Canada’s Criminal Code contains no specific offence that is termed “family violence” or “domestic violence.” This seems like a significant omission when the Criminal Code makes domestic violence an “aggravating factor” for sentencing purposes if the crime involves abuse—physical or sexual, and probably psychological or emotional—of a spouse or common-law partner, abuse of a person younger than 18 or abuse of a position of trust or authority.

Left unsaid is what, exactly, is “domestic violence.”

While Not Definitive, There is Guidance on What Constitutes “Domestic Violence

One source defines domestic violence as “violence that takes place in the home, especially by one person against their partner,” but that is not a legal definition. The laws of Canada clearly reference family violence or domestic violence, but never present a comprehensive definition, nor do they present an all-inclusive list of what constitutes domestic violence. The Department of Justice of Canada lists kinds of offences that can be considered to be domestic violence, including:

  • Offences related to the use of physical and sexual violence, including assault, kidnapping, human trafficking, abduction of a minor, homicide, sexual assault, sexual offences against minors, and child pornography
  • Offences related to the administration of justice, such as violating court orders, failure to comply with probation orders, or breach of peace bonds
  • Offences related to psychological or emotional abuse within the family, including using words or action to control or intimidate someone, including by stalking, threats, and harassing phone calls
  • Offences involving neglect of the family, including failing to provide for basic necessities of life, abandoning children, and criminal negligence that leads to physical harm or death.

Alberta law, in a statute dealing with protection orders related to domestic violence, is somewhat more helpful in defining what constitutes domestic violence, even though the language of the law makes it clear the list is not exhaustive. The statute defines a claimant as a family member seeking a protective order against domestic violence. The law goes on to define a family member as:

  • People who have been married to each other, lived together, or have been “adult interdependent partners”
  • People who are the parents of one or more children together regardless of marital status
  • People related by blood, marriage, or adoption, or by an “adult interdependent” relationship
  • Any children in the care of such people
  • People living together where one of them has custody of the other subject to a court order, such as a custodial parent

The statute then sets forth a non-exclusive definition of “family violence” that includes:

  • Any intentional or reckless act or omission that causes injury or property damage and that intimidates or harms a family member
  • Any act or threat that creates a reasonable fear of property damage or injury to a family member
  • Forced confinement
  • Sexual abuse
  • Stalking

The list in the Alberta law is vague and can be read broadly, and it is intentionally not exclusive of any specific offences not included in the statute’s broad language.

If You Are Facing Domestic Violence Charges in the Calgary area, Contact the Lawyers of Bourdon Defence

“Domestic violence” charges can have far-reaching effects upon your sentence and your future ability to interact with your children. If you are facing such charges, have a lawyer help you determine whether the charges you face actually involved domestic violence and to mount your defence accordingly. The lawyers of Bourdon Defence can assist you in protecting your rights under such circumstances. You can reach us at (403) 474-4143 or through our website.