Domestic Violence Charges: Everything You Need to Know from an Experienced Domestic Lawyer.

Understanding the Degrees of Domestic Violence Charges

Ontario domestic violence charges come in a variety of forms and degrees of seriousness. On the low end charges include minor property offences like mischief (damaging or breaking items) or uttering threats to damage property. Mid-level offences include uttering threats to cause death, criminal harassment or basic domestic assault (think: no injuries).

Moving up the scale of seriousness are mid-to-high offences like assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm, some forms of stalking behaviour and choking. These offences may also be accompanied by a charge of forcible confinement. And at the very high end we have charges that include allegations of sexual assault, aggravated assault (think: serious injuries), and even homicide.

Under Canadian law, there are no specially designated “domestic” charges. Rather, any crime becomes domestic in nature when the complainant – or victim – is the accused’s “intimate partner”.

Naturally, the higher up the ladder of seriousness, the more intense the investigation and prosecution of an Ontario domestic charge will be. Put another way, a male without a criminal record who is charged with domestic mischief will normally not face police interrogation on arrest. Jail would also not be a realistic prospect. In fact, with the right representation his Ontario domestic charges would likely be dropped.

On the other hand, if that same male were charged with domestic sexual assault, or if he had a significant prior domestic violence record, the situation would change drastically. He would almost certainly face interrogation at the time of his arrest. Unless there are major difficulties with its case, the prosecution would never agree to drop the domestic violence charges. And if he were found guilty, jail would be all but guaranteed – including a host of other negative consequences for a domestic sexual offence.

What Makes a Criminal Charge “Domestic”?

Under Canadian law, there are no specially designated “domestic” charges. Rather, any crime becomes domestic in nature when the complainant – or victim – is the accused’s “intimate partner”. This can be a wife or husband, common law partner, or even a short-term girlfriend or boyfriend.

In other words, shoving your neighbour and shoving your spouse would both attract the same charge under s.266 of the Criminal Code. But in the second case, the involvement of an “intimate partner” triggers a vast set of legal, procedural and attitudinal dimensions that aren’t usually at play. These percolate through every facet and stage of an Ontario domestic violence case. At this investigation stage, it means a zero-tolerance policy from police. At the prosecution stage, specially trained prosecutors treat domestic violence charges with extreme caution. And both at the bail and sentencing stages, the Criminal Code instructs Judges and Justices of the Peace to impose additional sanctions on men and women charged with offences against their “intimate partner”.

Ontario’s police forces have an explicit zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence. Although designed to address the ills of legitimate domestic abuse, the policy often leads to head-scratching and unwanted arrests.

The “domestic” nature of domestic violence charges makes expertise in the field especially valuable. The best Ontario domestic violence lawyers are not just sound criminal practitioners. They understand the attitudes, science, pseudo-science, and ever-evolving legal principles that inform the entirely unique criminal process in domestic violence cases.