Alberta hopes program will prevent family violence

EDMONTON — Alberta hopes to reduce domestic violence in immigrant communities by teaching men and boys not to take their frustrations of living in a new country out on the women and girls in their families.

The province is renewing funding for agencies that use “cultural navigators” — respected community leaders — to deliver the message that family violence is not acceptable.

“Some may struggle with learning a new language, underemployment and the pressure of adopting a new country,” Community Services Minister Irfan Sabir said Tuesday.

“All of these factors can lead to incidents of family violence.”

Alberta’s family violence rate is the third highest in the country according to the latest figures from Statistics Canada. A report released in February notes seven out of ten victims of family violence reported to police across Canada in 2015 were young girls or women.

Sabir said immigrants are less likely to report such incidents.

He said the goal of the program is to help newcomers adjust to life in their new country and encourage healthy relationships.

The program funding announced Tuesday is aimed at people in the Syrian, Eritrean, Filipino, Somali, Sudanese, Congo, Ivory Coast and Chad communities in and around Edmonton.

Jan Fox, executive director of the REACH Edmonton Council for Safe Communities, said some newcomers are overwhelmed when they first come to Canada. There can be confusion about gender roles, family finances and LGBTQ issues, she said.

“If you are going through all of those stresses, it just creates a much greater risk,” said Fox, a former warden of the federal Edmonton Institution for Women.

“In some cultures, it may be really important that men and women talk about these issues separately. The cultural navigators know those kind of things — what is going to give a mom a feeling of safety, how can she talk about it.”

One of the agencies in the program focuses on increasing awareness about sexual health and sexual violence, including helping victims get the mental health services they need.

Fox said preventing domestic violence reduces calls to police, helps families get out of poverty and can improve how children perform in school.

Joseph Luri, team leader for preventing domestic violence involving men and boys at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, said it can be taboo to talk about the issue in some communities.

Luri, formerly of Sudan, said some men believe they have the right to use violence to discipline their wife or children. The program uses community elders to deliver the message that family violence is not acceptable in Canada.

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