Family violence researcher receives Governor General’s Award


    Rina Arseneault was at the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre when she received a call telling her she was the recipient of the Governor General’s Award.

    “I went blank,” she said.

    When the caller asked, “Mrs. Arseneault are you still there?” she asked to have the news repeated.

    Arseneault received the award after 25 years as the associate director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre at the University of New Brunswick. She received the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Person’s Case for her work in social work and family violence on Dec. 14.

    The Persons Case, also known as Edwards v Canada (AG), was decided in 1929. In that case it was decided women were eligible to be appointed senators, which was not allowed prior to that case. The Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case is given to those working towards gender equality.

    The Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case came as a great honour and end to Arsenault’s career in December, alongside attending the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women last March, she said.

    Arseneault has been working with the MMFC since its beginning in 1993. The centre opened on the UNB campus with the goal of researching family violence and violence against women and children.

    “We really believe that we would not understand or eradicate family violence by working alone,” she said.

    Their research is action-oriented and collaborative, believing the gaps between academia, government and community must be bridged to understand and solve complex issues. Arseneault said this type of research was not well heard of in the beginning and some doubted its success.

    MMFC pushed forward ideas on ending family violence and attended government meetings, as well as panels with other violence research foundations to discuss how to solve it. Now there are policies in New Brunswick under the Employment Standards Act, like domestic, intimate partner and sexual violence leave, that allow survivors of family violence to have five days of paid leave from work. Arseneault said the MMFC was part of the reason these regulations are now in place.

    “It is not the survivors place to try and end the violence that she’s living. We as society have the responsibility to end the violence,” she said.

    An example of this research is their study on dating violence – the first of its kind in New Brunswick. The research team included teachers, francophone and anglophone school districts, university psychology professors and students. They conducted surveys of students in Grade 7, 9 and 11. After analyzing that data, they went back to the schools to get student opinions on the findings and discuss what they think could be done.

    Over the past year, Arseneault put together a research team focused on violence against those with disabilities, mainly women. Other teams looked at the abuse and neglect of older adults and violence against immigrant women.

    Arseneault said MMFC’s first 25 years focused on bringing forward these topics and looking at them in their complexity. She said over the next 25 years they will continue to try and understand why the violence is still happening.

    Though she is now retired, Arseneault will still remain active in educating others on violence in families and toward women.

    Arseneault, along with Stephanie Sanford, the chair of the MMFC, are putting together an online introductory course on family violence, which will be offered later this month at UNB.

    “I truly believe in equality for all. No one deserves to live in a situation of violence,” Arsenault said.