Family Violence Initiative

Words and phrases used in this booklet

Please note: These definitions may help you understand legal terms. They are not legal definitions. For a legal definition of these terms, you may wish to consult a lawyer.

Assault is a crime. It is when a person uses force or threatens to use force on another person without their consent. It doesn't matter if the person makes the threat directly or indirectly.
Bail hearing
A bail hearing takes place in court after a person has been arrested and charged. The judge decides whether that person should be released or held in jail until the court hears the case. The judge might release the person with conditions that the person must follow. For example, the judge may order that the person cannot contact the victim. Bail is also called judicial interim release.
Child abandonment
Child abandonment is a crime in Canada. It happens when a person deliberately abandons or exposes a child under the age of 10 in a way that could endanger the child's life or could permanently injure the child's health.
Child protection services
Every province and territory has child protection services that look into cases of child abuse and neglect that are reported to them. Child protection services are often called "child welfare," "children's aid" or "youth protection". If the child protection service decides that a child needs protection, they can:
  • provide counselling and support for the family; or
  • remove the child from the home for a short time or forever.
Closed-circuit television
This is the use of video cameras to give information to the court without actually having to be inside the court room.
Confidential means secret or private.
To consent means to agree. But what the law means by "consent" is more complicated than just saying "yes." If someone forces you to agree, for example by hurting you or threatening to hurt you, that is not real consent. If you consent because you were not given all the information you needed to understand the whole situation, then that is not consent either. Sometimes the law does not allow someone to consent. For example, children cannot consent to certain things, such as sexual activity with an adult. You cannot consent to sexual activity if you are unconscious or asleep, even as an adult. Silence is not consent.
This is a process where you can get help by meeting with a professional on a regular basis, to talk about the issues in order to solve problems. Counsellors are trained to help people work through their problems. Sometimes people get individual counselling (meeting with a counsellor one-on-one), couple counselling (meeting with a counsellor as a couple), family counselling (meeting with a counsellor as a family) or even group counselling (when several people who have experienced similar problems meet a counsellor together).
Criminal Code
The Criminal Code is the law that outlines most criminal offences in Canada. Criminal offences are also called crimes. The Criminal Code applies across Canada.
Criminal offence
A criminal offence is when a law in the Criminal Code is broken. This is also called a crime.
Crisis line or help line
A crisis line or help line is a free telephone service you can call for information and advice. You don't have to tell anyone your name or phone number when you call. Someone will answer the phone and will listen to you. They will try to answer your questions. They can also refer you to places that can help you. Different kinds of help lines are listed in the phone book and are sometimes advertised on buses, clinics and other places.
Crown prosecutor or Crown attorney
This is the lawyer who represents the government. The Crown prosecutor presents the case to the judge when a crime has been committed. A Crown prosecutor will not be your specific lawyer if you have been the victim of abuse. They act on behalf of the general public.
This is a method used in the Canadian legal system during a trial. It is the interrogation (asking a series of questions) of a witness by the lawyer for the other side.
Culture shock
When you arrive in a new place, especially a new country, you may feel confused or anxious because you are not used to your new environment. That feeling is called culture shock. You might have problems understanding the language spoken around you and you might feel like you do not belong. You might not be used to the weather, the food, the housing, the smells and the sounds around you. You might feel uncomfortable about the new influences on your children. Usually the feeling of culture shock goes away after you get used to things around you and you feel more "at home" or integrated.
Dowry fraud
In some cultures, there is a tradition for the bride to bring with her some money or other valuables into the marriage, referred to as dowry. There have been cases where men have married not because they wanted to marry but because they wanted the dowry. They then leave the marriage but keep the valuables. This is referred to as dowry fraud.
Duty of care
Duty of care is when someone has a legal obligation to provide minimal standards of care for another person to prevent harm to that person. For example, parents have a duty of care towards their dependent children. Spouses have a duty of care towards each other.
Failure to provide the necessities of life
It is a crime for a parent, foster parent, guardian or head of a family to fail to provide the things a child under 16 needs to live. This may include not giving a child the food, shelter, or medical aid they need to survive. It is also a crime to fail to provide the necessities of life to a spouse or common-law partner. Providing the things a child needs is part of the "duty of care".
This is a court order that can be the sentence or part of a sentence for a person who committed a crime (an offender). It is an amount of money the person who was found guilty must pay.
Intimate partner
An intimate partner is a spouse, including a husband, wife, common-law partner, or former spouse. It also includes a boyfriend, girlfriend, dating partner or anyone in a sexual or romantic relationship. It could also include a person with whom you share a child.
Legal aid office
These offices provide legal representation and public legal education and information services to people with low incomes.
Parenting or custody order
A parenting or custody order is a court document that assigns parental responsibilities. In some cases, only one parent will have the responsibility to make major decisions about their children. This arrangement is sometimes referred to as sole custody. In these cases, your children usually live with you, but will likely visit the other parent. If parents share decision-making authority, an arrangement sometimes called joint custody, they are expected to make major decisions together. A parenting order may also set out how the child's time is shared between the parents. Parenting and custody orders are made based on the best interests of the child.
Peace bond
If you are afraid for your safety, you may be able to get a peace bond. This is an order under the Criminal Code that sets conditions on the person who behaved abusively. For example, that person may be forbidden to see you, write to you, or telephone you. If the person who behaved abusively disobeys the order, the police may arrest them. If you want to know more about peace bonds you can ask a lawyer.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
This is a serious anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing terrible things like torture, rape, killings, abuse, and other forms of violence. An anxiety disorder can be the feeling of having constant fears and worries about everyday things. Some victims of family violence can have PTSD. PTSD can also be caused from living through natural disasters like earthquakes. With PTSD, people can have flashbacks (vivid memories of the terrible things) even long after they have occurred and can have a hard time adjusting to day-to-day life. Usually people with PTSD need professional help to get them through it.
This is a criminal court order that can be part of a sentence for a person who committed a crime (an offender). A person on probation will have conditions set on release, such as having to go to counselling.
Protection orders
There are different civil (non-criminal) protection orders available to keep one person from contacting another. These are sometimes called no-contact orders or restraining orders. In addition, emergency protection orders or emergency intervention orders are available in most provinces and territories under specific family violence legislation. They can grant the victim temporary exclusive occupation of the home; remove the abuser from the home; set limits on contact and communication with the victim and other remedies.
If someone is found guilty of a crime, the judge's decision of what kind of punishment to give is the sentence. The sentence may include time in jail or a fine.
Sexual assault
Sexual assault is any form of sexual contact or touching with another person without their consent. Sexual assault can range from fondling to forced sexual intercourse. A person cannot give true consent if the consent is forced, or if it is given out of fear or deception. Silence is not consent. A person who is asleep or unconscious cannot give consent. The age of consent for sexual activity is 16, but there are some exceptions if the person is close in age to the child.
Spousal abuse policies
Policies are rules developed by an organization that people who work in the organization have to follow. Across Canada, different organizations that govern the police forces developed policies that police officers have to follow, to make sure they take spousal abuse seriously. Spousal abuse policies also mean that if a police officer sees that someone who was abusive broke the law, the police officer has to charge that person even if the victim doesn't want the person to be charged.
Supervised transfer or exchange
When the parents no longer live together, it is generally in the best interests of the child to see both parents. "Transfer" also known as "exchange" refers to the moment where a child goes from being with one parent to the other. If the transfer is supervised, another adult is there watching, to make sure that nothing bad happens to the child or parents during the transfer. Sometimes if there has been abuse between the parents, the transfer can be a dangerous time. The supervision makes sure that it happens safely.
Victim services
Victim services and programs can provide support and resources to victims of crime. They can respond to any safety concerns you may have after a crime. They can also give you information about the court system. Each province and territory offers its own programs and services for victims of crime.