Nunatsiaq Online
COMMENTARY: Around the Arctic January 10, 2017 - 1:10 pm

Legal Ease, Jan. 6

Domestic Assault

JAMES MORTON

Probably the most common crime I see is some type of domestic assault.

Whether it is a shove, a push or a nasty beating, some physical abuse between life partners commonly comes to charges by the RCMP and then a court case.

What makes domestic assault different from other assaults is that it involves people who are supposed to love each other physically hurting each other. Some of the worst violence I have seen, including murder charges, arose in the context of domestic assault.

Why domestic assault is so common is not hard to see. When you spend a lot of time with someone in a relationship that matters, tempers can flare.

Suppose I am playing golf down south with someone I barely know and they insult me–I don’t really care. At most I think my playing partner is a jerk.

But if my girlfriend or boyfriend insults me that’s a different matter. I can become very angry indeed–and if alcohol is involved, my self control is less and violence may follow.

Now to be very clear, none of that justifies any type of assault.

And domestic assault is especially a problem in Nunavut. Our rate of domestic assault is much higher than in the South.

That may be because it’s not easy to get away from an angry partner here–there are not a lot of hotels and shelters and people who are angry at each other don’t have an opportunity to separate and cool off.

Regardless, domestic assault is never right.

While most cases of domestic assault are between a male accused and a female complainant there are cases where the woman assaults the man and of course cases where same-sex couples assault each other. Gender is no limit on domestic assault.

Of course just because there is an allegation of domestic assault, that does not mean there was an assault. Sometimes people make false complaints. A false complaint of domestic assault is a criminal act, and charges for making a false complaint are quite possible.

Another issue with domestic assault is ongoing abuse. Because people live with each other, a fight can be drawn out. People can fall into an acceptance of abuse because of self esteem issues, concerns about money or no other obvious practical options.

Should you be subject to abuse, remember there are always options and no one should live a life where there is ongoing abuse. Speak to an elder or the RCMP and they will help.

The Criminal Code recognizes that domestic assault is specially wrong. You should never hit the man or woman you love—and if you do, your sentence will be greater than if you got in a fight with, say, a neighbour.

The courts in Nunavut have made it clear that domestic assault is serious and it’s very unlikely you can expect leniency from a Nunavut judge.

James Morton is a lawyer practicing in Nunavut with offices in Iqaluit. The comments here are intended as general legal information and not as specific legal advice.

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(16) Comments:

#1. Posted by Beaten on January 10, 2017

“there are always options”

Yeah.

My wife hits me because I don’t seem to be paying enough attention when she shouts.

I could move out, except I have no where to go and it’s -30 outside.  And if I leave town I also leave my job.  And if I do that, my wife and kids will be homeless.  My wife knows I wouldn’t do that, so she knows she can hit whenever she wants.

Tell me again, what are my options…

#2. Posted by james on January 11, 2017

Beaten,

It isn’t easy—I agree—especially as there is an assumption only women get beaten.  But if you are being abused you can tell the RCMPolice and likely she will have to be the one to find a place in town—or at least she will be cautioned not to keep doing it.  If drinking is an issue for her (maybe?) there might be a program and the RCMPolice can direct you.

I am NOT saying this is easy—it isn’t—but no one should be beaten.

james

#3. Posted by legal insight on January 11, 2017

James: I have a few questions for you.

As a victim, why can you not bring up important issues like mental health disorders or previous instances of abuse/past abusive history in court? Why is this not legally “allowed” - does it not show a pattern or point to issues that are in need of serious consideration?

Is it common for a judge to state that a DOMESTIC assault was “mutual” or “consensual” when there is a tremendous amount of evidence showing otherwise?

Have you ever heard of a lawyer arguing that a woman appears more “angry than afraid” of her abuser? Does appearing angry/sounding angry, as a woman, give a man the right to punch, choke, or abuse?

#4. Posted by Don't bother on January 11, 2017

Unfortunately, here in Nunavut, people don’t seem to be overly concerned with domestic abuse because it has been normalized for so long.

On top of that, the court system has a very limited amount of judges and an extremely long wait time for court cases to be heard.

It often comes down to domestic assault cases being “he said vs. she said” cases where the victim is being left further traumatized by proceeding with laying charges or bothering with the so called “justice system.”

As a victim on the stand you are left feeling more abused by lawyers and horribly abused by the system.
You feel like you are the one on trial.

THIS HAS TO CHANGE.

#5. Posted by Supporter? on January 11, 2017

I have lived and survived domestic abuse from my ex, I lived with it for many years, i was told you made your bed you live in it, but as i grew older and a little bit wiser i learnt that I dont have to live like that so i left, my life have be some what simple but never ever get away from abuse, it is verbal, and mental no more physical but lots of mental and verbal abuse, DOMESTIC ABUSE is there and will always be there until some people learn to take control of themselves or take some kind of mental healing for themselves or their spouse and take the time to talk to thier children that hitting or yelling at someone you love is just not right

#6. Posted by James on January 11, 2017

#3 let me try to reply

The context of abuse is often allowed so the complainant CAN (often) reference past events.


A judge should never suggest abuse is consensual. I am puzzled at that - send me a note with more specifics and let me look.

James
As a victim, why can you not bring up important issues like mental health disorders or previous instances of abuse/past abusive history in court? Why is this not legally “allowed” - does it not show a pattern or point to issues that are in need of serious consideration?

Is it common for a judge to state that a DOMESTIC assault was “mutual” or “consensual” when there is a tremendous amount of evidence showing otherwise?

Have you ever heard of a lawyer arguing that a woman appears more “angry than afraid” of her abuser? Does appearing angry/sounding angry, as a woman, give a man the right to punch, choke, or abuse?

#7. Posted by legal insight 2 on January 11, 2017

To clarify:

The abuser’s response to all questions by the crown was to admit that he committed the abusive act, but always add in that “it was mutual.”

The victim admitted to trying to speak with the abuser when he would erupt in anger and storm off - the judge said this was provoking, yet abusers often use this type of behaviour to further abuse, isolate, and punish.

A secret video unrelated to the charges was allowed to be shown (that was previously regarded as a set up by another judge) where the victim stands in a doorway and demands to know what the abuser wants with the home and child as the abuser accuses her of abuse etc, while also trying to storm off and stop any conversation.

(continued…)

#8. Posted by legal insight 2 continued on January 11, 2017

The abuser’s lawyer asks: Did you refuse to let him leave?

The victim says, “No - I was begging him to finish a conversation he asked to have. He came unannounced. I stood in the doorway.”

No assault occurred and the abuser was able to leave later.

The judge to victim: you lied -  it was consensual. The victim was also criticized for describing the abuse she suffered as “brutal.”

The abuser was acquitted of all charges, despite mounting evidence of abuse. (photos of injuries, letters of admission, apology, emails, torn out hair, police testimony and admitting to almost all the abuse)

#9. Posted by Victim on January 11, 2017

I was a victim of abuse. We went to the legion. A guy said hi, I said hi back.
At home I choked - was told it was choking to subdue me.
I got hit in the face - RCMP asked if it was open hand. I asked does it matter and was told it does. I said there’s a mark it does not matter.
I told RCMP I didn’t want him at my place - RCMP told me to go women’s shelter. I told RCMP I will not be pushed out of my house.
It felt the RCMP wanted to diffuse the situation without charges being laid. As a victim, the RCMP revictimised me.

#10. Posted by Beaten on January 12, 2017

James,

In your article you say “there are always options”. But in your response to my letter you offer no options, just “it’s not easy”. 

Yeah.

#11. Posted by James on January 12, 2017

There are options.  If you are being abused leave. It may be a mess but leave. I have seen too many dead people who didn’t leave because it was too hard. And yes it’s not easy but it’s better than being dead.

#12. Posted by most important on January 12, 2017

How do I know that if I leave my children will be protected and safe from abuse at the hands of my abuser?
What protection is there for them once I walk away?
At least when you’re in the relationship you can take the brunt of abuse over your children.
My children should not be abused because I chose to leave!!!!!!!

#13. Posted by legal insight on January 12, 2017

James:

You asked for more specifics. I replied.

Do you have any answers as to how this happened?
Any response?

#14. Posted by James on January 12, 2017

It does sound like things went very sideways. I can’t explain why except to say it’s very troubling!

#15. Posted by child protection on January 13, 2017

James someone askd about children. how are they legally protected when someone leaves an abusive relationship?

#16. Posted by James on January 13, 2017

The children are protected either by going to stay with the non-abusive parent (often with the abusive parent seeing the children under supervision) or if there is total chaos the children may be taken into care.  Not ideal at all but their safety is critical.

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