INTERVIEW WITH BRIGITTE GARCEAU:
Family Lawyer and President of the West Island Women’s Shelter
In this month’s edition of BROADY magazine Mark had the pleasure of sitting down with family lawyer and Beaconsfield resident Brigitte Garceau.
Mark: I'm very excited to be sitting down today with Brigitte Garceau, who practices family law as a partner with the RSS (Robinson Sheppard Shapiro) firm in Montreal. We have gotten to know Brigitte over the years, and we couldn’t help but notice her tremendous influence within the local community.
M: Please tell us about your background and about how you got into family law.
B: I started out studying political science at Carleton University and during that time, I took a course called “Women and the Law.” It triggered my interest in pursuing my studies in law. I attended the University of Ottawa, where I studied common law and I continued my studies at Université de Montreal, where I obtained my civil law degree.
M: What attracted you to family law in particular?
B: What has always been important for me is the human element related to the practice of family law, whereby you are making an impact, a difference, by helping people find solutions to sometimes very difficult and emotional issues. I was very fortunate in the early years of my career to find myself in a position to join a renowned group of family law attorneys at RSS and I have been practicing law there for the past 30 years.
M: What is the scope of your work in family law, and what would you consider to be your area of expertise?
B: The majority of my practice focuses on separation and divorce, dealing mostly with issues of child custody, division of property and child and spousal support. However, as my practice evolved over the years, I became more involved with cases dealing with inter-provincial or international matters and jurisdictions.
M: Brigitte, we know that aside from your legal practice, you’re also a volunteer for the West Island Women’s Shelter. Can you tell us more about how that came to be?
B: Back in 2014, I was invited to meet with the executive director of the West Island Women’s Shelter. I was initially approached to join a panel and to speak about the rights of women who were victims of conjugal violence, and who may have been going through a separation or a divorce. Shortly after, I was asked to join the Board of Directors where I acted as the Shelter’s legal counsel. In September 2020, I was appointed President of the Board and I have continued to act in this capacity ever since.
M: As real estate brokers, we’ve been noticing a trend in our market here in the West Island of more cases of separation and divorce, and it’s often the reason we’re called in to help sell the family home. Have you also noticed any significant change?
B: Yes. In fact, the last two years of my family law practice have been the busiest. I’ve noticed a substantial increase in cases of divorce and separation, as well as incidents of conjugal violence.
M: Why do you think this is happening?
B: In Quebec, we have had the highest number of femicides in over a decade. Regrettably, we cannot discount that the increase in conjugal violence cases is partly related to the consequences of the pandemic. Lockdowns, parents losing their jobs and children doing online schooling at home led to the creation of a toxic environment in some households. Women were unable to leave their homes to speak to a counsellor, a friend or a family member. A woman who had been isolated as a result of a controlling and abusive partner became even more isolated due to the pandemic restrictions. There was no outlet, and that, tragically, has resulted in a rise in conjugal violence.
M: If you were to offer advice to anyone who’s experiencing difficulties in their marriage or suffering from abuse in their home, what would that advice be?
B: It really depends on the situation. If someone is in imminent danger of physical violence or feels threatened, then my advice to them is to get out of the situation. Call the police, seek help from a friend or family member. Call the Women’s Shelter, at 514-620-4845 where we have a crisis line available 24/7 to help.
For those who are experiencing other kinds of difficulties in their marriage, one of the first questions that I always ask is whether the marriage is truly over for them – has it ended? And if they are not certain, then my counsel to them is to seek help from professionals, friends and family members who can assist them in reaching a decision about their marriage.
If the marriage really is over, then the next aspect of the discussion is about how best to resolve the outstanding issues related to their separation or divorce. Lawyers have a duty and responsibility to discuss alternative ways of resolving issues on an amicable basis. Mediation and alternative means of resolving disputes should always be prioritized when possible. It is important for all of us in the legal community to advocate and to strive to attain amicable resolutions to family disputes when possible.
M: What is some of the work you’re most proud of?
B: Well, in general, I love what I do and helping people navigate through difficult times. I’m also very proud of the work that we do at the Women’s Shelter for women and children who are victims of conjugal violence. It’s important for us to raise public awareness on this most vital issue. I’m very proud of the fact that our Shelter has resumed its awareness program in our community high schools again, teaching adolescents what it means to have a healthy relationship, and to recognize the warning signs of an abusive one. We’re also focused on helping women find the courage to leave their abusive home to seek shelter with us or elsewhere. For all of us, our homes represent safety and security, but for some, that safety and security is compromised due to violence. We are there every step of the way to support and guide women through these most difficult times.
M: What an incredible conversation. Brigitte, thank you so much for everything you do and for taking the time to share your story with us today. I hope to see you soon at the next fundraising event for the Women’s Shelter!
B: My pleasure Mark. I remain hopeful about holding our Pumps & Pearls Gala event this fall during the 12 Days of Action Against Conjugal Violence. Hope you can join us.