Emergency protection order requests have increased by 17 percent in the last four years
Legal Aid Alberta has seen a continuous rise in emergency protection orders (EPO) requests from individuals experiencing family violence across Alberta.
As family violence cases continue to spike in the province, the LAA reported that EPO applications have increased by 17 percent in the last four years − with 2,267 opened files in the 2021-22 period alone.
“When I started at Legal Aid Alberta back in 2007, assisting with EPO applications, I was seeing maybe four or five a day,” LAA staff lawyer Christina Riddoch said. “Now, we’re seeing up to 14 EPO reviews per day.”
An EPO is a court order that protects victims of family violence. In applying for an EPO, the applicant must prove the following: (1) violent or threatening behaviour occurs between family members; (2) there is evidence that immediate protection is necessary; and (3) and family violence will likely resume or continue.
According to Riddoch, most individuals applying for EPOs are women, and isolation requirements or stay-at-home orders may have exacerbated this situation during the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that she had also seen several male applicants, mostly belonging to the elderly population.
“Elder abuse is becoming more of an issue [and] we’re seeing an increase in situations where an adult child or stepchild is abusing their elderly parent – something that could be the result of the cost of living becoming harder to manage,” Riddoch said. “So, we’ve been working in tandem with support services for elder abuse victims to try and help get these vulnerable people out of these situations.”
Given the increased requests for EPOs, LAA said that courts opened an “urgent matters chamber” where lawyers have 90 minutes to review EPOs instead of 30 minutes.
For its part, the LAA confirmed that it continues to provide easier access to justice for victims of abuse through its Emergency Protection Order Program. Under the program, applicants receive duty counsel to represent them in court throughout the EPO application process.
“We’re busier than ever,” Riddoch said. “And I would say we’re on track to see another increase this year.”