Domestic violence is not tolerated in Ontario. All Ontarians have the right to feel safe in their homes and communities. Although both women and men can be victims of domestic violence, the overwhelming majority of this violence involves men abusing women. Violence can have lasting harmful effects on victims and has a tragic impact on children.
Threatening, hitting, kicking, punching, pushing, stalking and harassing another person are crimes. Having sex with a person against that person’s will is also a crime. Being married does not change this. A person committing these acts can be arrested, charged, convicted and jailed.
Psychological, emotional and financial abuse should also not be tolerated, although they are not considered to be crimes under the Criminal Code of Canada.
If you or your children are experiencing any of these forms of abuse, you are not alone. There is help available for you. If you are being threatened or physically or sexually assaulted, call the police.
If you do not wish to call the police, or you are experiencing other forms of abuse, there are resources in your community to help you. Some of these are listed at the back of this booklet.
Talk to a lawyer about what you can do to protect yourself and your children. You could also talk to your doctor, people at your community information centre or community health centre. They know about services in your community that can help you and your children. Your doctor can take care of your injuries and make a note of them in your file. These records can be used in court to prove to a judge that you were assaulted.
The Assaulted Women’s Helpline is a toll-free crisis telephone service operating province-wide 24 hours a day, seven days a week (page 54). Trained counsellors can help you determine your options, provide information about local supports such as shelters and sexual assault centres and help you develop an immediate safety plan.
Interpreters in 150 languages are available to respond to callers. Call 1-866-863-0511 or, in the Toronto calling area, 416-863-0511. TTY 1-866-863-7868.
In addition, you can call the Victim Support Line (VSL) at 1-888-579-2888. Although this is not a crisis line, VSL staff can provide help by locating an appropriate community-based assistance service. Callers can also access recorded information about how the criminal justice system works, from arrest and sentencing to release procedures.
If your spouse abused you and is now in jail serving a provincial sentence, you can call the VSL and register with the Victim Notification System to get information about the abuser’s release date.
If your case goes to criminal court, in many communities there is a Victim/Witness Assistance Program office to help you go through the court process. Your community may also have a Domestic Violence Court program. As part of this program, you will receive information and assistance from Victim/Witness Assistance Program staff. In addition, a judge may order an offender to attend a specialized 16-week education and counselling program.
If you are involved in the family court process and are a victiof domestic violence you may also meet with a Family Court Support Worker.
A Family Court Support Worker can:
provide information about the family court process
help victims prepare for family court proceedings
refer victims to other specialized services and supports in the community
help with safety planning, such as getting to and from court safely
accompany the victim to court proceedings, where appropriate.
If you have questions about the program, or need helping finding your service provider, please call the Victim Support Line toll-free at 1-888-579-2888, or 416-314-2447 in the Greater Toronto Area.
It is important to find out about resources in your community. If you have to leave your home and you have no money and no place to stay, you may be able to get social assistance, subsidized housing, legal aid and free counselling.
I left the house the other night when my spouse was being abusive. My friend says that because I deserted the children, my spouse will automatically get custody of them if we go to court. Is that true?
No. If you leave an abusive spouse, you have the right to ask for custody of your children and for support for them and yourself. You do not lose this right because you are the one who left the house. A judge must look at the best interests of the children when deciding on who should have custody of them. Let the judge know that your spouse was being abusive. The judge must consider whether a person has been violent or abusive towards their spouse or children when deciding about custody and access. However, it is important for you to see a lawyer right away and to deal with custody questions quickly. If your children have been living with your spouse and without you for some time, a judge may not want to change their living situation.
Even if you leave with the children, you should deal with the issue of custody as soon as possible.
Laws for victims of abuse
There are laws to protect you and your children from violence.
A judge must consider whether a person has been violent or abusive when considering the person’s ability to care for a child. Ontario’s child protection laws also protect children against physical, sexual and emotional harm. This conduct may also be a crime. If your child is a victim of abuse by the other parent, you can ask the court to deny that parent access or allow access only if it is supervised.
If you are fearful that your spouse or partner or your former spouse or partner will hurt you or your children, you can ask the court to make a restraining order. A restraining order is made by a judge at the family court to help protect you and your child or any child in your custody.
A restraining order will list conditions that the person you are afraid of must obey. The restraining order can be general - that the person you are afraid of has to stay away from you - or it can be specific. It can say that the person must not come to your home, to your place of work, to your children's school or to other places where you often go (for example, your place of worship or your parent's home).
If the person who has a restraining order against them disobeys a restraining order, the police can arrest them.
Who can apply for a restraining order?
You can apply for a restraining order at the family court:
If you fear your former partner and were married or lived together for any period of time. This includes a same-sex partner; and/or
To protect yourself and any children who are in your custody.
You do not need to have children with a person in order to apply for a restraining order against that person. But you should be aware that you cannot apply for a restraining order against a person you are dating but have not lived with.
The restraining order must be served on your spouse as soon as possible, but you do not have to serve it yourself. It’s best to have someone else serve it for you. If you don’t have a lawyer, court staff will assist you.
If your spouse disobeys the restraining order, you can call the police. The police will want to see the restraining order. Keep it with you at all times. They may also ask you if your spouse knows about the restraining order. If the police believe that your spouse has disobeyed the restraining order, he or she can be arrested.