Domestic (Spousal) Assault
Police and prosecutors in British Columbia have a zero tolerance policy with respect to domestic violence. Whenever police receive a complaint that domestic violence has occurred, they will take swift action to investigate. When they reach the conclusion that an offence has probably taken place, they will arrest the accused. Policy dictates that the accused must be held in custody until police can ascertain that the complainant is safe, and the accused will not be released until they appear in court for a bail hearing and are released only on their promise to not have contact with the complainant until the prosecution concludes. In most cases, a “no contact” order will have the effect of forcing the accused to, at least temporarily, find other accommodation. It can also have a huge impact on the ability for the accused to have contact with any children of the relationship. Clearly, domestic violence allegations have the capacity to severely change the lives of family members.
A majority of domestic assault allegations result in charges of common assault, pursuant to s. 265 of the Criminal Code. Assault is defined as “force that is intentionally applied to another person without their consent.” Typical domestic assault allegations involve allegations of shoving, hitting, or kicking. More serious allegations involve acts that result in bodily harm or acts that involve weapons, including objects used as a weapon.
Under s. 264.1 of the Criminal Code, anyone who knowingly utters a threat to another person to cause death or bodily harm, or to damage or destroy property, is guilty of an offence. The gist of the offence is that the Crown prosecutor must prove that the accused intended their remarks to genuinely cause fear in the complainant. The history of the couple’s relationship and the context under which the words were spoken will play a significant role in prosecutions for threatening.
Section 264(1) of the Criminal Code sets out the requirements that the prosecution must prove in cases of criminal harassment. The offence generally involves proving that the accused conducted a pattern of behavior that caused the complainant to “fear for their safety or of anyone known to them.” The law prohibits conduct such as: repeatedly following a person from place to place; repeatedly communicating with a person either directly or indirectly; besetting or watching the person at their home or workplace; or engaging in threatening conduct directed at the person or their family.
How and when a complaint is made to police will determine the nature of the investigation into a domestic violence complaint. In some cases, it is the target of the alleged violence themselves who calls police. In others, it is a person who observed the incident. In some situations, police are called immediately; in other situations, police are only called days, weeks or months after the alleged incident. In all cases, when police receive a complaint, they will move quickly to investigate and possibly arrest the suspect. Police will always want to hear the suspect’s side of things. As experienced lawyers, this is where we can help our clients understand that their Charter rights guarantee that they need not speak to police because s. 7 of the Charter guarantees the right to remain silent.
In situations where clients contact us before they are arrested, we will contact police to make inquiry. We act as a “buffer” between our client and police. There is nothing that we can say on our client’s behalf that can be used against them. We will strive for police to not recommend charges, or where charges do go forward, we will strive to arrange for an early release from custody on the most liberal conditions that are appropriate.