Trauma-informed practices in dealing with victims of gender-based violence

  • February 27, 2024

The Immigration Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association, in a letter to Canada Border Services Agency, offers guidance on the development of trauma-informed practices when dealing with victims of gender-based violence, or GBV.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, adopted trauma- and violence-informed policies in 2018, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, or IRB, launched its own Chairperson’s Guideline 4 on gender considerations in 2022 and launched initiatives to train members at all divisions.

The CBA Section’s recommendations would help CBSA implement the IRB guidelines effectively, which is needed to avoid re-traumatizing victims of GBV (who include women, men, two-spirit, trans, non-binary and other gender-diverse persons) caught in the enforcement scheme.

The first thing to know is that victims of GBV very often do not report violence against them. The reasons are varied and include feeling shame or being afraid of retribution or of being re-traumatized. Unfortunately, “expertise in trauma-informed practice is still in its early stages, and victims of GBV often end up in the enforcement scheme because they were not represented or not represented adequately at earlier stages in their immigration journey,” the letter states.

CBA Section members come across situations where victims of gender-based violence who have viable temporary resident or humanitarian and compassionate applications to make and could qualify for a judicial stay given the risk they or their children would face on removal don’t proceed for fear of reprisal or re-traumatization.

“For these reasons, it is vital that CBSA enforcement officers be willing to collaborate with counsel when they seek a short deferral of removals to advance another legal proceeding,” the CBA letter states.

To help accomplish this, CBSA removals mandate should revert to “as soon as reasonably practicable” instead of as soon as possible. As well, regulations should be put in place to give officers discretion to grant short administrative stays or deferrals in situations where immediate enforcement “would cause unintended harm to a GBV victim.”


While there has been progress in interviewing techniques at IRCC and the IRB, the CBA Section believes old assumptions about victims of GBV are still adopted by officers in the enforcement scheme. For instance, the anxiety displayed by a victim of GBV at a port of entry, or their inability to recall certain peripheral details, might be misattributed to untrustworthiness. That is why “robust training on the impacts of trauma on memory and recall is required to ensure that CBSA officers do not fall prey to these myths.” This training should include trans-specific trauma, be refreshed regularly, and be led and informed by experts in the field including trans people themselves.

In addition, victims of GBV should have access to support or representation when undergoing interviews, so as not to jeopardize their ability to obtain permanent resident status in Canada or pursue other immigration options available to them.