Victims of Violence in Relationships (4:VI)
A. BC Government Policy
The BC Government has developed a policy for police, crown, corrections, child welfare workers and other service providers who deal with people experiencing violence in relationships. This is the Violence Against Women in Relationships Policy (See section II.2). The Policy can be accessed online here.
1. Arrest and Charge
All calls to the police relating to violence within a relationship/domestic violence are to be given priority for assessment and response. This includes all reported breaches of No Contact Orders, Peace Bonds, or civil protection orders. This is to ensure the safety of a victim who may be at risk.
If the officer has grounds to believe that an offence has occurred, especially if there is a possibility that the offence may reoccur, the officer is to arrest the alleged offender. If the alleged offender left the scene before the police arrived, they must find out if he or she is likely to return and take steps to ensure the victim’s safety. Police will make immediate efforts to locate and arrest the suspect where grounds exist. They will also complete a Report to Crown Counsel with a request for an arrest warrant.
Police will assess the risk of violence the alleged offender presents and determine whether to release the alleged offender immediately, under conditions, or to hold the alleged offender in custody in order to have a bail hearing. At a minimum, some conditions are usually imposed on the alleged offender. If the alleged offender is arrested and subsequently released from custody, the police should make every effort to notify the victim and explain any conditions prior to the accused’s release. Where there is evidence that an offence occurred, the police should submit a Report to Crown Counsel recommending a charge even if no injury has occurred and regardless of the victim’s desire or unwillingness to testify. It is the responsibility of Crown Counsel and the police to pursue criminal charges, not the victim’s. The victim need not provide a written statement immediately, though he or she should be encouraged to do so when the officer follows up. If the officer exercises his or her discretion and does not recommend a charge, the decision should be documented on the case file and affirmed by the supervisor. Police should also refer victims to victim services and arrange safe transportation to transition homes or safe shelters. In power-based crimes, such as sexual assault, police should refer to a community-based victim services worker or program, rather than a police-based victim services program, if the program exists in the community. Not all communities in British Columbia have a community-based victim service program. Please see the Victim Services Directory referred to in this chapter for a list of programs in British Columbia.
2. Requirements of Offender Diversion
The court is aware that the accused may exert influence upon the victim that affects the court process. For example, charges are not to be stayed before trial where there are threats that may affect the victim’s willingness to testify, there is a history of violence, or where the victim refused to meet with Crown Counsel, making it impossible to assess the situation.
Similarly, diversion in cases of violence in relationships is generally considered inappropriate. In exceptional circumstances, diversion may be considered, but only if there is no significant physical injury, there is no history of spousal violence, and there is no reason to conclude that there is a significant risk of further offences. The use of alternative measures must not be inconsistent with the protection of society.
B. Court Orders
There are various orders available to protect a victim of violence in a relationship. Guides on both peace bonds and protection orders in English, French, Punjabi and Chinese can be found here.
1. Criminal Court Order
A peace bond, which is available under s 810 of the Criminal Code, is an order made by a judge that requires the defendant to keep the peace. This is a limited remedy that protects a victim for a period of up to 12 months. A victim seeking a peace bond should go to the Justice of the Peace at the Provincial Court Office with the police report (or at least, the report number) and lay an Information. The victim can go without a police report, but the Justice of the Peace will most likely ask for one. The victim does not need to show that they have been injured, only that they have a reasonable fear of injury at the hands of the defendant. Previous threats or assaults should be brought up.
A victim should be advised to ask for a no-contact order as a condition of the peace bond. The Justice of the Peace should also be informed if the defendant possesses or has access to firearms. Note that the police, and anyone else concerned, may also apply for a peace bond.
If the Information is accepted, a hearing date is set, usually about two weeks later. The victim will most likely be subpoenaed as a witness for the Crown. Failure to appear is an offence. If the victim does not want to proceed with the peace bond and Crown Counsel does, the victim may have to show up to explain their decision to the judge.
A breach of the peace bond is a punishable crime, with a maximum penalty of $5,000 and/or six months in jail on summary conviction, or incarceration for two years on indictment. The actual peace bond, however, is not considered a criminal charge.
2. Civil or Family Court Orders
A number of orders are available pursuant to the Family Law Act, SBC 2011, c 25 [FLA]. A victim or his or her representative can bring an application in Provincial (Family) Court or in the British Columbia Supreme Court. Orders involving property such as exclusive use of family home can only be obtained in Supreme Court.
a) Protection Orders (FLA Part 9)
A protection order limits contact and communication between family members where there is a safety risk. It is designed to protect “at-risk family members,” defined as people whose safety and security is or is likely at risk from family violence carried out by a family member. An application for a protection order may be made by a person claiming to be an at-risk family member, by a person on behalf of an at-risk family member, or on the court’s own initiative. A protection order may restrain a family member from contacting or communicating with an at-risk family member and from attending at or entering a place regularly attended by the at-risk family member (FLA, s 183). An application for a protection order may be made without notice, but in such applications, the court still has the option to set aside the order or change it in some respect on application by the party against whom the order is made (FLA, s 186). Unless otherwise stated, a protection order expires one year after the date it is made. Breach of a protection order under the FLA is a criminal offence.
b) Temporary Orders Respecting Family Residence (FLA s 90)
This order is only available from the BC Supreme Court. It gives the victim the legal right to occupy the home exclusive of the other party, or to possess and use specified personal property stored at the family residence, including to the exclusion of the other party. The victim and the other party must be spouses, meaning they must be married or have been living in a marriage-like relationship and have done so for a continuous period of at least two years, or have a child together. This order lasts as long as they both have a legal right to be on the property. A court does not have jurisdiction to grant this order where the family home is situated on an Indian reserve.
C. Victim Notification and Safety Planning
1. Victim Link BC
Victim Link BC provides assistance in connecting to a victim service worker in any area of BC. The service is toll free, confidential and anonymous.
2. Victim Safety Unit (VSU)
Victims, civil protected parties, and victim service workers (on behalf of their clients) may call the Victim Safety Unit to request specific information including BC Corrections custody status, court updates, and copies of protection orders. These parties may also register with VSU to receive updates automatically. If the offender is under federal jurisdiction (under the supervision of the Correctional Service of Canada or the Parole Board of Canada), the VSU will, upon request, forward the registration form to CSC/PBC. The CSC/PBC will provide victim notification to registered victims directly.
3. Crime Victim Assistance Program (CVAP)
The Crime Victim Assistance Program offers a variety of benefits to assist victims in dealing with the aftermath of violence in relationships. In situations where the offender represents an ongoing significant risk to the victim’s safety, protective measures such as home alarm systems, security devices, and equipment and other safety measures may be available. In cases involving high risk victims, the victim and his or her family may be eligible for relocation expenses where all other safety measures are considered insufficient to address the victim’s safety needs. For a complete list of benefits available, see the CVAP website, below.
D. Finding Funding for Counselling
1. Crime Victim Assistance Program funding for counselling
The Crime Victim Assistance Act establishes counselling services or expenses as a benefit that may be available to victims, immediate family members of injured or deceased victims, and some witnesses. The Crime Victim Assistance (General) Regulation sets out the conditions or limitations for providing counselling benefits and also establishes the approved fee rate for reimbursement of counselling services. The Counselling Guidelines provide further information and clarification regarding expectations for the provision of counselling services, reporting requirements and limitations applicable to service providers requesting reimbursement for counselling services on accepted claims with the Crime Victim Assistance Program.
For detailed information see ‘Counselling Guidelines’ on the CVAP page of the BC Government website.
2. Children’s Counselling Services (formerly Children’s Sexual Abuse Intervention Program)
This service helps children deal with the effects of trauma at each developmental level. Parents and professionals can call the Ministry of Child and Family Development at 1-877-387-7027 to request referrals to the program, which is free and confidential.
3. Stopping the Violence Counselling (Ministry of Justice)
There are a number of community-based counselling programs that provide counselling services to women who have experienced sexual assault, relationship violence, or childhood abuse. The range of individual and group counselling services are based on the needs of the individual women and delivered in an accessible, safe, and supportive environment.
A list outlining the available programs is available at this website: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/law-crime-and-justice/criminal-justice/victims-of-crime/vs-info-for-professionals/directory/stopping-the-violence-counselling.pdf
4. Children Who Witness Abuse Programs (Ministry of Justice)
This community based program provides individual and group counselling services for children who witness the abuse of a parent, who is most often a mother. Designed to help break the intergenerational cycle of violence against women, this program helps children cope with, and heal from, the trauma of living in an abusive situation. Support is also provided to the non-offending caregiver who has been abused by their partner.
For a detailed, area specific contact list, see: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/law-crime-and-justice/criminal-justice/bc-criminal-justice-system/if-victim/children-young-victim/protecting/cwwa-directory.pdf
5. Residential Historical Abuse Program
This option is available to the victim if he or she was abused or assaulted while in foster care or in a provincially funded institution. The victim can acquire the forms from the Ministry of Health, Victim Assistance, Mental Health Centres, or by calling the toll-free VictimLINK information line at 1-800-563-0808.
The Residential Historical Abuse Program provides professional counselling services for BC residents who were abused while under the age of 19 and while living in a home or residential program operated or funded by the province. A counsellor who meets provincial standards will develop a personal treatment plan with the victim, which may include individual, group, or family counselling.
The victim does not have to prove that she or he was sexually, physically, or mentally abused to receive counselling services, nor does she or he have to name the person(s) who abused her or him. The Ministry will simply verify that he or she was in that particular residential program at the time of the offence(s). No police complaint is necessary, but there is a legal obligation to report abuses to appropriate authorities if children are still at risk of being sexually abused. The government or the police may contact the victim for information. The contents of the application are otherwise confidential.
The application process is simple and generally does not impede any legal action or application to the CVAP – although if the applicant is eligible for funding from another source for a same or similar purpose, the CVAP must deduct that funding (or those counselling sessions) when considering the application.
6. A Note on Services That May Be Harmful to Victims’ Interests
Not all services that claim to be helpful or protective of victims’ interests really are. Some advocacy organizations have noted that some services are not healthy for women experiencing violence. For example, marriage counselling, couples’ therapy, and mediation promote reconciliation, but may not address underlying issues such as power imbalance and disrespect towards women. Some programs for offenders may not challenge the man’s beliefs and attitudes towards women.
However, it must also be noted that an abuser may be any gender, and that the victim may also be any gender. Victims and their advocates should always make sure that the resources and services that they are considering will be beneficial to victims’ interests.
An individual who is a victim of violence should also be advised that with regard to Compulsory Family Mediation, they can apply to not participate. The victim should be advised to consult a lawyer.
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