Canadian Family Violence Laws.

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Canadian Family Violence Laws


Canadian Family Violence Laws - Topics on this page:

Canadian Family Violence Laws - Common Types of Family Violence


Canadian Family Violence Laws - Possible Legal Charges for Family Violence Offences

The Criminal Code does not have a specific "family violence offence". However, an abuser can be charged under the Criminal Code as follows:


Canadian Family Violence Laws - How widespread is family violence?

A great deal of family violence is not reported. The following figures, therefore are no doubt much higher (Note: Source of Data):

  • an estimated 7% of adults (equivalent to about 690,000 women and 549,000 men in Canada) experienced some form of violence in their marriage or common-law relationship in the five years prior to the 1999 General Social Survey.
  • the unintended victims of family violence include the children living in close to half a million households in Canada who saw or heard one parent being assaulted by the other in the five-year period covered by the General Social Survey.
  • there were an estimated 135,573 child maltreatment investigations in Canada in 1998 (a rate of almost 22 investigations per 1000 children aged 0 to 15). Almost half (45%) of the investigations were substantiated. (Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect)
  • Ten percent (10%) of investigations involved alleged sexual abuse (38% of these were substantiated). (Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect)
  • police-reported data for 1999 indicates that 60% of all sexual assault victims are children and youth (under age 18). Parents are responsible for 42% of these assaults. (from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey)
  • one percent (1%) of seniors were physically assaulted by a spouse, adult child or caregiver, and 7% experienced some form of emotional or financial abuse, usually by a spouse, in the five years prior to the 1999 General Social Survey.
  • two percent (2%) of all victims of violent crime in 1999 were older adults (aged 65 and older) (Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey)
  • in the past two decades, of all individuals who were murdered, approximately one-third were killed by a relative. (data from the Homicide Survey)

(Note: Source of Data):

  • 1999 General Social Survey,
  • the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS),
  • police-reported data (such as the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2)
  • Survey and the Homicide Survey), and
  • recent Juristat articles on spousal and family violence indicate that family violence is a pervasive and widespread problem in Canada.


Canadian Family Violence Laws - Spousal Abuse

"Spousal abuse" is the violence or mistreatment that a woman or a man experiences at the hands of a marital, common-law or same-sex partner. There are many different forms of spousal abuse:

  • Physical abuse may consist of just one incident or it may happen repeatedly.
  • Sexual abuse and exploitation includes all forms of sexual assault, sexual harassment or sexual exploitation.
  • Emotional abuse includes verbal attacks, such as yelling, screaming and name-calling.
  • Criminal harassment or "stalking" may include threatening a person or their loved ones, damaging their possessions, or harming their pets.
  • Economic or financial abuse includes stealing from or defrauding a partner or withholding money that is necessary to buy food or medical treatment.
  • Spiritual abuse includes using a person's religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate or control them.


Canadian Family Violence Laws - Penalties & Help Available for Spousal Abuse

Certain categories of abuse, such as assault, sexual assault and criminal harassment (stalking) are crimes under the Criminal Code of Canada. In recent years, a series of amendments have been made to the Criminal Code to strengthen the laws related to spousal abuse.

Charges will be laid in all spousal abuse cases where reasonable grounds to charge exist. Crown prosecutors are required to prosecute in all spousal abuse cases where a reasonable likelihood of conviction exists.

Some provinces have set up dedicated domestic violence courts, victim/witness assistance programs, and mandatory counselling for offenders.


Canadian Family Violence Laws - Child Abuse

Child abuse is the violence, mistreatment or neglect that a child or adolescent may experience while in the care of someone they either trust or depend on, such as a parent, sibling, other relative, caregiver or guardian. There are many different forms of abuse:

  • Physical abuse involves deliberately using force against a child in such a way that the child is either injured or is at risk of being injured. Physical abuse includes beating, hitting, shaking, pushing, choking, biting, burning, kicking or assaulting a child with a weapon.
  • Sexual abuse and exploitation involves using a child for sexual purposes.
  • Neglect usually involves repeated incidents. It involves failing to provide what a child needs for his or her physical, psychological or emotional development and well being.
  • Emotional neglect includes failing to provide a child with love, safety, and a sense of worth.
  • Emotional abuse involves harming a child's sense of self. It includes acts (or omissions) that result in, or place a child at risk of, serious behavioural, cognitive, emotional or mental health problems.

Canadian Family Violence Laws - Spanking Laws

A Supreme Court of Canada ruling handed down on January 30, 2004 upholds the "spanking laws" in Canada, but for the first time, the high court has issued guidelines that say spanking teenagers or children under age 2, hitting a child in the head, or using objects like belts or rulers are actions that go too far.

In a deeply split 6-3 decision, the court ruled yesterday the so-called "spanking" defence in Canadian law does not protect or excuse "outbursts of violence against a child motivated by anger or animated by frustration."

Still, parents, their stand-in caregivers, and teachers may use reasonable force if it is for "educative or corrective purposes," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote for the majority.

"The reality is," wrote McLachlin, that without such a defence, Canada's "broad assault law would criminalize force falling far short of what we think of as corporal punishment, like placing an unwilling child in a chair for a five-minute "time-out."


Canadian Family Violence Laws - Penalties and Help Available for Child Abuse

Child welfare laws require that all cases of suspected child abuse must be investigated to determine if a child is in need of protection. If a child is determined to be in need of protection, the child welfare authorities are able to:

  • provide counseling and support for the family,
  • remove the child (temporarily or permanently) from the home, or
  • remove the abuser(s) from the home.
  • initiate criminal charges.

Since the 1960s, significant steps have been taken to address child abuse in Canada such as:

  • the introduction of mandatory reporting laws;
  • the creation of child abuse registries;
  • changes to the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act;
  • the extension of time limits for laying charges in child sexual abuse cases, and
  • the establishment of child protection agencies run by First Nations.


Canadian Family Violence Laws - Stalking - Criminal Harassment

Stalking is dealt with under the criminal harassment provisions of section 264 of Canada's Criminal Code. This section of the Criminal Code was passed in 1993 in order to make it easier for the police to charge stalkers.

The Code states that no person shall, without lawful authority:

  • repeatedly follow the other person, or anyone known to them, from place to place;
  • repeatedly communicate with, either directly or indirectly, the other person or anyone known to them;
  • watch a place where the other person is visiting, lives or works; or
  • engage in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any member of their family.
  • trespass on another's property at night,
  • utter threats,
  • make indecent or harassing phone calls,
  • intimidate a person, and
  • cause mischief to another person's property.

Under the Criminal Code, you can get a restraining order or a peace bond against a person who is stalking. The punishment for stalking can be a ten year jail term.


Canadian Family Violence Laws - Dating Violence

Dating violence is a serious problem in Canada.

Between 16% (Note: 1) and 35% (Note: 2) of women surveyed say they have experienced at least one physical assault by a male dating partner. Roberts (Note: 3) found that 37% of Canadian women had experienced at least one sexual assault since the age of 16.

(Note: 1) Rodgers, K. "Wife Assault: The Findings of a National Survey," Juristat: Service Bulletin. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (1994): vol. 14, no. 9: p.3.

(Note: 2) Kelly, K. and W. DeKeseredy. "The Incidence and Prevalence of Woman Abuse in Canadian University and College Dating Relationships," Journal of Human Justice. (1993): vol. 4, no. 2: pp.25-52.

(Note: 3) Roberts, J. "Criminal Justice Processing of Sexual Assault Cases," Juristat: Service Bulletin. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (1994): vol. 14, no. 7: p.1.


Canadian Family Violence Laws - Elder Abuse

Elder abuse may be defined as "any act of commission or omission that results in harm to an elderly person". The Department of National Health and Welfare has categorized abuse and neglect as follows:

  • physical abuse (e.g., assault),
  • psychosocial abuse (e.g., verbal assault),
  • financial abuse (misuse of money or property), and
  • neglect (can lead to any of the three types of abuse).

Studies of elder abuse have reported prevalence rates from 1% to 4%. However, estimates as high as 10% have been claimed. Of a random sample of staff from a New Hampshire nursing home, 36% reported witnessing physical abuse in the preceding year, while psychological abuse had been witnessed by 81%.

Risk factors for abuse in the victim include:

  • dependency,
  • lack of close family ties,
  • a culture of family violence,
  • lack of financial resources,
  • lack of community support and
  • factors such as low pay and poor working conditions in institutions.

Links to More Information

Criminal Code of Canada



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