Script 155 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral Service at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
What is family violence?
Family violence is more than just beating a partner or child. It’s the abuse of power to harm or control a person who was or is a family member. Family violence includes:
- physical abuse, such as pushing, hitting or forcible confinement, and attempts to physically abuse
- sexual abuse, and attempts to sexually abuse
- psychological or emotional abuse
- harassment, intimidation and coercion
- threats, including threats to other people and to pets
- stalking and following
- restricting a person’s independence, including their financial independence
- sexual abuse
- damaging property
In the case of children, family violence includes being exposed to family violence, including indirect exposure to family violence
Although family violence is often directed by men at women, anyone can be abused.
Abuse is wrong
No one deserves to be abused. It’s against the law for anyone to physically abuse, threaten or harass another person. A person who does these things to their partner (whether in a married relationship or an unmarried relationship) can be charged with assault.
What can you do about family violence in your relationship?
If it is an emergency, call the police. In addition to ensuring you are safe, the police can assess whether criminal charges may be necessary. They can also connect you to community services, which might include helping you find emergency shelter. You and your children might be able to stay in a nearby transition house for up to several weeks. This will help give you time to find a new place to live.
Whether it’s an emergency or not, you can also apply to court for a “protection order” under the provincial Family Law Act. This is discussed below.
If it’s not an emergency and you wish to stay in your relationship, you might want to think about getting some counselling for your partner or for both of you and your partner. Abuse is wrong; your partner does not have the right to abuse you. If he or she will not stop, you should think about separating. Contact information for a number of counselling services is provided below.
What if you’re not sure about involving the police?
If you’re afraid but don’t know about calling the police, the following services can help:
- The Vancouver General Hospital operates a 24-hour Domestic Violence Service at Jim Pattison Pavilion – Emergency Department (920 West 10th Avenue, Vancouver). It offers clinical counselling services provided to women and men who have been abused by an intimate partner or family member. Services are free under the Medical Services Plan. Call 604.875.5458 or contact Social Worker Department at 604.875.5218.
- For more services, visit www.vch.ca/our_services/find_health_services/find_services and search under “domestic violence”.
What counselling or similar services are available to help?
Victims of family violence should seek help from community support workers, social workers or health care professionals to make sure that they have a plan for protecting their health and safety. Some people have coverage to pay for counselling through their extended health benefit plans or employee assistance programs. But some services are free and you don’t have to pay. If going to counselling with your partner isn’t an option, you may benefit from speaking with a counsellor on your own to determine the next steps for yourself and your children.
Some of the services available include the following:
- VictimLINK is a 24-hour victim’s information and help line. Call toll-free 1.800.563.0808 from anywhere in BC to connect with a Stopping the Violence Counselling or Children Who Witness Abuse Counselling Program in your area.
- The Battered Women’s Support Services offers support groups, advocacy, counselling over the telephone and much more. The intake and counselling line is 604.687.1867 and toll-free 1.855.867.1868, and their website is www.bwss.org.
- The Vancouver & Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Support Services Society offers counselling for victims of domestic violence and children who witness abuse, and can provide a translator for police or court interviews. The phone number is 604.436.1025, and the agency is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm from Monday to Friday. See their website at www.vlmfss.ca.
- Family Services of Greater Vancouver offers a wide variety of services for victims of domestic violence, including programs relating to abuse prevention and trauma. Call 604.731.4951 or see their website at www.fsgv.ca. Also, in partnership with Family Services, the Vancouver Police Department operates a Domestic Violence and Criminal Harassment Unit that provides follow-up, especially if your partner has assaulted you violently or often.
- The BC/Yukon Society of Transition Houses offers safe temporary shelter for up to 30 days for women and children experiencing domestic violence. They also offer group and individual counselling for children and youth who witness family conflicts and violence. Contact the society at 604.669.6943 in Vancouver or 1.800.661.1040 elsewhere in BC; also check their website at www.bcsth.ca.
- Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter operates a transition house for women and their children and a 24 crisis line for women who are trying to prevent or escape male violence. Call crisis line anytime at 604.872.8212, and check their website at www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca.
- Check a Directory of Victim Services and Violence Against Women Programs at www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/victimservices/directory/.
What about criminal court as an option?
If you contact the police, they will investigate by taking a statement from you, your partner and any witnesses. If the police believe that criminal charges are appropriate, they’ll prepare a report for the prosecutor, called “Crown Counsel”. Crown Counsel will review the report and will decide whether to lay a criminal charge.
What happens if criminal charges are laid?
If Crown Counsel charges your partner with a criminal offence such as assault, the police will arrest him or her. Most people charged with a criminal offence aren’t kept in police custody, but are released on bail on conditions ordered by a judge. For example, your partner may be released on conditions that he or she not have any contact with you or come to your home.
If your partner doesn’t obey the conditions, you can tell the police. He or she may be arrested and charged with breaking the bail order.
If such conditions are ordered, but you and your children want to have contact with your spouse or partner, you’ll need to talk to Crown Counsel about changing the bail order.
Can the criminal charges be dropped?
If your partner is charged, he or she may pressure you to get the charge dropped. This may not be possible, because it is Crown Counsel who lays the charge against your partner, not you. Any unwanted pressure or contact should be reported to the police.
Will there be a trial?
If your partner doesn’t plead guilty to the criminal charge, a trial will be held. You’ll tell the judge what happened. Although Crown Counsel is the government’s lawyer, Crown Counsel will help you prepare to testify. You can also get help in monitoring the criminal court process and getting ready for trial by contacting the Vancouver Police Department Victim Services Unit at 604.717.2737. For more information on the court process, see the Provincial Court website at www.provincialcourt.bc.ca.
What happens if your partner is convicted?
If your partner is convicted of assaulting or threatening you, he or she would usually be ordered to pay a fine or will be placed on probation with conditions, such as not contacting you, or attending counselling or an anger management program. The judge probably won’t send your partner to jail, unless he or she was previously convicted of assault or the incident was extremely violent.
What is a peace bond?
You may decide that the criminal court process isn’t the best way for you and your partner to deal with violence in your relationship. Crown Counsel may be willing to drop the criminal charge against your partner if he or she enters into a peace bond under section 810 of the Criminal Code. This involves your partner undertaking to keep the peace and obey certain conditions, for example, not contacting you for a period of time. If your partner obeys the conditions, he or she won’t have a criminal record. If your partner doesn’t obey the conditions, he or she can be sent to trial on the original criminal charge plus a new charge for breaching the peace bond.
What about asking for a protection order in civil court?
Another option is to apply to the Provincial Court or to the Supreme Court for a protection order under the provincial Family Law Act. A protection order can:
- restrain or restrict how your partner communicates with you;
- restrain your partner from going to your home, school or place of employment;
- restrain your partner from stalking your;
- restrain your partner from possessing weapons;
- require the police to remove your partner from the home;
- require the police to escort your partner while your partner removes his or her personal property from the home;
- require the police to seize your partner’s weapons; and
- require your partner to report to the court.
The Family Law Act requires the police to enforce protection orders.
Do you need a lawyer to get a protection order?
You can apply yourself for a protection order in either the Supreme Court or the Provincial Court, but you may find the paperwork easier in Provincial Court. In the Supreme Court, you will need to prepare a Notice of Family Claim and a Notice of Application or just a Notice of Application if there is already a court proceeding between you and your partner, plus an affidavit describing what has happened and what your concerns are. In the Provincial Court, you will need to prepare an Application to Obtain an order and a Notice of Motion, or just a Notice of Motion if there is already a court proceeding, and you will need to either prepare an affidavit or testify in court about your concerns.
A family justice worker or legal aid duty counsel might be able to help you. Depending on the court’s location, a restraining order can often be obtained quickly – even in the same day in some circumstances.
What if you are concerned about someone else?
Any one can apply for a protection order on behalf of someone who is at risk of family violence.
What if the protection order conflicts with another order?
The Family Law Act says that if a protection order, including orders that are like protection orders made in another province or under the Criminal Code, conflicts with another order made under the Family Law Act, the parts of the other order that conflict with the protection order are suspended. This might happen if there is an older order for parenting time and a newer protection says that the restrained person cannot communicate with the children; the parts of the older order about parenting time would be suspended.
What if your partner ignores the protection order?
If your partner continues to harass you, he or she can be arrested. Your partner can be charged with a criminal offence for breaching the protection order and can be brought before the court. Your partner will be released if the judge is satisfied that he or she isn’t a danger to your safety.
Free legal services are sometimes available
Legal aid is available to some people who cannot afford a lawyer if they qualify financially. To find a legal aid location near you, go to the Legal Services Society (LSS) website at www.legalaid.bc.ca and under “Legal aid,” click “Legal aid offices”. Or call the LSS Call Centre at 604.408.2172 (Greater Vancouver) or 1.866.577.2525 (call no charge, elsewhere in BC). When applying for legal aid, you should mention that you fear further and continued violence from your partner.
Other sources of free legal advice include:
Where can you find more information?
[updated March 2013]
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