Domestic violence has been getting a rebrand of sorts in Canada, as it is now more commonly referred to as “intimate partner violence” (IPV). In fact, the federal government and its provinces, municipalities, and media have widely adopted this new moniker and its acronym.
IPV has been declared an “epidemic” by over 70 Ontario municipalities, including Toronto. On December 6th, Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, over 100 organizations petitioned Ontario Premier Doug Ford to declare IPV an epidemic. Meanwhile, the federal government’s justice minister recently called IPV an epidemic in a formal response to a coroner’s inquest regarding the IPV-related murder of three Ontario women.
Epidemics are typically notable because of the rapidity of their spread. However, Statistics Canada’s latest report on intimate partner violence recorded 114,132 victims in 2021. The agency stated that this marked the “seventh consecutive year of gradual increase for this type of violence.”
While on the surface, “gradual” may not indicate an epidemic, the Canadian government has been proactively addressing intimate partner violence due to this increase in victim numbers, potential impact on children, and the well-founded belief that such violence within a relationship often escalates if not promptly addressed.
With this increased attention on IPV, Canadian police will usually make an arrest when presented with any evidence that domestic assault has occurred. Crown prosecutors are encouraged to prosecute domestic assault charges aggressively, and judges are compelled to consider intimate relations in the context of an assault as an aggravating factor for harsher sentencing than a similar, non-domestic assault.
If you have been charged with domestic assault in Ontario, the deck may seem to be stacked against you. However, skilled criminal defence lawyers can help persuade the Crown to drop the charges laid against you, or strategize an effective defence against them.
Understanding Domestic Assault
“Domestic assault” is not a distinct criminal offence listed in Canada’s Criminal Code: rather, the Code’s Section 265 definition of assault is considered by the courts a domestic one if warranted by the relationship between the alleged parties to the incident.
Section 265 defines assault as:
- Direct or indirect application of intentional force against another person without their consent.
- An attempt or threat by act or gesture to apply force to another person if the alleged victim reasonably believes that the offender can commit the action.
- Accosting or impeding someone while openly wearing or carrying a weapon or imitation of one.
This definition of assault, which doesn’t require the use of force, is commonly referred to as simple or basic assault, and its maximum penalty if charged as an indictable offence is five years imprisonment, while a summary conviction carries a maximum sentence of two years.
The crime does not have a mandatory minimum sentence, allowing judges broad discretion in their sentencing decisions. However, judges are encouraged to hand down harsher penalties when the charges have a domestic — or intimate partner — component.
Convictions for Section 267, assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, and Section 268 (1), aggravated assault, carry significantly harsher penalties that range from a respective maximum of 10 to 14-years imprisonment. As is the case with simple assault, when these assaults are committed in the context of an intimate partnership, it generates a stiffer prosecution from the Crown, and likely harsher penalties from a judge, if convicted.
Reasons the Crown Might Be Willing to Drop Charges
Criminal defence lawyers can successfully push Crown prosecutors to drop charges early in the judicial process of any criminal matter if they can first convince them that:
- Their evidence is too weak to secure a conviction.
- The prosecution is not in the public interest.
Defence lawyers often have many avenues available to them for pursuing these paths towards dropped charges. If the Crown’s evidence is weak, they are unlikely to pursue the case in the face of a robust defence.
The matter of public interest in a successful prosecution is a subjective exercise – however, a competent defence lawyer can argue that prosecuting a first-time offender, with no domestic disturbance history and who seems to be in an otherwise stable relationship with the victim, is obviously not in the public’s interest.
Both factors have relevance when an alleged simple domestic assault did not cause any apparent physical or psychological harm to the victim, was not committed in the presence of children, and was an isolated incident.
The alleged victim may also provide the Crown with an affidavit in order to assist in getting the charges dropped. Be aware, however, that even if the alleged victim asks the Crown to drop their charges, the prosecutor still has ultimate authority in deciding whether or not to proceed with their case.
However, when a victim seeks dropped charges, it weakens the Crown’s case. In general, the Crown will only continue to pursue such cases if the domestic assault was especially egregious, and/or the alleged assailant has a history of domestic assault-related issues.
Even when prosecutors seem unwilling to drop domestic assault charges, defendants can still take specific actions that may help encourage case dismissal, favourable plea-bargain terms, or lenient penalties. Such actions include:
- Showing remorse and apologizing to the victim.
- Enrolling in anger management counselling (if applicable).
- Entering a substance abuse counselling or treatment program (as appropriate).
- Offering to sign a peace bond (in cases where a domestic relationship has ended).
Tips for Those Facing Domestic Assault Charges in Ontario
While unstated and unnamed by the Criminal Code, domestic assault carries legal, procedural, and attitudinal implications that aren’t a factor in other assault cases.
When intimate partner violence is suspected or accused, Ontario police and Crown prosecutors take a zero-tolerance approach. What you might consider to be a minor altercation can be construed by them as a significant criminal offence, and as such, it’s important to know what to do if you find yourself facing domestic assault charges in Ontario.
- When police investigate any “domestic disturbance,” they will not hesitate to make an arrest on any pretext.
- Even if an intimate partner does not want to press charges, the police can (and often do) make an arrest.
- A simple threat or aggressive gesture towards an intimate partner can be grounds for an arrest.
- If arrested, maintain your right to remain silent.
- Comply with all conditions of your pre-trial release.
- Retain, store, or make copies of all digital data (emails, social media, text messaging, etc.) that might be relevant to your intimate relationship and/or domestic disturbance.
- Hire an experienced domestic assault criminal defence lawyer.
- Always follow your criminal defence lawyer’s advice.
If the police have charged you with domestic assault in the Greater Toronto Area, secure experienced representation from a skilled legal team, such as our team of professionals at Vilkhov Law. Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation.