HELP Toolkit: Identifying and Responding to Family Violence for Family Law Legal Advisers – Supplemental Material

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Tab #11: What Clients Need to Know about Contacting the Police

As a family law legal adviser, you may encounter situations where your client is considering contacting the police about a family violence matter. This document offers you some general information for these situations.

1. Considerations for your client about making a statement to the police and/or calling 911

Many jurisdictions in Canada have policies regarding investigation and prosecution of IPV offences. These policies may be referred to as “zero tolerance,” “pro-charge,” “mandatory-charge” or “pro-prosecution” policies. Generally speaking, the policies pertaining to police require that charges be laid in cases of IPV where, following an investigation, police have reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed. These policies are intended to reflect the fact that a criminal offence committed within an intimate relationship must not be treated as a private matter between the individuals involved, but as a criminal act. At the same time, prosecution policies across Canada require that prosecutors proceed with charges only where there is a reasonable or substantial likelihood (or prospect) of conviction, and prosecution is in the public interest.

When allegations of criminal conduct are made against both intimate partners, many jurisdictions have “primary aggressor” or “dominant aggressor” policies that require police and prosecutors to try to determine whether there is a dominant aggressor, and consider whether a victim may have been acting in self-defence. Nonetheless, in some circumstances, charges against both partners may be seen as appropriate by those making decisions about charging.

If no charges are laid

If charges are laid

Involvement of child protection authoritiesEndnote 72

When a child protection agency becomes involved in a case of family violence, the response will depend on the individual circumstances of the case along with other factors, such as legislation, policy, resources, training and intervention options. In cases involving children’s exposure to IPV, there may be a focus on the victim parent’s ability to protect the children from harm. This can make some IPV victims feel as though they are being blamed for not protecting their child, rather than supported. Supporting your client to engage in services to understand the impact of IPV, including the impact on their children, is important in these circumstances.