What does domestic assault mean?
Domestic assault refers to acts of physical or emotional violence, threats or abuse occurring within a domestic or familial relationship. It is also referred to as intimate partner violence and can involve spouses, former spouses, common-law partners, dates, parents, children or anyone living in the same household.
It can take various forms, including physical violence, sexual assault, emotional abuse, harassment, stalking or financial control. Spousal violence is one of the most common forms of violence against women in Canada.
What charges are laid with domestic assault?
While there is no specific domestic assault offence in the Criminal Code, you can be charged under various sections, depending on the circumstance.
For example, if you verbally threaten someone in your household, you can be charged with uttering threats, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. If you physically attack someone, or even just threaten physical contact, you can be charged with assault, which also carries a five-year maximum penalty.
If you used an object to carry out the assault or choked someone, you can be charged with assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, which carries a 10-year maximum sentence.
If you stalk someone, you can be charged with criminal harassment, which also carries a 10-year maximum sentence. Harassing someone by repeatedly calling them, or having others call them, is referred to as harassing communications and it carries a maximum two-year jail term.
What is emotional abuse and is it considered domestic assault?
Emotional abuse is a form of domestic assault. It occurs when a person uses words or actions to control, frighten or isolate someone or take away their self-respect. Common forms include:
- using threats, name-calling or insults;
- constant yelling or criticizing;
- keeping someone from seeing friends or family;
- preventing someone from practising their faith;
- destroying belongings, hurting pets or threatening to do so; and
- bullying or humiliating someone.
Emotional abuse can rise to the level of being a criminal act. That occurs if you threaten to harm another person or someone else. Another example is if you criminally harass someone through actions such as stalking, which makes them fear for their safety.
What are the long-term consequences of a domestic assault conviction?
According to the sentencing principles section of the Code, charges of a “domestic nature” are considered an aggravating factor in sentencing, with judges tasked to “take into consideration … evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused the offender’s intimate partner or a member of the victim or the offender’s family.”
If you are found guilty, you will have a criminal record, which is easily accessible to potential employers, landlords and the general public. You will not to eligible to apply for work that involves a high level of trust or security. You may also be denied housing if the landlord feels you may re-offend.
A criminal record will limit your ability to travel internationally or to own a firearm. There is also a social stigma that may affect your personal relationships and standing in the community.
What is a restraining order?
Courts can issue a restraining order – also known as a no-contact order or a protection order in some jurisdictions – to protect the safety and well-being of a person or family members. The order will list conditions you must follow. That typically includes that you have no contact with the person being protected or that person’s children and family. Conditions may also include not going to the protected person’s home or workplace, or contacting them by phone, electronic messaging or through a friend or relative.
What are the legal consequences of violating a restraining order?
If police have reasonable grounds to believe that a restraining order has been violated they can arrest you without a warrant. The court may also extend or modify the existing restraining order to provide additional protection to the victim.
There are serious consequences for violating restraining orders, including being charged under s.127 (1) of the Code. The maximum penalty is a two-year jail sentence if the charge is treated as an indictable offence with lesser punishment given if the charge is handled as a summary conviction.
It is crucial to take restraining orders seriously and adhere to their terms and conditions. If you believe the terms of the order are unreasonable, consult a lawyer to request modifications.
How does domestic assault affect child custody?
A domestic assault charge will have significant implications when the court is deciding on a parenting plan for the children. When it comes to custody (now called decision-making responsibility) and access (now known as parenting time) any domestic assault charge will significantly reduce your standing in the eyes of a family court judge. That is because the primary concern of the court is the best interests of the children. If you are facing or have been convicted of domestic assault, that will raise concerns about the children's safety in your care.
The court may grant you supervised access, meaning that a responsible third party has to be there when you see the children. The court can also demand that you complete a counselling program dealing with issues such as addiction or anger management before parenting time is allowed.
Do I need a lawyer for a domestic abuse charge?
Domestic assaults are taken more seriously than other forms of assault and Crown prosecutors are reluctant to drop the charges or make compromises. As a Supreme Court of Ontario judgment noted, “Domestic assaults are not private matters, and spouses are entitled to protection from violence just as strangers are.”
It is highly advisable to have legal representation if you are facing domestic abuse charges. A lawyer can help you understand the charges against you, the legal procedures involved and what to expect throughout the case.
A lawyer can assess the evidence against you and help gather evidence in your defence. After considering the Crown evidence they can suggest the most effective strategy. They can also work with the prosecutor on a potential plea deal or to possibly have the charges reduced.
I have over 10 years of experience in obtaining the best results possible for my clients facing domestic assault-related charges. Contact me for a free consultation.