If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence, you have options. Help is available from the police, community workers, and the courts. Learn the steps you can take.
Understand your legal rights
Family violence is the abuse of power to harm or control a family member. It includes real or attempted physical abuse. And it includes more than hitting a partner or child. Family violence also includes:
- sexual abuse or attempted sexual abuse
- psychological or emotional abuse
- harassment, intimidation or coercion
- threats, including threats to other people or pets
- stalking or following
- restricting a person’s independence, including their financial independence
- damaging property
In the case of children, family violence includes being exposed to family violence, including seeing violence between family members.
Family violence can occur once or often. Sometimes men are the abusers, sometimes women are. Anyone can be abused.
It’s against the law for anyone to physically abuse, harass or stalk another person, or to threaten to hurt them physically. A person who does any of these things to you or your children can be charged with assault.
Call the police
If you’re afraid and think you, your children or others are in immediate danger from your partner, call the police right away by dialling 9-1-1.
The police will take steps to ensure your safety and the safety of others. As well, the police can gather evidence from you and others. This will help them assess whether to recommend criminal charges or a peace bond, or that you seek a protection order, which is a court order to protect one person from another. These possibilities are discussed shortly.
Tap into community services
The police can also connect you to community services, which might include helping you find emergency shelter. You and your children might be able to stay in a nearby transition house for up to several weeks. This will help give you time to find a new place to live.
Going to a transition house, or some other place, does not change your rights to the family home. The immediate priority is your and your children’s safety.
If it’s not an emergency and you want to stay in your relationship, you could get help from a counsellor or victim support worker. They can meet with you, or with you and your partner, to help address the issues underlying the family violence, with emotional support, or with developing a safety plan.
Some people have insurance for counselling through their extended health benefit plans or employee assistance programs. But some services are free and you don’t have to pay. If going to counselling with your partner isn’t an option, you may benefit from speaking with a counsellor on your own to decide the next steps for yourself and your children.
Community services are available to help
These community and healthcare services can help with counselling and support.
- Victim Link BC is a 24-hour victim information and helpline. Call toll-free 1-800-563-0808 from anywhere in BC. Operators provide immediate crisis support to victims of family violence.
- Battered Women’s Support Services offers crisis support and counselling for women who have experienced abuse in an intimate relationship. The intake and counselling line is 604-687-1867 in the Lower Mainland and toll-free 1-855-867-1868.
- Vancouver & Lower Mainland Multicultural Family Support Services offers counselling for victims of family violence and children who witness abuse. They can provide a translator for police or court interviews. Their toll-free phone number is 1-888-436-1025.
- Family Services of Greater Vancouver offers counselling and other services for victims of family violence, including programs relating to abuse prevention and trauma. Call 604-731-4951.
- BC Society of Transition Houses offers safe temporary shelter for up to 30 days for women and children experiencing family violence. They also offer group and individual counselling for children and youth who witness family conflicts and violence. Contact them at 604-669-6943 in Vancouver or 1-800-661-1040 elsewhere in BC.
- Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter operates a transition house for women and their children and a 24-hour crisis line for women who are trying to prevent or escape family violence. Call 604-872-8212.
- Vancouver General Hospital operates a 24-hour domestic violence service that offers clinical counselling services to victims of family violence. Call 604-875-5458.
If you contact the police, they will investigate by taking a statement from you, your partner and any witnesses. If the police believe that criminal charges are appropriate, they’ll prepare a report for the prosecutor, called Crown counsel. Crown counsel will review the report and decide whether to lay a criminal charge.
If Crown counsel charges your partner with a criminal offence such as assault, the police will arrest your partner.
Most people charged are released on bail
Most people charged with a criminal offence aren’t kept in police custody, but are released on bail on conditions ordered by a judge. For example, your partner may be released on conditions they not have any contact with you or come to your home, work or school.
If your partner doesn’t obey the conditions, you can tell the police. Your partner may be arrested and charged with breaking the bail order.
If such conditions are ordered, but you and your children want to have contact with your partner, you’ll need to talk to Crown counsel about changing the bail order.
If your partner pressures you to drop criminal charges
If your partner is charged, they may pressure you to get the charge dropped. This may not be possible, because it is Crown counsel who lays the charge against your partner, not you. You should report any pressure or contact from your partner to the police.
If your partner is charged with a criminal offence, they might decide to plead guilty to the charge. A guilty plea means they accept responsibility for the offence. If they choose not to plead guilty, a trial will be held.
Your role in the trial
You’ll tell the judge what happened. Although Crown counsel is the government’s lawyer, they will help you prepare to testify. If you’re in Vancouver, you can also get help with the criminal court process and getting ready for trial by contacting the Vancouver Police Department Victim Services Unit at 604-717-2737. For more information on the court process, see the Provincial Court website.
If your partner is convicted
If your partner is convicted of assaulting or threatening you, they would usually be ordered to pay a fine or placed on probation with conditions. The conditions might include not contacting you or attending counselling or an anger management program. The judge is unlikely to send your partner to jail unless your partner was previously convicted of assault or the incident was extremely violent.
You may think the criminal court process isn’t the best way for you and your partner to deal with violence in your relationship. Crown counsel may be willing to drop the criminal charge against your partner if your partner enters into a peace bond under section 810 of the Criminal Code.
This involves your partner agreeing to keep the peace and obey certain conditions — for example, not contacting you for a certain time. If your partner obeys the conditions, they won’t have a criminal record. If your partner doesn’t obey the conditions, they can be sent to trial on the original criminal charge plus a new charge for breaching the peace bond. See our information on peace bonds (no. 217) for more on this process.
Another option to protect you from family violence is for you to apply to family court for a protection order under the BC Family Law Act. A protection order can restrain your partner:
- in how they communicate with you
- from going to your home, school or work
- from stalking you
- from possessing weapons
A protection order can also require the police:
- to remove your partner from the home
- to escort your partner while your partner removes their personal property from the home
- to seize your partner’s weapons
A protection order can also require your partner to report to the court.
You can apply yourself for a protection order under the Family Law Act, or you can get help from a lawyer. You can apply in either the Supreme Court or the Provincial Court. You may find the paperwork easier in Provincial Court.
In the Supreme Court, you will need to prepare a notice of claim and a notice of application (or just a notice of application if there is already a court proceeding between you and your partner), plus an affidavit describing what happened and what your concerns are. An affidavit is a legal document where you make statements about facts you say are true.
In the Provincial Court, you will need to prepare an application for an order and a “notice of motion” (or just a notice of motion if there is already a court proceeding), and you will need to either prepare an affidavit or testify in court about your concerns.
You might be able to get help from a family justice counsellor (government workers who help with the court process) or legal aid duty counsel (lawyers present at the court who provide free advice). Depending on the court’s location, a protection order can often be obtained quickly — even on the same day in some circumstances.
Anyone can apply for a protection order under the BC Family Law Act, if they are doing it on behalf of someone who is at risk of family violence.
The Family Law Act says that if a protection order conflicts with another order made under the Family Law Act, the parts of the other order that conflict with the protection order are suspended. This might happen, for example, if there is an older order for parenting time and a newer protection order says the restrained person cannot communicate with the children. In such a case, the parts of the older order about parenting time would be suspended.
This rule also covers orders that are like protection orders made in another province or under the Criminal Code.
If your partner continues to harass you, they can be arrested. Your partner can be charged with a criminal offence for breaching the protection order and can be brought before the court. Your partner will be released if the judge is satisfied they are not a danger to your safety.
Legal aid is available to some people who cannot afford a lawyer. The Legal Services Society website lists legal aid office locations. elsewhere in BC. When applying for legal aid, mention you fear continued violence from your partner.
Telephone: 604-408-2172 in Greater Vancouver
Justice Access Centers offer a range of services designed to help people solve family legal problems.
Telephone: 604-660-2084 in Vancouver, 250-356-7012 in Victoria, and 1-800-578-8511 in Nanaimo
At Access Pro Bono clinics throughout BC, volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to people with limited means.
Telephone: 604-878-7400 in the Lower Mainland
The Legal Services Society’s Family Law in BC website includes extensive information on family violence.
The BC government’s Victim Services and Violence Against Women Program Directory provides contact information for service providers across the province that assist women and children impacted by violence.
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
Reviewed in October 2018
Time to read: 9 minutes