In our experience as criminal defence lawyers, domestic assault charges are very common in Toronto courts. Individuals accused of domestic assault are often deprived of the support system usually provided by family either because of family discord or by the strict bail conditions routinely applied to those accused of domestic violence. Though these conditions are sometimes necessary to protect victims of domestic violence from retaliation by abusive partners, in other cases it is an unfortunate burden that an accused person must be separated from children, home and spouse as they await trial. Moreover, those facing these charges often find that the Toronto court system is very hard on those accused of domestic crimes. In the Toronto court system, the Crown has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to dealing with domestic assault charges. The trial process is further complicated by the special process the Toronto courts use to hear domestic matters. As criminal defence lawyers, we see first hand every day how complicated and discouraging this process can be for the thousands of men and women in the greater Toronto area accused of domestic violence each year.
Domestic assault charges refer to charges which arise within the context of a domestic relationship. In other words, when an incident occurs between two or more individuals who are deemed by the Crown to be in a domestic relationship the resulting charges are labeled as domestic. A domestic relationship can be a relationship between a wife and husband (including commonlaw and same-sex partners), a girlfriend and boyfriend, children and parents (including step-children and adopted children), children and grandparents, or any other individuals who are related to one another.
The Toronto court system segregates domestic matters from other types of charges. Domestic matters are all heard together on specific days at those courthouses which hear domestic cases. A court which hears domestic matters is referred to simply as “domestic court”. Courthouses which hold domestic court are listed below along with the dates, times, and courtrooms it takes place in:
The Crown Attorney in domestic court is often selected because he or she has a special interest in combating domestic violence. This usually means that he or she is an expert in this type of charge. It is highly recommended that an individual accused of a domestic crime retain criminal defence counsel as soon as possible to ensure that his or her rights are adequately represented in domestic court.
In many cases, the entire family is suffering because of the domestic charges. Often, it is everyone’s desire to put the charge behind them to restore the family unit. Because of the zero tolerance policy Toronto has adopted when it comes to domestic crimes, the complainant has no power or control over the proceedings once they have involved the police. For example, the complainant does not have any control over whether to press charges nor does he or she have the ability to stop the proceedings against the accused. Once the police are called the Crown and police will almost certainly press charges. The rationale for this attitude is to protect victims of domestic violence who attempt to withdraw charges out of fear for their own safety or the safety of their children. Unfortunately, in many cases these rules are detrimental to individuals who are forced into an artificial and prolonged separation due to an erroneous or minor charge of domestic violence.
In those situations involving minor charges such as an assault (not including an assault with a weapon, aggravated assault, or an assault which resulted in injury) where the accused has no criminal record, the Crown will often make an offer to the accused which would modify the accused’s bail to allow them to reunite with the complainant. In exchange the accused must plead guilty to the offence and undertake to attend a special counseling program. There are two such programs: PARS (Partner Assault Response Systems) and EIP (Early Intervention Program). These counseling programs typically run one hour a week for sixteen weeks. The program focuses on the nature of the domestic relationship and specific strategies for anger management in the context of a domestic relationship. At the end of the sixteen weeks, the program leader will prepare a report on the accused’s progress through the program. If the report is favourable, the Crown will likely agree to a request for a Conditional Discharge. A Conditional Discharge is a finding of guilt; however, it is not a criminal record. See our blog on Discharges for more information on this result. Though this option may sound appealing because it allows an accused person to reunite with their partner, it is important to remember that this does result in a finding of guilt being made against him or her by the court. We highly recommend that you consult with a lawyer before entering into either of these programs.
An information session on the PARS domestic assault program is held at the 1000 Finch courthouse on Tuesdays at 1 PM in courtroom 303.