If you or someone else calls the police about your partner’s abuse, the police decide what happens. You do not decide.
If the police think that there are "reasonable grounds" to believe that someone committed a crime, they must charge that person with a crime. So, they may charge your partner, charge you, or charge both of you.
Sometimes, victims of partner abuse are charged with a crime. This could happen because:
- your partner lied to the police about what happened
- the police might not have a good understanding of partner abuse and so they don't understand what is really going on
- language or cultural barriers make it difficult for you to tell your story to the police
If the police decide to charge you, they will probably take you to the police station. Once you're charged, you are called the "accused".
Wait until after you've talked to a lawyer to decide if you'll talk to the police. Anything that you say to the police can:
- be used against you later in court
- seem harmless or helpful but make you look guilty when it's repeated in court
- limit the ways that your lawyer can defend you
A lawyer can explain all of this to you.
The police must give you the chance to speak with a lawyer, in private, as soon as possible after your arrest. If you want to speak with your own lawyer, the police must make reasonable efforts to connect you with your lawyer. This means that they might need to call several times to reach your lawyer.
You should talk to a criminal lawyer who can give you some legal information and advice about the criminal court process. If a lawyer is coming to the police station, you don’t have to talk to the police until they get there.
If the police can't reach your lawyer or you do not have a lawyer, they must give you the option of speaking with a duty counsel lawyer for free. The police can call the duty counsel hotline at 1-800-265-0451. They can call this number 24 hours a day.
- The police tell the duty counsel lawyer what you're being charged with.
- You'll be able to speak to the duty counsel lawyer over the phone.
- The duty counsel lawyer can give you up to 20 minutes of free legal advice over the phone. This is meant to help you until you can get your own lawyer.
You are photographed and fingerprinted. You might also be put in a cell.
You might be released by the police with certain conditions. These conditions are the rules you must follow after being released by the police.
If the police don’t release you right away, they have to bring you to court within 24 hours, or as soon as reasonably possible. This is called a bail hearing. At the bail hearing, the court decides if you can be released and if there should be any conditions that you must follow after being released.
Different types of crimes can happen in partner abuse cases. You can be charged with one or more crimes.
The police tell you what they're charging you with. If you don't understand, ask them to explain in a way that you understand. If English is not your first language, you can ask for an interpreter.
If you do not have a lawyer, you can talk with duty counsel before your bail hearing.
If you also have a family court case, you need to tell your family law lawyer or the family court about any conditions you have to follow as part of your criminal case. It is important that your family court orders and criminal court orders don't say different things.
For example, your family court order may say you can go to your partner's home to pick up the children for access. But if you later get a criminal court order that says that you cannot come within 100 meters of your partner's home as part of your bail conditions, then the orders conflict because they both say different things. You cannot go to your partner's home because of the bail conditions even though the family court order said you could. This means either your access arrangements need to be changed in family court, or your bail conditions need to be changed in criminal court.
Assault is when one person applies force to another person, or attempts or threatens to apply force to them without their consent. Assault is a crime even if your partner is not hurt, and sometimes even if they were not actually touched. An assault can happen when you:
- threaten your partner with violence
- slap them
- shove them
- kick them
- punch them
- stab them
Depending on what happened, you might be charged with "assault", "assault with a weapon", "assault causing bodily harm", or "aggravated assault".
Sexual assault is a sexual act or touch that your partner does not consent to. It is a crime even if they're not physically hurt. Sexual assault can include:
- an unwanted kiss
- an unwanted sexual touch
- forced penetration (rape)
- threats to force them to do any of these things
Being married does not give you the right to sexually assault your partner.
Depending on what happened, you might be charged with "sexual assault", "sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm", or "aggravated sexual assault".
If you forced your partner to stay somewhere by threatening them or physically stopping them from leaving, you might be charged with "forcible confinement".
If you threatened your partner, you might be charged with "uttering threats".
"Criminal harassment" is also a common charge in partner abuse cases. Criminal harassment includes things like stalking, harassing phone calls, or unwanted visits to your partner's home or workplace.
Stalking is when someone has a reasonable fear for their safety because the other person does one or more of the following:
- watches and follows them
- damages their property
- tries to contact them when they don't want to be contacted
- sends them lots of messages that they don't want by mail, voicemail, email, or through other people
Duty counsel are lawyers who help people who don't have their own lawyers. They can help you get in a few ways. They can:
- Call someone who might be able to be a "surety" for you, and ask them to come to the courthouse. A surety is someone who comes to court and agrees to be responsible for you if you get out of jail. This means if you don't follow any of your bail conditions and you have a surety, they might have to pay money to the court.
- Talk to the Crown Attorney, to see if they agree to release you without a bail hearing.
- Help you present information and reasons at your bail hearing about why you should be released.
- your income is low enough, and
- this is the first time you've been charged with a crime, or if you do not have a criminal record
You need to make some decisions. You need to decide what kind of conditions you agree with and whether you should plead guilty. A criminal lawyer, such as duty counsel at criminal court, can explain what may happen based on what you decide to do.
Getting your own lawyer
If your partner is abusing you, but the police charge you with a crime, get legal help right away. If your income is low enough, you could get a Legal Aid certificate to hire a criminal law lawyer to represent you.
A Legal Aid certificate is document that says Legal Aid Ontario will pay a lawyer to work for a certain number of hours on your legal issues.
Legal Aid Ontario may give you a certificate if:
- your income is low enough, and
- this is the first time you’ve been charged with a crime, or if you do not have a criminal record
Legal Aid Ontario may also give you a certificate if something serious could happen if the court finds you guilty. For example, if there is a chance you will be sent to jail, lose your job, lose custody of or access to your children, or face immigration or refugee challenges.
Not all lawyers accept these certificates. If Legal Aid Ontario gives you one, you have to find a criminal law lawyer who agrees to work for you and accept your certificate. Legal Aid Ontario's online Interactive tool: Find a lawyer can help you find a lawyer who does.
If Legal Aid Ontario rejects your application for a certificate, you can:
- Appeal the decision. This means that you disagree with the decision and want to ask someone with more authority to review it.
- Go to court and ask for an order that the government pay for your lawyer. The court might make this type of order if you cannot afford a lawyer and you need one to have a fair trial.
You might also want to talk to someone at a shelter or a community agency. They might help you get a referral to a lawyer who may help you free of charge.
If the police do not release you from the police station, you will be kept in jail for a bail hearing. At the bail hearing the judge or justice of the peace decides if you should remain in custody until your case is dealt with, or whether you should be released.
At the bail hearing, the Crown Attorney may ask for certain bail conditions. Bail conditions are also called terms of release. Usually, when the charge is not very serious and the court believes that the person will show up at future court dates, they are released with conditions. The conditions depend on your situation.
Common bail conditions in partner abuse cases say that you:
- must show up to court on the date ordered
- cannot contact your partner
- cannot go within a certain distance of your partner's home or workplace
- cannot have a gun or any kind of weapon
- have limited or no access to your children
You have to wait until your paperwork is complete before you are released on bail. You have to sign documents saying that you agree to follow your bail conditions. If you have a surety, they also have to sign documents that say they will call the police if you don't follow your conditions.
If one of your conditions says you cannot go home, you have to find somewhere else to live.
It is important that you follow your bail conditions, even if your partner tells you not to. The police and the courts take bail conditions seriously. If you don't follow them, you can be arrested, charged with a new crime, and face a new bail hearing. After the new hearing, you might be released on stricter bail conditions.
Bail conditions can be changed by the criminal court at any time during the court process. They end when the criminal case is over.
Before the case goes to trial, you might plead guilty so that a trial is no longer needed. Or, your lawyer and the Crown Attorney might agree on what is going to happen in the case. This is sometimes called a "plea bargain".
If you had conditions that you had to follow after being released by the police or the court, these usually end when the case is over. But there may be different conditions that you need to follow as part of your sentence.
Most courts also have a special program called early intervention. It can be offered as a way to resolve a partner abuse case without going to trial. It helps first-time offenders have their case resolved quickly, by either pleading guilty or entering into a peace bond. To qualify, you must be a first-time offender and cannot have caused significant injuries or used a weapon during the assault.
The Partner Assault Response program
As part of early intervention, you must be willing to take a 12-session Partner Assault Response (PAR) program. The PAR program holds offenders responsible for their actions. It also helps them learn to resolve conflict in non-violent ways. The PAR program is part of the Domestic Violence Court system.
This program is run by different community agencies in different parts of Ontario. Some PAR programs are aimed at special communities. For example, there are some PAR programs for Indigenous people, people in same-sex relationships, or people who speak a certain language.
The PAR program provides support to victims. If you go to the PAR program, Partner Outreach staff from the program will let your partner know. They will ask them about their safety and tell them about possible services and supports. The staff will also tell your partner what is being taught in the PAR program.
Usually you aren't allowed to live at home as a condition of your release. But in some cases, if your partner agrees, you may be able to return home during the program. Your partner must provide their consent, which they can take away at any time and for any reason.
There are other anger management or "PAR-like" programs available that are not funded by the government. These programs do not have to follow the same guidelines and may not offer victims the type of support PAR programs do. Anger management programs also have a different focus and purpose than PAR programs. They deal with all anger issues, not only domestic violence.
You can find your local PAR program provider through the Victim Services Directory.
Offenders can also enter a PAR program as part of their probation.
If you do not want to plead guilty, you should talk to your criminal lawyer about what your options are before your trial. If you don't have a lawyer, you may be able to talk to duty counsel.
Your lawyer can help you get "disclosure" from the Crown Attorney. Disclosure means you get all of the evidence the Crown Attorney has about your criminal charges. This can help you prepare for your trial.