victim’s ability to interact with legal systems; and
  • familiarity with characteristics of abusers and how these affect the abuser’s relationship with legal issues, areas of law and legal systems.

Best practices

Law students should develop the following competencies with respect to implementing best practices in relation to violence against women:

  • establish safe environments for all clients to allow disclosure of abuse where appropriate;
  • create a professional relationship of trust with clients once abuse has been disclosed;
  • create a physical and emotional safety plan for clients as well as for herself or himself and the law practice generally; and
  • integrate knowledge of abuse into how he or she handles the case/file.

Skills

Law students should develop the skills to allow them to do the following in their cases with respect to violence against women:

  • screen for violence against women/domestic violence;
  • be aware of violence against women risk factors;
  • know when to refer for a full assessment;
  • be able to respond appropriately to a disclosure of abuse or violence;
  • make effective referrals to community services;
  • conduct an effective interview with a client who has experienced abuse;
  • conduct an effective interview with a client who has perpetrated abuse;
  • manage files involving violence against women appropriately; and
  • manage the impact of this work on themselves.

Professional role(s)

Law students should develop competences that are necessary for them when they deal with violence against women in the following roles:

  • legal counsellors to their clients;
  • officers of the court; and
  • members of a professional community.

Ethics

Law students should learn how to ensure the following ethical conduct in relation to violence against women:

  • identify and respond to violence against women regardless of their professional role or area of law practised;
  • address ethical issues that arise when they suspect violence against women has occurred or is occurring;
  • understand the ethical issues involved in representing victims/alleged victims and abusers/alleged abusers; and
  • understand the issues related to children in a family in which violence against women has or is occurring.

 

E. Curriculum Content

Using the core competencies as a guide, we suggest the following proposed topics about violence against women that could be included in law school courses. While the actual teaching of this material will be a decision made by individual faculties of law and individual professors, it seems important that the first two topics below form an introduction to the other topics and that as many students as possible be exposed to these two topics, even if they do not pursue this area of study any further.

1. Setting the foundational context

  • Explain why violence against women requires recognition in the curriculum.
  • Establish an approach based on the intersectionality of factors such as culture, race, gender, ability, religion, age, sexual orientation, citizenship status, geographic location and other characteristics reflective of Canada’s pluralism and diversity.
  • Explain the importance of a gendered analysis.
  • Introduce practices in other jurisdictions.

2. What is violence against women?

  • Provide definitions of violence against women.
  • Explain and discuss how violence against women occurs in the public sphere.
  • Explain and discuss how violence against women occurs within the family.
  • Explain and discuss different ways the law addresses violence against women.
  • Briefly discuss what “violence against women” means in other jurisdictions.

3. Family law

  • Establish the statutory framework.
  • Identify provisions and case law relating to custody and access.
  • Identify the law governing child protection.
  • Explain and discuss the impact of violence against w