Making the Links in Family Violence Cases: Collaboration among the Family, Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems

Annex 4: Family violence responses by jurisdiction - Ontario

Legislative Responses

Children’s Law Reform Act

Child and Family Services Act

Family Law Act



The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) developed the Policing Standards Manual, which contains guidelines to assist police services with the development of their own policy/procedures in their implementation of the Police Services Act (the “Act”). The guidelines are advisory in nature and include the following:

Domestic Violence Occurrences (LE-024)
Bail and Violent Crime (LE-023)


Local protocols can be obtained by contacting the respective municipal police services or the Ontario Provincial Police.



Ministry of the Attorney General: Crown Policy Manual, Policy on Spouse/Partner Offences

Child Protection

Policies and Protocols

The Child Protection Standards: (the Standards) were implemented for all of Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) in 2007. Under the Standards, all information received by a CAS regarding concerns about a child is considered to be a potential referral. A report that a child may be in need of protection is given an immediate initial assessment by a child protection worker. All referrals are universally screened for the presence of domestic violence.Footnote 119

A referral in which the only allegation is exposure to domestic violence does not in itself meet the definition of a child in need of protection under the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA). When receiving a report regarding domestic violence, the primary focus of the child protection worker is on gathering information and assessing how the violence has resulted in, or is raising the risk of abuse or neglect as defined in the CFSA.

CAS/VAW Collaboration Agreements: In response to children’s deaths that occurred in a domestic violence context, the Ontario government made a commitment to connect the Violence Against Women (VAW) and Children’s Aid Society (CAS) sectors through the development of local agreements known as CAS/VAW Collaboration agreements. These agreements, developed in 2003, describe how CAS and VAW agencies will collaborate when the work of the two sectors intersect. Local collaboration committees were created in 44 communities and are co-chaired by a representative from both the CAS and VAW sectors.

The collaboration agreements set out basic principles of intervention for CAS and VAW work. All CASs who are signatory to this agreement acknowledge that any intervention with families must be guided by current knowledge about the dynamics of violence against women and the impact of inequality.

Participating agencies agree to develop community-specific collaborative actions for each of the following points where work between the two sectors intersects:

Police Protocols with Children’s Aid Societies: MCSCS developed the Policing Standards Manual, which contains guidelines to assist police services with the development of their own policy/procedures in their implementation of the Police Services Act.

The guidelines are advisory in nature. Police services boards, chiefs of police, police associations and municipalities may also consider comparable equivalents when addressing compliance with the Act and its regulations.

With respect to child protection, MCSCS guidelines include:

The Child Abuse and Neglect Guideline (LE-027) includes requirements for the Chief of Police to:

An appendix to Guideline LE-027 provides a Framework for the Model Child Abuse Protocol for police services to use with the local CAS.

Service-Based Responses

Victim/Witness Assistance Program (V/WAP): V/WAP is a court-based program delivered by staff of Ontario Victim Services, Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG). Services commence once charges are laid and are provided on a priority basis to the most vulnerable victims and witnesses of violent crime, such as domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, homicide and hate crime. Families of traffic fatality victims are also eligible. V/WAP provides information, assistance and support to victims and witnesses of crime to increase their understanding of, and participation in, the criminal court process.

Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Service (VCARS): The VCARS program is funded by MAG and delivered by non-profit victim services agencies. VCARS provides immediate, on-site service to victims of crime 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With a victim’s consent, police will arrange for VCARS staff and/or specially trained volunteers to provide on-site, short-term assistance to victims, and make referrals to community agencies for long-term assistance.

Victim Quick Response Program (VQRP): VQRP is funded by MAG and delivered by non-profit victim services agencies. VQRP provides immediate assistance to victims of violent crime. Through this program, eligible victims who have no other financial means are able to access the following services: emergency expenses such as securing the premises to ensure immediate safety, emergency accommodation and meals, transportation costs and dependent care costs; crime scene cleanup requiring specialized services; funeral expenses to assist families of homicide victims; and counselling to provide short-term support or early intervention counselling to help victims of serious crime.

SupportLink: SupportLink is funded by MAG and delivered by non-profit victim services agencies. Victims at risk of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking receive help developing a personal safety plan, information and referral to community services, follow-up contact, and, where appropriate, a cell phone pre-programmed to dial 911.

Family Court Support Worker Program (FCSWP): The FCSWP is funded by MAG and delivered by non-profit community agencies that serve victims of domestic violence. Through this program, eligible victims of domestic violence who are involved in a family court process receive information about the family court process, preparation for family court proceedings, referrals to other specialized services and supports in the community, help with safety planning, such as getting to and from court safely, and accompaniment to court proceedings, where appropriate.

The Victim Support Line (VSL) is a province-wide, multilingual toll free service of the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS), the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG), and the Ontario Parole Board (OPB) that provides a range of services to victims of crime. The VSL offers information and referral to support services in the victim’s community and access to information about provincially sentenced offenders. Victims can also register for automated notification when an offender’s status changes.

In institutions, the MCSCS has implemented an enhanced Offender Telephone Management System to prevent contact with victims.

VAW Emergency Shelter Services: VAW emergency shelters provide women and their children experiencing violence with community-based emergency shelter and crisis support services. VAW shelters provide crisis telephone counselling, safety planning, referral services, and information on clients’ rights. Agencies support the development of a personal safety plan for women and their children, in order to confirm their immediate safety and help them prevent further abuse. VAW shelters are funded by the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS).

Child Victim/Witness Program: This program is funded by MAG and delivered by non-profit community organizations. The Child Victim/Witness Program offers support and services to child victims and witnesses during the criminal court process. The program offers a number of services, including: assessing children’s needs in court, preparing children for court, communicating with Crown attorneys, defence lawyers and judges, accompanying children to court, support for parents and guardians, help with victim impact statements and other forms, service referrals, and post-court follow-ups.

Child Witness Program: The Child Witness Program provides early intervention to child witnesses of woman abuse in order that they may heal from the harmful effects of witnessing violence and thus avoid the later need for more intensive supports. The Child Witness Program is shelter-based and funded by MCSS.

Partner Assault Response (PAR) Program: The PAR program is a component of Ontario’s Domestic Violence Court program and is funded by MAG. It provides a specialized counselling and educational program to offenders who have assaulted their partners. Offenders are provided with an opportunity to examine their beliefs and attitudes towards domestic abuse, and to learn non-abusive ways of resolving conflict. PAR programs aim to enhance victim safety and hold offenders accountable for their behaviour. While an offender is in the PAR program, staff offer the victim help with safety planning, referrals to community resources, and information about the offender's progress.

Supervised Access Program: The service is funded by MAG and delivered by community-based non-profit charitable organizations. The service is available to children and families involved in custody and access disputes either with court orders or written agreements for supervised access. The centres provide a safe, neutral, child-focused setting for visits and exchanges between children and parents or other adults such as a grandparent where there is a concern for the safety of the child and/or the adults. For example where there is a history of domestic violence, mental health or substance use/abuse issues, or a break in parent-child contact.

Mandatory Information Programs: Mandatory Information Programs (MIP) are two-hour sessions that are provided by MAG’s mediation and information external service-providers. The sessions focus on the impact of relationship breakdown on children and families, legal information, the court process and alternative methods of dispute resolution for families who have experienced separation. The sessions also cover domestic violence issues and community resources to assist in managing those issues. The MIP is a mandatory early step in most contested family law cases, but may also be available to others on request. The sessions are presented by local lawyers and mental health professionals.

Information and Referral Coordinator (IRC): The IRC is provided by MAG’s mediation and information external service providers. The IRC provides an early assessment of clients’ needs which expedites access to legal and non-legal community resources (including Ontario’s new Family Court Support Worker program) and identifies high-risk or urgent cases that may require immediate legal advice and judicial intervention.

VAW Counselling Services: VAW counselling agencies provide community-based counselling, support and referral services for women and their children who experience violence. Counselling services may include: crisis/support counselling, sexual assault counselling and long-term therapeutic counselling. Agencies support the development of a personal safety plan for women and their children, in order to confirm their immediate safety and help them prevent further abuse. VAW counselling is funded by MCSS.

Transitional and Housing Support Program (THSP): VAW agencies help women and their children who have experienced violence find and maintain housing. Services offered by THSP agencies may also include helping women and their children apply for social housing, and connect with counselling and support services. Agencies support the development of a personal safety plan for women and their children, in order to confirm their immediate safety and help them prevent further abuse. The THSP is funded by MCSS.

Provincial Crisis Line Counselling: MCSS provides funding to two provincial crisis lines, the Assaulted Women’s Helpline and Fem’aide. The Assaulted Women’s Help Line provides crisis line services in up to 154 languages. Fem’aide provides crisis line services in French to French-speaking women.

The provincial crisis lines operate twenty-four hours per day and seven days a week. The crisis lines provide immediate assistance to women experiencing violence by helping them manage crisis situations, develop safety plans, inform them of their rights, and provide them with referral to services.

MCSS is providing funding over three years for Talk4Healing, a helpline for Aboriginal women in northern Ontario. Services are focused on northern Ontario due to the difficulties Aboriginal women experience accessing limited services in some remote and isolated communities. The helpline will provide timely and reliable crisis support, information and referral services to Aboriginal women and other members of Aboriginal communities impacted by violence. Through the helpline, telephone counselling will be available to Aboriginal women residing in remote and isolated communities.

Public Legal Education – “Family Law Education for Women”: The Ontario-wide Family Law Education for Women campaign helps newcomer and other vulnerable women understand their rights and options under family law and how to exercise them. Plain language materials on subjects such as divorce, custody and support are available in 14 languages. The materials were developed with the assistance of community agencies. Alternative formats of the booklets are also available including: audio and video, large print and Braille and the booklets have been adapted to specific targeted audiences, including women from Aboriginal, Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities. The project’s core materials include a promotional information kit, posters, leaflets and 12 booklets on family law and related legal issues.

The Ontario Women’s Directorate is funding the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) and Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes (AOcVF), two provincial violence against women umbrella organizations, to manage and deliver the program.

Court-Based Responses

Domestic Violence Court Program

There is a Domestic Violence Court Program (“DVC Program”) in every court jurisdiction in Ontario. The DVC Program is comprised of an Early Intervention stream and a coordinated prosecution approach. The DVC Program is based on a collaboration of justice and community partners which allows for a coordinated response to domestic violence. Teams of specialized professionals - police, Crown attorneys, Victim/Witness Assistance Program staff, probation services, Partner Assault Response program staff, and other community agencies –work together to support victims while holding abusers accountable.

The Early Intervention stream of the DVC Program deals with low level offences of domestic violence. It is designed for motivated accused persons interested in seeking help and taking responsibility for their offences. Accused persons who enter the Early Intervention Program must attend a 16 week Partner Assault Response program (“PAR program”). The PAR program is an education/intervention program for offenders who have abused their partners and has an outreach and support component for victims.

The coordinated prosecution approach to domestic violence cases focuses on offender accountability as well as support to victims in the following ways: police gather additional evidence; Crowns with special training in domestic violence present the evidence to the court; Victim/Witness Assistance Program staff provide ongoing support, information, and referrals to meet the needs of domestic violence victims; Probation and the Partner Assault Response Program providers receive information and proper documentation, keep in touch with the victim, and provide appropriate support.

Integrated Domestic Violence Court

The Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ), in partnership with the Ministry of the Attorney General, has established a pilot Integrated Domestic Violence Court (IDV Court) in Toronto. The IDV Court sits at the 311 Jarvis Street OCJ courthouse for half a day, every other Friday. There have been 31 cases between June 2011 and August 2013.

The overall goal of the IDV Court is to deliver a holistic and better-informed response to those cases where families are involved with both the criminal law system, as a result of domestic violence, and the family law system. The court is based on a one-family-one-judge concept. Both cases are managed before a single judge, however in the event that the case is not resolved through the case management or pre-trial process the trials are heard separately.

All cases where there is a family case and a criminal domestic violence charge are mandated to the IDV Court by a Practice Direction issued from the Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice. Family cases (custody, access, support, restraining orders – NOT child protection or divorce/property) are taken from both Toronto OCJ sites; criminal cases (domestic violence summary conviction charges) must have originated at the Old City Hall or College Park courts.

For the first two years of the operation of the IDV Court, there was funding for a Community Resource Coordinator (CRC) who found eligible cases through consulting the family and criminal electronic case tracking systems (which are separate systems). The CRC was also responsible for:

Child Friendly Courts

There are several Child Friendly Courtrooms in Ontario. These courtrooms are designed to be more accessible to children. For example the courtroom is smaller as is the dais, so as to be less intimidating for child witnesses. These courtrooms may also be equipped with close circuit video links so that in appropriate cases children can testify remotely. At the Old City Hall in Toronto, the Child Friendly Courtroom is staffed by a specialized team of prosecutors.

Tools/Processes to Ensure Safety

Risk Assessment Tools and Checklists

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) recently released the Domestic Violence Risk Management (DVRM) Report. As described by MCSCS’ Officer’s Guide, the DVRM is to be completed by an officer whenever there are charges laid in a domestic violence occurrence. Victim participation in completing the DVRM is optimal and strongly encouraged. The Guide further describes the DVRM as follows:

The DVRM serves as an investigative checklist which identifies factors that need to be considered by officers, supervisors and Crowns regarding possible bail opposition in domestic violence occurrence cases. It identifies or allows for the monitoring of follow-up steps regarding the completion of the investigation such as photos of injuries within 24 hours or video-taped statements. It provides Crowns with a quick/easy-to-read overview of the cases that supplements information set out in the Show Cause Report/Crown Brief Report. Finally, it incorporates the questions which identify factors used to determine the ODARA (Ontario Domestic Risk Assessment) Score.

The ODARA is a 13-question checklist, based on scientific research, that helps Crown attorneys and police determine whether an accused seeking bail is likely to commit another domestic assault. The tool was piloted in bail courts. The goal of the pilot was to confirm that ODARA would be accepted as evidence by the bail courts. This was not fully achieved.

Family Mediation Services

Court connected family mediators are required to screen for domestic violence before and during family mediation. The purpose of screening for domestic violence and abuse at the outset of a mediation session is:

In their “Best Practices in Screening for Domestic Violence and Power Imbalances in Family Mediations” (June 2009), the Ministry of the Attorney General, Court Services Division adopted the Policy on Abuse of the Ontario Association of Family Mediation.

Coordinating Mechanisms

Information Sharing Protocols

An information sharing agreement is in place between Partner Assault Response (PAR) program providers and the Victim/Witness Assistance Program (V/WAP), the Crown Attorney’s Office (Crown), and the Probation and Parole Service (P&P). The agreement outlines the information that must be shared between V/WAP, Crowns, P&P and PAR providers in cases where the accused is referred to a PAR program. This information is necessary to ensure an individual’s compliance with the conditions of a supervision order and the requirements of the PAR program, and to enhance victim safety.

Inter-Agency Protocols

The Victim/Witness Assistance Program (V/WAP), which assists victims during the criminal court process, and the Family Court Support Worker Program (FCSWP), which assists victims of domestic violence during the family court process, have a protocol in place to help support clients with concurrent criminal and family law cases. The protocol encourages proactive referrals between programs, and provides guidelines for sharing of information and case coordination.

Coordinating Committees

Domestic Violence Community Coordinating Committees (DV3Cs) are cross-sectoral community-based committees that may include representation from the VAW, justice, health, education, and housing sectors. DV3Cs work to increase collaboration and coordination between local service providers within the violence against women (VAW) sector and encourage greater community involvement from other sectors in efforts to prevent VAW. MCSS supports a total of 48 DV3Cs in Ontario.

Domestic Violence High Risk Committees are in place in each of the province’s court jurisdictions. These committees provide additional monitoring and proactive management of domestic violence cases identified as high-risk. Membership on these committees varies in accordance with local needs, practices, and available resources. Committees are comprised of justice partners (Crowns, Victim/Witness Assistance Program staff, police and probation) and may involve some community participation.

Domestic Violence Court Advisory Committees are a key component of the DVC Program and were established to support the effective operation of the DVC Program. The Committees are comprised of justice and community representatives and are intended to provide a coordinated, effective justice system response to domestic violence cases. The Committees provide a mechanism for information-sharing, process review, and problem-solving. Typically, membership on the Domestic Violence Court Advisory Committee includes:

Representatives of the defence bar, the Children’s Aid Society, and shelters may also sit on these committees.

Domestic Violence Court Advisory Committees are not designed to deal with case-specific issues, but rather as a forum for discussion on systemic and policy issues related to the operation of the DVC Program.

Family Violence Action Plans

Domestic Violence Action Plan (DVAP) was launched in 2004. It is a multi-ministry initiative that sets out a collaborative approach to:

Since 2009, this work has been informed by the Domestic Violence Advisory Council. The Council was appointed by the Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues to provide advice on how to improve the existing system of violence against women services to better meet the diverse needs of abused women and their children.

Sexual Violence Action Plan (SVAP): In March 2011, the province launched Changing Attitudes, Changing Lives, Ontario’s Sexual Violence Action Plan. The plan includes programs designed to:

The Sexual Violence Action Plan followed province-wide consultations with survivors, service providers, and experts. It is a multi-ministry government initiative.

A Progress Report on the Plan was issued in June 2013, highlighting actions taken to date.

New Initiatives (Non-Justice)

Aboriginal Women’s Help Line Pilot Project in Northern Ontario: MCSS launched a three year pilot Aboriginal women’s help line for northern Ontario - Talk4Healing – in October 2012. The help line provides crisis support, information and referrals to services and counselling to Aboriginal women living in northern Ontario.

Key Reports