Domestic Assault / Domestic Violence

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Definition of Charge / Similar and Accompanying Offences

Typical charges are assault, assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm. Rare to see aggravated assaults. Commonly involved charges are unlawful confinement, uttering threats, and mischief. The mischief is usually in reference to damage to property. These are the main charges that you typically see in a domestic assault context.

Possible Outcomes of Charges / Minimum Sentence

When a person is charged with domestic assault, there are usually three issues that immediately present themselves:

  1. Dealing with release conditions is critical and urgent – the person charged with domestic assault is under conditions to not have any contact with the complainant, and usually they can’t go back to their residence. If there are children involved and the accused person lives in the residence with the complainant, that creates enormous difficulties. Release conditions can be modified in one of two ways:
    1. Negotiation with the Crown, which often has to happen with the assistance of Victim Services (https://www.alberta.ca/victims-services.aspx) or HomeFront (https://homefrontcalgary.com/). There are a variety of victim assistance organizations that are involved. And then the release conditions can be modified with the consent of the Crown.
    2. It is also possible to modify release conditions through what’s known as a “bail review”, in which a person’s release conditions are modified by an application to the court of Queen’s Bench to review the bail conditions. This is expensive and often a waste of time. It is best to deal with release conditions directly with the prosecution, and see if something can be agreed to.
  2. There may also be an Emergency Protection Order in place, quite apart from anything that the criminal court has done. That Emergency Protection Order is a standalone protection order, which is reviewable in the Court of Queen’s Bench at a specific date. It is entirely possible to successfully defend criminal charges but still be subject to an Emergency Protection Order, which means that the person won’t be able to have any communication or contact with the complainant, or any children of the relationship.
  3. Dealing with the criminal charges – the criminal process, when talking domestic violence, is slow, and requires a great deal of care. The prosecution typically will not do anything without the consent of the complainant. Victim Services will be contacting the complainant to find out what he or she wishes to have happen in the circumstances.

Most, or many, domestic violence charges are resolved by what are known as “peace bonds”, which can be either Section 810 of the Criminal Code, or Common Law peace bonds. A peace bond is a person agreeing to abide by certain conditions of the court, and the charges against them will be withdrawn. The conditions are imposed for a period of time, typically one year, and there is a financial penalty attached to the peace bond if you break the terms of the peace bond. If you do not break the conditions of the peace bond, at the conclusion of its time period, it goes away. It’s like it never existed, and you have not been found guilty of an offence.

Breaking the terms of a peace bond is, in and of itself, a criminal offence and you can and will get charged for breaching the terms of a peace bond. Usual terms include: no contact with the complainant, do not go to their place of residence or work, a requirement that you seek anger management counselling, and often there are prohibitions against the consumption of alcohol or intoxicating drugs. These peace bonds in Alberta are supervised by the Probation Office.

More serious criminal offences, if a person is found guilty, have all the usual penalties that attach to them. Domestic violence is an aggravating factor in the Criminal Code, which means that sentences tend to be greater than they would otherwise be. For crimes with no permanent injury typically result in suspended sentences and periods of probation. The more serious the injury, the more serious the consequences are in terms of incarceration. When you’re getting into circumstances where there is choking to overcome resistance, permanent physical injury, injury involving children, injury that takes place while children are present, these things typically all involve periods of incarceration followed by lengthy periods of probation.

It is also common to have weapons prohibitions that are put into effect as a result of these offences. The weapons prohibition is exactly what it sounds like, you are allowed to possess things that are potentially weapons such as knives for cooking and eating purposes, but otherwise prohibited. Weapons prohibitions will cause you difficulty with a possession and acquisition licence, both in keeping it and renewing it. If you are convicted of a domestic violence offence, often times the firearms centre will apply to revoke your PAL, and even if you are not convicted of a criminal offence of domestic violence, you will oftentimes have difficulty renewing your PAL.