Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Domestic Assault Charges in Ontario

A lot of people have telephoned, emailed, and spoke to me recently confused about how to properly with domestic assault charges in Ontario in the face of zero-tolerance Crown policies relating to domestic violence. In this post, I intend to give a brief summary of how domestic assault charges are generally dealt with in the Toronto, and Greater Toronto Courts. I hope you find the following information helpful. If you wish to discuss these issues further with me, you can visit my website at or by calling me at 416.220.0413.

In my experience as a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto, domestic assaults are among the most common allegations that come before the Courts. Crown policies mandate a serious and aggressive approach to spousal abuse, or “domestic assault” allegations. A “domestic relationship” can mean conflicts between people in a girlfriend and boyfriend relationship, a wife or husband, common-law partners, same-sex partnership, children, parents, and even relatives.

Once the Crown considers the case to be of “domestic” nature, the degree of seriousness and zeal that the Crown will approach the case will be heightened. This can mean a greater difficulty in obtaining bail, an inability to return home, and many other conditions of release that are often reserved for the most serious of offenders. The philosophy behind this approach is a concern that people who are abused by their domestic partner will return and inflict greater violence upon them. Although an obvious concern in some rarer cases, the Crown will consider all domestic allegations as being a possible worse-case scenario where further violence is inevitable.

It is very wise to retain legal counsel as soon as possible as there are subtle issues, events, and legal issues arise right from the outset that you may overlook that may have lasting consequences if not addressed effectively. In addition to having the inherit benefit of counsel at an early stage, it is of vital importance to an experienced criminal defence lawyer to explain the process, appear on your behalf, and attempt to have your bail varied so that the accused can return to the household as quickly as possible. I found over the years that the overwhelming goal of accuseds and alleged victims alike, is to have the family or domestic unit restored to the way things were before the police were called. To return to my suggestion above, an experienced lawyer can assist in making this happen in some circumstances. Without counsel, the accuseds (and even alleged victims) will find that they are not heard by people in a position to make the changes they want. More specifically, Crown Attorney's and judges beyond the trial judge, either will not address accuseds or victims on these issues, or lack the jurisdiction to do so. On the other hand, Crown Attorney's will speak and negotiate with defence counsel in attempts to try and resolve the matter in a way that is appropriate to everyone.

A common misconception in domestic charges is that the “victim” (often referred to as the “complainant”) decides whether to proceed with the charges. This is false: it is the Crown and police who decide whether the charges will continue or not. The Crown will not withdraw the case simply because it is against the wishes of the “victim”. The Crown is often of the view that there is a public concern in prosecuting the case that expands beyond the particular instance of your case.

Another reason to retain experienced counsel in this area is to understand the various options that the Crown itself my put to you. More specifically, you may be eligible for a domestic assault program called "PARS" or "Early Intervention". However, the terms and consequences of the nature, consequences, and long term benefits and pitfalls of these programs are often misunderstood by accused people. Before immediately accepting the Crown's offer to enrol in such programs by entering a plea of guilt, you should speak to a lawyer to appreciate the effects of the guilty plea you must enter to be eligible.

My first priority in domestic assault cases is making my best efforts in restoring things to the way before that call was made to the police by changing bail conditions, speaking to the Crown to see if they are willing to consider a withdrawal of the charges, or working on an agreeable resolution if you choose to accept responsibility for what happened. Call me anytime to discuss these options at (416) 220-0413.

I hope you have found this article helpful and wish you the best of luck in dealing with your legal issues.
Sean Robichaud, Barrister & Solicitor


Toronto Real Estate said...

Thank you for this article, I foudn it very helpful and informative. I just have one question.

"I found over the years that the overwhelming goal of accused and alleged victims alike, is to have the family or domestic unit restored to the way things were before the police were called."

I just don't see this very possible. If the case is so serious that its taken to the court then how do you manage to restore the way things were before the incidents. One can't simple change somebodies mind so quickly.

Thank you again for a great article.

Take care, Julie

Anonymous said...

Because there are ppl, myself included that have called the police over being shoved in the heat of an arguement and then have no way to withdraw the charge. The crown pursues these cases like a bunch of idiots and will not listen to the victim at all. I even had them change things around saying they were concerned for my safety because I wished I never called the police.

I mean I did and my husband ended up in jail for 4 days, now has a criminal record, wasnt allowed to be around our family home for 12 months, or live at home for 18 months along with 18 months probation. Not to mention I had childrens aid investigate me because my daughter was home at the time (8 mos old in a different room sleeping) and battered shelters and support lines harassing me. It was hell!!!