Immigrant Visitor and Refugee Women Abusive Relationships

Abuse happens in all kinds of families. It happens to Canadian citizens, immigrants, visitors, and refugees. It happens to women who have no children, to those who are rich, poor, professionals, students, full-time mothers, young and old. It happens to women of all backgrounds, religions, races, cultures, and ethnic origins.

Abuse can happen at any stage of a relationship. Leaving an abusive relationship is a difficult and stressful decision to make, particularly when you have children. it can be a frightening time since you may not know what the future holds for you. It is important that you protect yourself and your children.

This information is for immigrant, visitor, and refugee women who are facing abuse in a relationship or in a family. If you know someone who is abused, refer her to this publication and ask her if she wants help. If you are facing abuse, you may feel alone. Remember it is not your fault. There is help available.

Abuse is when someone hurts you or treats you badly.

Abuse can be:

  • Physical - hitting, pinching, slapping, pushing, arm twisting, punching, kicking, choking, burning, cutting, shooting, etc.
  • Emotional or psychological - making threats to harm you or someone you know, breaking your things, stalking or following you, etc.
  • Sexual - sexual touching or sexual activity when you do not agree to it, etc.
  • Financial - taking your paycheque, withholding money from you so that you have no food or necessary medical treatment, etc.

These are all crimes in Canada. Other forms of abuse are not crimes, but they are still abuse:

  • Insulting your appearance, habits, or intelligence
  • Humiliating you
  • Ignoring you
  • Screaming at you
  • Calling you names
  • Threatening to get you deported
  • Insulting your family or friend
  • Isolating you from family and friends
  • Telling what you can do and where you can go
  • Telling you who your friends can be
  • Stopping you from leaving the house
  • Making you feel afraid by what he says

You can experience more than one type of abuse. Usually the abuser is a husband, or boyfriend, or ex-husband, or ex-boyfriend. Sometimes the abuser is a member of your family or your husband's family. The abuser could also be a woman, including your same-sex partner, but usually it is a man.

Remember, nothing you do gives anyone the right to abuse you.

There are lots of reasons why you may not want to tell anyone that your husband or boyfriend is hurting you. Maybe you have been taught to believe that you must obey your husband, maybe you feel ashamed, afraid no one will believe you, or maybe you are afraid of what your husband or boyfriend might say or do, or that he may withdraw his support and affect your ability to remain in Canada.

You may be worried that you did something to make your husband or boyfriend angry, such as disagreeing with him in front of his family or going out without asking him, but nothing you do gives anyone the right to abuse you. A man who beats his wife or girlfriend learned to use violence as a way of expressing anger or frustration long before he met you. He has learned to use threats and violence as a way of getting what he wants.

No culture, community or religion says that it is okay for a man to hurt his wife or girlfriend. In Canada, it is against the law for a man to assault his wife or girlfriend.

Talking about it can help. Tell a family member, friend, ESL teacher, or someone from your community whom you trust and whom you feel will believe and help you. Seek out support groups or counselling services where you can talk about the issues.

You should think first about your safety and the safety of your children. You may choose to leave for a short time. Or you may decide to leave permanently, but still not end your marriage or relationship. Ask yourself: how dangerous is it to stay? Has the abuser ever used a weapon to hurt you?

You might decide it is better for you to stay. If you are injured, get medical treatment. Make sure you have a plan ready in case you need to leave quickly. The first few pages of the telephone book usually list the number for police and other emergency services. It is a good idea to learn the police emergency phone number in case you need their help. It would also be helpful to gather information about people who can help you. Try planning for the future by learning new job skills, or by exploring the possibility of studying in Canada if you are not yourself here on a student visa. If the abuser wishes to change, it is possible with counselling, but it is very difficult for violent men to change. The abuse usually gets worse over time.

If you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident (sometimes called a landed immigrant) you cannot be deported for leaving an abusive relationship. If you do not know if you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, call Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) office. Look in the blue book of the telephone book for the office phone number.

If you have had your refugee hearing in Canada and have been found to be a refugee, you can apply on your own to be a permanent resident. Being married or separated has no effect on your status.

As a sponsored immigrant, you would not be deported solely because your sponsorship broke down (see section: "If You Are Being Sponsored"). You should get legal advice. If you are a woman and your sponsor is hurting you, there are safe places to go. You and your children could stay in a women's shelter until you find a better place to live. These places are free and you can ask the police to take you there. If your sponsorship breaks down, this does not give your sponsor the right to keep your children or your property.

If you are a dependent of a refugee and he is in the process of applying for permanent resident for both of you, he can cancel your application. In this case, you can apply to be a refugee yourself. Or you can apply to be a permanent resident on a compassionate and humanitarian grounds. You would need to show why you should stay in Canada. You should get legal advice. Call your local Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) office to get more information.

If you are in Canada as a dependent of a person who has valid student or employment authorization (or on a visitor visa or as a refugee claimant awaiting determination of your claim) and you are in an abusive situation, you may have more independence than you think. You may be eligible to go to school. As a student, your stay in Canada may be extended. You will need to apply to the school for admission. If admitted, the school will send you an official letter of acceptance. You will need a student authorization if you want to enroll in a course, even if it is English language training. For student authorization, you will need your official letter of acceptance from the school to apply for a change of terms and conditions to extend your stay in Canada. Contact Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) for more information and to obtain the complete application form. If CIC approves your application, you will be sent a student authorization that will allow you to stay and study in Canada. This authorization will change the conditions of your stay and extend your period of authorized stay in Canada.

Before the end of your authorized stay, you must reapply for another extension. You should reapply at least three weeks for the expiry date of your stay. People with student authorization to study in Canada must apply for new student authorization before they can change schools. If you have a student authorization, you are entitled to work on the university or college campus where you are a full-time student. You do not need employment authorization to do this. To work anywhere else, however, you do need a separate employment authorization.

All academic, professional, and vocational training courses will require student authorization. If you want to take any course, check with Citizenship and Immigration Canada first to see if an authorization is required.

If you are in Canada (as a dependent of a person who has valid student (or employment authorization or on a visitor visa or as a refugee claimant awaiting determination of your claim)then y ou may be eligible to work in Canada. In special cases, if you have a student authorization, you may be eligible for employment authorization (employment is considered integral to your studies, employment starts within 60 days of final marks being issued, etc.). Contact Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to see if you are eligible to work in Canada. If you are eligible to extend your stay, you may apply for jobs. If an employer agrees to hire you for limited-term employment, you should obtain an official letter for the job offer with all the necessary information (such as job description, wages, location, etc.). You will need this letter to apply for work authorization. Contact Citizenship and Immigration Canada for more information or to obtain the complete application form.

It is the employer's responsibility to contact Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) and give them details about your job offer. HRDC will make an informed opinion on the possibilities and benefits of granting you employment. HRDC will then contact CIC and inform the immigration officer of their opinion. After considering the applicant and if the job offer is validated by HRDC, CIC may approve your application. If your application is approved, you will be sent Employment authorization which will allow you to stay and work in Canada. Employment authorization will change the conditions of your stay and extend your period of authorized stay in Canada.

Before the end of your authorized stay, you must reapply for another extension. You should reapply at least three weeks before expiry of your stay. People with employment authorization to work in Canada must apply for new employment authorization before they can change jobs.

A woman who has been sponsored to come to Canada as a fiancée is required to marry her sponsor within 90 days of arriving in Canada. If the sponsor is abusive and the woman no longer wants to marry the sponsor, the woman risks being deported. A woman in this situation should obtain legal advice. It may be possible to have the terms and conditions of her stay changed so that she does not lose her status. If she has already been ordered deported, she can appeal to the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD). She may pursue her application to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The IAD will consider her circumstances and she might be allowed to remain in Canada. Contacting the police can lead to criminal proceedings against an abuser. If the abuser is not a Canadian citizen, a criminal conviction will lead to removal from Canada. This will affect the sponsored woman's situation. It is always best to seek the advice of a lawyer in these situations.

Immigrants or refugees who have applied to live in Canada permanently may receive a "record of landing." They are sometimes referred to as "landed immigrants." A woman who has received landed immigrant status cannot be removed or deported from Canada only because she has left an abusive relationship. This is true even if her abusive partner is her sponsor. If you leave an abusive partner after you have had your interview with Immigration Canada, and have been accepted but not yet received your official "record of landing," you will receive an "acceptance-in-principle" letter. Once you receive this letter, Immigration Canada will continue to process your application even if your husband or boyfriend withdraws his sponsorship.

If you sponsored your husband from within Canada and he is hurting you, you may choose to withdraw your sponsorship. If your husband has been charged by the police and convicted in court of hurting you and he is not yet a permanent resident, he will be deported. If you do not wish him to be deported you could ask him to leave you, but you need to be aware that the level of violence in abusive relationships usually increases after separation. You need to judge how safe this could be, seek counselling first.

Children who grow up watching adults act violently, may think that violence at home is normal, okay, or expected. If your children are also being abused, you should protect them. Child abuse is against the law. If you leave an abusive situation, you can still apply for custody of your children. If you think your children will be safer with you, take them with you when you leave. Apply to the court immediately for a custody order. A lawyer can help you. If you have a custody order, it is a good idea to keep a copy with you, in case there is a problem. You can also give copy to your children's school so that they are aware that you have custody, not your husband. If you get custody of the children, their father will likely be able to visit them. Arrange for someone else to be there when the father picks up and returns the children. If you are worried about your children's safety, your lawyer can ask the court to order someone to supervise the visits.

Talk to your lawyer if you think the children's father will try to take them our the country. A court may order than the children's passports be kept by the court. If your children are Canadian citizens, call the Passport Office. Ask them to put the children's names on a list so you can be called if the father tries to get passports for them. If your children have another nationality, contact the embassy or consulate to ask then to refuse passports for your children.

Every women has the right to peace, safety and protection. You have the right to insist that the police lay charge against the man who is abusing you. You have the right to use the law for your security and to ensure that justice is done where a criminal offence has been committed.

The Ontario Government has made it clear that it will not be tolerate domestic assaults. The police and the courts are now stepping in more frequently to protect women who are being abused by their husbands or partners.

If you have been abused or are in danger, call the police immediately. Tell them what happened as clearly and simply as possible.

Have a safe place to go where your husband or boyfriend will not be able to find you. Keep the fact that you are leaving a secret until you go. It is easy for children to tell others, or for the abuser to question children and find out that you are preparing to leave. If possible, keeps notes or a diary of when abuse occurred and what happened.

Only take what you can safely take.

If you are thinking about leaving, you may want to collect these things and put them in a safe place, in case you decide to leave quickly. If you are leaving an abusive relationship, it is a good idea to take the following items:

  • Important documents such as birth certificates, passports, citizenship papers, immigration papers, health cards, social insurance card, his social insurance number.
  • Money, credit cards
  • Cheque book, bank book
  • Personal telephone number and address book
  • Medicine
  • House keys
  • Driver's license and car keys
  • Children's favourite toys and books
  • Valuable jewellery
  • A picture of your spouse, partner

In an emergency, do not stop to collect your things. Just go.

You may want to go and stay with family and friends, but keep in mind that it may be easier for your partner to find you at a family member's or friend's house. You and your children could also stay in a shelter for abused women in Ontario. Shelters are free and can give you and your children a safe place to go while you decide what you want to do next. These places are free and you can ask the police to take you there. You are free to leave Ontario and go to another province. However, if you have children, you can't leave as easily. Your partner still has legal rights to his children until a court order changes that. It is best to check with a lawyer or legal clinic before you leave the province. If you don't have time before you leave, check with a lawyer or legal clinic in the new province as soon as possible.

If you are a sponsored immigrant, your first source of funding is your sponsor, but because of your situation you may be able to get financial assistance from the government. Generally, sponsored immigrants may apply for financial assistance. When you see a lawyer about custody of your children, you can ask that the children's father pay financial support to you and the children.

As an abused woman, you may be eligible for financial assistance from the local Human Resources and Development Canada office. You will need to fill out an application form and explain your situation and needs. You have the right to be accompanied by a translator. In an emergency situation, the abused woman can receive financial assistance immediately or within a few days.

If the police have reason to believe you have been assaulted, police could charge the abuser. You will have to tell the police about the abuse. The police may arrest the abuser, if they think there are grounds to do so. If the abuser is arrested, he could spend a few hours in jail until his appearance in court.

If the abuser pleads guilty or if the court finds the abuser guilty, he could be sentenced with a fine, probation (such as counselling), time in jail, or a combination of these things. Jail sentences are rare, especially if this is his first time in court, so in many cases the abuser will be allowed to leave the court.

If the abuser says he is not guilty, you will have to be a witness at his trial. It may be several months before the trial starts. You can ask the Crown attorney if there are victim services in the province to help you and to explain the court process to you.

If you are afraid for your safety, tell the police before the abuser is let go. The court may set conditions for his release, such as an order that the abuser cannot call or see you. If the abuser does not obey the conditions, the police can arrest him again. If you are afraid he will hurt you when he is released, you may want to find a safe place to stay, like a women's shelter.

If the abuser is a Canadian citizen, he cannot be deported.

If the abuser is a refugee or a permanent resident, he could be deported if a court convicts him of assault or another criminal offence. The deportation process could take a long time.

If your sponsor stops supporting you and you need to apply for welfare or social assistance, your sponsor could be in trouble. You, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and the provincial government, could sue them for the money needed to support you. Another serious consequence is that your sponsor will not be allowed to sponsor other family members in the future unless they pay back all the money welfare gave you.


Counsellors are able to help you with your emotional well-being. This can range from depression and crisis, to loneliness and guilt. Counsellors can help put problems in perspective and make them seem more manageable. Counselling is confidential and non-judgmental. You should see your doctor especially if you have physical injuries that need to be treated. A doctor will also be able to keep a record of injuries as evidence for court use.


If your health or the health of your children is in immediate danger, you should go to the hospital emergency room. If you are not able to drive, an ambulance will take you there.

Human Rights Office

If you are a student, your university may have a human rights office that will be able to provide advice, support, and resources to any community member with concerns in the area of human rights. This would include harassment and/or discrimination based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status, disability, and gender identity. Racism, sexism, sexual abuse, and homophobia are some of the ways that people experience harassment and discrimination.

Legal Aid

Legal aid is legal support by a lawyer that is available to low income individuals and disadvantaged communities. Legal aid will assist in a variety of legal problems, including criminal matters, family disputes, immigration and refugee hearings, and poverty law issues. Contact your local legal aid office for more information.

Multicultural organizations

Multicultural organizations have staff and volunteers who are from many different cultural backgrounds. Information and support will be available in different languages so that you will be able to express yourself in the language you feel most comfortable. Multicultural organizations usually provide information, referral, supportive counselling, and advocacy and wellness education.


You can call the police if the abuser assaults you or says he will. The police will come. Many police officers are trained to deal with abuse in families and relationships. They can take you to a hospital if you need medical assistance. They can help you leave safely. They may have to charge the abuser. In an emergency, dial 911. it is becoming more common that there will be an interpreter in your language.

Social worker

Social workers respond to crises and emergency situations as well as intervene in everyday personal and social problems. Social workers serve individuals, families, and communities. Social workers can be involved in individual counselling, group work, family treatment and therapy, and help people obtain services and resources in their communities.

Telephone crisis line

Often what you need most is for someone to listen to you. Most telephone crisis lines are confidential and anonymous. Staff listen to your concerns and usually offer suggestions about other community services where you could go for help.

Women's Centre

There are more and more women's centres now to support the needs of women. Women's centres can offer language specific counselling, information sessions for women facing abuse, groups for women with children, groups for new immigrants, life-skills programs, employment and job search assistance, and volunteer opportunities.

A shelter is a safe place where you and your children can stay for a few weeks. It is free to stay in a shelter until you find a better place to live. Staff at a shelter will give you support and information. They can help you get legal advice, financial help and a new place to live, if this is what you want. They have food, clothing, diapers, and toys in case you do not have time to pack. The phone numbers for local shelters are usually listed in the first few pages of the telephone directory along with other emergency numbers.

  • Amnesty International (multicultural organization), 613-744-7667 (Ottawa)
  • Assaulted Woman's Helpline, 416-863-0511 (Toronto)
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada,1-888-242-2100; TDD: 1-888-576-8502
  • Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Jean Edmonds Tower South, 365 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1
  • Community Legal Education Ontario, 416-408-4420 (Toronto)
  • Court Victim / Witness Assistance Program, 279 Wellington Street, 613-548-6213
  • Family Law Information Centre, 469 Montreal Street, 613-548-6789
  • Frontenac Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Service, 150 West Street, 613-548-4834
  • Kingston Community Counselling Centre, 417 Bagot Street, 613-549-7850, 345 Bagot Street, 613-541-0777
  • Kingston and District Immigrant Services 342 Patrick Street, 613-548-3302
  • Kingston Interval House (shelter for abused women and their children), TTY 546-1777, 1-800-267-9445
  • Lawyer Referral Service, 1-800-268-8326
  • Legal Aid Ontario, 507 Princess Street, 613-546-1179
  • Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, 416-977-6619 (Toronto)
  • Police/Emergency, Dial 911
  • Riverdale Immigrant Women's Centre, 1326 Gerrard St E., Ste. 100 Toronto, M4L 1Z1, 416-465-6021, fax 416-465-4785
  • Sexual Assault Centre, 613-544-6424
  • South Asian Women's Centre, 416-537-2276 (Toronto)
  • Telephone Aid Line Kingston (TALK), 613-544-1771

Resources used in development of pamphlet

  • Abuse is Wrong in Any Language (1995), Department of Justice, Canada
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada
  • Immigration and Refugee Fact Sheet: Foreign Students (2000). CLEO
  • Immigration and Refugee Fact Sheet: Immigrant women and domestic violence 2002). CLEO
  • Immigration Fact Sheet: Terms and Definitions (1999). CLEO
  • My Husband is Beating Me... I Want Him to Stop (1990). Education Wife Assault.
  • My Husband is Hurting Me... I Want Him to Stop (2001). Education Wife Assault.
  • Sponsorship Breakdown (2000). Legal Services Society British Columbia.
  • Your Rights: An Assaulted Woman's Guide to the Law (1991). The Barbara Schlifer Commemorative Clinic.

Accompanying dependent

The applicant's spouse and any child of the applicant or spouse. Dependent children and normally less than 19 years of age.

Approved education institution

A university, college or other educational institutions that operates according to the educational standards or practices of the province in which it operates.

Canadian citizen

A Canadian Citizen is: (a) someone born in Canada; (b) someone born outside of Canada to a parent who is a Canadian citizen; or (c) someone who has applied for citizenship, met the legal requirements, and has been granted Canadian citizenship


Entry means being allowed to come into Canada as a visitor

Full-time student

This is defined by an approved educational institution or is a person whose course of study is at least six months in duration and involve at least twenty-four hours of instruction per week

General interest courses

Terms which describe courses that are characterized by the absence of a formal curriculum, a formal examination and an official credit towards a degree or diploma. Such courses may be offered by local school boards or as "hobby courses" or "life skills" and can vary from flower arranging to arts and crafts.

Humanitarian and compassionate application

In general, someone wishing to immigrate to Canada must apply for and receive an immigrant visa before coming to Canada. The law does allow people already in Canada to apply for permanent residence, but most applications are turned down unless Immigration is satisfied that there are humanitarian or compassionate reasons for processing the application. For example, a visitor who marries a permanent resident or Canadian citizen may be allowed to stay if the marriage is considered genuine.


Immigrants come to Canada intending to make their home in Canada and to live here permanently. They become "permanent residents" ("landed immigrants") if they are granted landing in Canada.

Landed immigrant

Immigrant or convention refugee who has received "a record of landing" after applying to live in Canada permanently. Landed immigrants have permanent resident status and can eventually apply to become a Canadian citizen.

Permanent resident

A permanent resident has been granted "landing," the right to live permanently in Canada

Refugee claimant

A refugee claimant is someone who makes a claim to be a convention refugee. A convention refugee is a person with a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country because of race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group. Canada's Women at Risk Program (AWR) is for refugee women who are vulnerable and need protection, but who often do no have family or friends for support. Visitor women may make a refugee claim; if so, they hold both visitor and refugee claimant status as long as their visitor's visa is valid.

Social assistance

Also called welfare, income assistance, or financial assistance benefits. The money you get from the Ministry for food, shelter, clothing and basic needs, when you are unable to support yourself.


A sponsor must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident who is at least 19 years of age and living in Canada. He or she must meet immigration requirements to sign an Undertaking of Assistance to provide for someone who plans to immigrate to Canada. An Undertaking of Assistance is a statement signed by Canadian citizens or permanent residents who want to help a relative or relatives immigrate to Canada. By signing this statement, they agree to provide their relatives with financial help in Canada. This statement is only requested when the person in Canada sponsors his or her relatives as a member of their family.

Sponsorship breakdown

Sponsorship breakdown is when your sponsor cannot or will not provide some or all of your basic needs, such as food, housing, clothing or medical care, and you are unable to support yourself and/or your dependents. Some examples of sponsorship breakdown are when your sponsor allows you to stay in his or her home, but does not pay for your food, clothing or medical needs; has a serious disagreement with you and says you must leave the house; divorces or separates from you and no longer wants you in the house; makes unreasonable demands, such as forcing you to work for no money; or hurts you, or forces you to have sex.

Student authorization

A student authorization allows a non-resident to register for a course of study in Canada. Normally, students have to get this authorization before coming to Canada.


A visitor is someone in Canada temporarily and for a specific reason. Visitors include tourists, students, and temporary workers. They must hold a valid visitor's visa.


A document or stamps on a document, usually a passport, issued by a visa officer. It is an official way of showing that the person has met the requirements for admission to Canada as a visitor. There are two main types: Immigrant Visa : These are issued to people coming to Canada to become permanent residents Visitor's Visa : Visitor's visas are issued to people coming to Canada for limited and specific reasons


Also called social assistance, income assistance, or financial assistance benefits. The money you get from the Ministry for food, shelter, clothing and basic needs, when you are unable to support yourself.

If you would like to discuss a question or concern about immigration or abusive relationships, please contact the Queens’ Human Rights Office at:

Phone: (613) 533-6886