What can be done if I am falsely accused of domestic abuse?
There are many reasons why a partner or spouse might make a false accusation of domestic assault. It could be a power play or as leverage in a divorce, especially if the division of assets and the custody of children are in dispute. Police do not take domestic assault allegations lightly so once a complaint has been laid, charges are likely to follow. Accusations of abuse can tarnish a person’s reputation in the eyes of family members or friends, so if you have been falsely accused, you need effective counsel to guide you through the legal process.
What can I do after being charged?
The first instinct for those charged with domestic assault may be to immediately give their side of the story to the police, assuming that will clear the matter up. That is the wrong approach. Evidence and procedural rules for domestic assault are complicated, and anything you say may be used against you later, so your first step should be to consult a criminal defence lawyer and discuss your situation. When it comes time to present your defence, you still will be expected to tell the truth, but a lawyer can help to ensure your testimony properly reflects your version of the events, in a trial that is likely a year or more away.
Tell your lawyer what happened
When I meet with clients accused of domestic assault I want to hear the complete and unvarnished version of the event. I urge them not to hide parts of the story that may look bad on them, as those facts will inevitably come out at trial, bolstering the Crown’s case against them.
If you have any evidence to support your story, provide that to me. That could include texts, photos or social media messages between you and the complainant. Make copies or printouts of every relevant exchange, and don’t trust you will be able to find it on your devices a year or more later.
The information provided by clients helps paint a clear picture of exactly what transpired and the timeline. That information is key to deciding what type of defence to build.
What can I expect at trial?
Since domestic assaults occur in the home there are usually not witnesses, so the court often has to rely solely on the testimony of the accused and the defendant in determining guilt or innocence. As your lawyer, I will try to find gaps and contradictions in the accuser’s story, especially if it changes from the initial report to what is told in court.
I also have to abide by so-called “rape shield laws,” or s. 276 of the Criminal Code, governing the disclosure of the complainant’s prior sexual history when the evidence supports the “twin myths” (the idea that complainants with a prior sexual history are more likely to have consented and are less worthy of belief).
The accused is still presumed innocent
Judges have recognized the danger posed by false allegations of domestic abuse. In the 2017 case R. v. Nyznik, the judgment reads: “To approach a trial with the assumption that the complainant is telling the truth is the equivalent of imposing a presumption of guilt on the person accused of sexual assault and then placing a burden on him to prove his innocence. That is antithetical to the fundamental principles of justice enshrined in our constitution and the values underlying our free and democratic society.”
Earlier in the judgment, the justice noted the presumption of innocence has to remain the starting point in any trial.
“Without these protections, there would be a serious risk of wrongful convictions – an outcome that cannot be accepted in a free and democratic society … even if you believe the accused is probably guilty or likely guilty, that is not sufficient. In those circumstances you must give the benefit of the doubt to the accused and acquit because the Crown has failed to satisfy you of the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Domestic abuse is a problem
Domestic abuse, also called intimate partner violence, includes everything from emotional abuse to homicide. This Department of Justice report shows how widespread it is:
- In 2015, police reported more than 86,000 people in Canada experienced family violence, representing over a quarter of all people subjected to a violent crime.
- In the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on victimization, four per cent of Canadians living with a current or former spouse or common-law partner in a province reported having been physically or sexually abused by their spouse during the preceding five years.
- A 2017 study found that 12 percent of residents of the territories reported being subjected to spousal violence by a current or former spouse or common-law partner in the previous five years.
- According to the 2014 GSS, 35 percent of survivors of spousal violence reported being pushed, grabbed, shoved or slapped. About 25 per cent reported having been sexually assaulted, beaten, choked, or threatened with a gun or a knife. A similar proportion reported having been kicked, bit, hit or hit with something..
Men can also suffer domestic abuse
According to Family Violence in Canada, a 2015 Statistics Canada report, “in 2014, equal proportions of men and women reported being victims of spousal violence during the preceding 5 years (4%, respectively). This translated into about 342,000 women and 418,000 men across the provinces.”
The report adds that males are also less likely to bring this abuse to the attention of the police.
“Male victims were more likely to state that the spousal violence had not been brought to the attention of police (76%) than female victims (64%),” it states. “When police had been made aware of spousal violence, most victims reported that they were satisfied with police response (65%).”
An American study looked at the experiences of men who had been abused by their partners, asking close to 400 men about what happened when they tried navigating the justice system after being abused by a female partner. The majority of the men in the study reported not being believed by police.
“When my ex-wife tried to kill me, I went to the police. Instead of helping, they said that I must have done something to provoke her,” one man reported.
“I was viciously attacked in my house, knocked out, concussion, thrown through the front window of my residence. I had my ass kicked and the police arrested me for second-degree assault even though I was not the aggressor,” another man is quoted as saying.
A government survey in Britain found that nine per cent of males, or 1.4 million men, had experienced some form of partner abuse, such as stalking, physical violence and sexual assault.
False accusations of domestic abuse do occur
This news story tells the story of an Ontario man who spent 19 days in jail after his ex-spouse told police that he broke into her apartment, choked her repeatedly, threatened to kill her and attempted to rape her several times before leaving. Almost three weeks later she recanted her statement and was charged with public mischief and jailed 90 days for making the false accusation.
“You not only hurt (the ex-spouse), you hurt every real victim out there, every real complainant,” an Ontario Court Justice told her. “Because of what you did, real victims may be less likely to come forward and less likely to be believed … the damage you have done goes far beyond the 19 days (the ex-spouse) spent in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.”
An assistant Crown attorney called the incident “an attack on the justice system ... an innocent man spent 19 days in jail.”
Help for the falsely accused is available
Survivors of False Allegations Support Program says it provides “a welcoming and non-judgmental environment that supports those who have been falsely accused or wrongfully convicted.”
It offers programs and services in Ottawa, Toronto and Calgary. According to this story, the Ottawa office “hopes to meet health and wellness needs of boys, men and families in crisis or difficulty, with programs addressing such issues as trauma and abuse support, suicide prevention, grief counselling, fathering and legal aid.
“A lot of men have already come in looking for support,” said a spokesman. “And most of them have been looking for legal support, a lot of them with custody issues. So that’s something we’re hoping to address in some capacity, with divorce becoming more and more common.”
How can I help you?
After hearing why a client believes they are falsely accused of domestic assault, I will meet with the Crown and try to get the charges dropped. That may happen if I am able to show there is no reasonable chance of conviction, perhaps due to the credibility of the accuser or the circumstances of the alleged crime. If the trial moves ahead, I will work tirelessly on your behalf, and come to court every day prepared to win. Contact me for a free consultation so we can start planning your best defence.