What is domestic assault?

What is domestic assault?

By Matthew Deshaye

According to the Alberta Justice Department’s Domestic Violence Handbook, domestic violence is any use of physical or sexual force, actual or threatened, in a domestic relationship. It may include a single act or a string of events forming a pattern of abuse meant to intimidate, humiliate or frighten someone and to make them powerless. Domestic violence can be directed at intimate partners, siblings, parents or anyone else the perpetrator has a relationship with.

These patterns could include:

  • physical abuse;
  • emotional abuse;
  • psychological abuse;
  • sexual abuse;
  • criminal harassment (stalking); and
  • threats to harm children, other family members, pets and property.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is what occurs between opposite-sex or same-sex partners. These relationships vary in duration and legal formality, and include:

  • current and former dating relationships;
  • current and former common-law relationships;
  • current and former married relationships; and
  • people who are the parents of one or more children, regardless of their marital status or whether they have lived together at any time.

How common is intimate partner violence in Alberta?

According to the Statistical Profile of Intimate Partner Violence in Canada published by the House of Commons, rural rates of intimate partner violence against women are significantly higher than urban rates in all areas of Canada. It adds that rural areas of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta have the highest rates within the provinces.

In Alberta, there were 535 police-reported incidents of IPV in urban areas per 100,000 population versus 1,245 per 100,000 in rural areas in 2020. By comparison, the national average was 461 incidents per 100,00 in urban areas and 985 per 100,000 in rural areas.

The profile states that “when it comes to intimate partner violence, research to date has found that this is a form of abuse that is chronically underreported. Victims could be reluctant to report to police due to reasons such as living arrangements, financial dependence and shared children … further to that, police-reported data capture only those forms of violence that meet the criminal threshold and, as such, do not monitor emotional, psychological or financial abuse which are common forms of intimate partner violence.”

The report adds that It is estimated that 44 per cent of women or 6.2 million women aged 15 and older have experienced some form of abuse in their intimate relationships.

Who are the victims of domestic violence?

According to Statistics Canada there were 127,082 victims of police-reported family violence (violence committed by spouses, parents, children, siblings and extended family members) in 2021, a rate of 336 victims per 100,000 population. Females represented two-thirds of family violence victims.

Of those, 114,132 were victims of IPV (committed by current and former legally married spouses, common-law partners, dating partners and other intimate partners). Eight in 10 (79 per cent) victims were women and girls and the rate of victimization was nearly four times higher among women and girls than men and boys.

What charges will offenders face?

Various offences contained in the Criminal Code prohibit forms of IPV, including:

  • physical and sexual assault;
  • emotional/psychological abuse and neglect; and
  • financial abuse.

Alberta is one of six provinces to have enacted specific legislation on family violence, with the Protection Against Family Violence Act passed in 2000.

In 1983, the Criminal Code was amended to ensure sexual offence laws were up to date. Among other things, these amendments ensured that a person could be charged with sexually assaulting their spouse. In 1993, the offence of criminal harassment (stalking) was enacted. In June 2019, the Criminal Code was amended to strengthen the criminal justice system’s response to IPV, including by defining ‘intimate partner’ for all Criminal Code purposes and clarifying that the term includes a current or former spouse, common-law partner and dating partner.

The changes also reversed the onus of proof for bail for an accused charged with a violent offence involving an intimate partner in cases where the accused had a prior conviction for violence against an intimate partner. This means that instead of the Crown needing to demonstrate why the accused should be held in custody while awaiting trial, the accused now must prove to the court why they should be released.

What are my defences against domestic assault charges?

Penalties for domestic assault are more severe than a general assault. Every case is unique but here are some common defences.

  • Lack of proof. In every criminal matter, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. If the defence can show there is a reasonable doubt, your lawyer can argue the charges can be dismissed.
  • False accusation. Complainants sometimes fabricate stories about domestic abuse or exaggerate what happened. You may be able to prove you were somewhere else at the time of the incident.
  • Consent. If the alleged assault was between two consenting adults and no bodily harm was caused, the allegation may no longer be valid. The specifics of the case are vital here.
  • Credibility. Any domestic assault charge relies heavily on the alleged victim’s version of the events. Your lawyer may be able to bring forward information that shows the alleged victim is not credible. Some complainants are vindictive or they fabricate details about what happened.
  • Self-defence: This can be a valid defence if you can demonstrate that you acted reasonably and proportionately to protect yourself from immediate harm.
  • Charter violation: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms spells out every citizen's rights and freedoms. If police violate any of these rights during their investigation, your lawyer can ask for charges to be withdrawn or evidence struck.

What are my Charter rights?

When it comes to a criminal investigation, the key Charter rights are:

  • life, liberty and security of the person;
  • freedom from unreasonable search or seizure;
  • not be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned;
  • to be informed promptly of the reasons for your arrest or detention;
  • to have access to a lawyer when arrested; and
  • to have a trial within a reasonable time.

How can we help you?

The legal team at Dunn & Associates is experienced with defending clients against charges related to domestic assault. When cross-examining witnesses, we can navigate the fine line between challenging the veracity of the testimony and avoiding any perception of victim-blaming. Our focus remains on challenging inconsistencies and seeking the truth while respecting the rights and dignity of all parties involved. Contact us for a free consultation.