Violence against women: legal concerns and how to get help

November 25th is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Violence against women occurs in all sectors of society, all cultures, and all income levels. Leaving an abusive relationship is difficult and women may find the legal system intimidating and confusing.

This month's On the Radar addresses some of the key legal questions that women may have and lists some resources that can help them.

Ways to get protection

The legal system offers women in abusive relationships various ways of protecting themselves. These are described briefly below and there are more details in the resources listed in the side column.

A woman can apply to family court for a restraining order that is intended to prevent a woman's partner from harassing her or her children. She can apply for a restraining order whether she is married to her partner, lives in a common-law relationship, or is in a dating relationship and has lived with her partner for some period of time.

A woman who is married can also apply to family court for an order giving her exclusive possession of the home. This order gives one spouse the right to stay in the home and requires the other one to leave. It is more difficult for a woman in a common-law relationship to get an order of exclusive possession.

A woman can apply for a peace bond from a Justice of the Peace if she is afraid that her partner will hurt her or her children, the family property, or pets. Peace bonds can offer protection to women in dating relationships or women being harassed by a co-worker or colleague. Because a peace bond does not require a written application, the process for getting a peace bond may be more accessible to some women.

If someone breaks the conditions of a restraining order or a peace bond, they can be charged with a criminal offence.

Role of the police

In Ontario, the police must lay charges in domestic violence cases if they have reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence has been committed.

A woman's partner who is arrested and charged will be taken to the police station and if not released, may be held for a bail hearing. If a woman's partner has been charged, she may want to contact the Victim/Witness Assistance Program for help and support throughout the criminal justice process.

Concerns about immigration status

In most cases, a woman who has Canadian citizenship or permanent resident status cannot lose that status or be removed from Canada only because she leaves an abusive relationship. This is true even if her abusive partner sponsored her to come to Canada.

But there are new rules about sponsorship of a spouse, common-law partner, or conjugal partner. For some sponsored spouses or partners, permanent resident status will be "conditional" for the first two years. The condition will apply only if, when the sponsorship application was made, the couple did not have children in common and their relationship as spouses or partners had existed for two years or less.

A woman with conditional status who separates from her sponsor less than two years after becoming a permanent resident will risk losing her status. However, if she separates because of abuse or neglect by the sponsor or by a family member of the sponsor the condition should not apply. Abuse can be physical, sexual, psychological, or financial. The abuse or neglect might be aimed at the woman, at a child of hers or the sponsor's, or at a family member who usually lives in their household.

There are also many women who have only temporary status or no status at all. And for them, leaving an abusive situation can put them at risk of being removed. It is important for them to get legal advice.

Getting legal help

A woman who has been abused may need information and advice in many areas of law including family law, criminal law, and immigration law.

Emergency two-hour consultation with a lawyer:
Victims of domestic violence can ask a women's shelter or community legal clinic about how to get a free two-hour consultation with an immigration or family lawyer through Legal Aid Ontario's Family Violence Authorization Program.

Legal Aid Ontario has special services to help people experiencing domestic violence. For more information, call their toll-free number at 1-800-668-8258 or contact a Family Law Service Centre or the Refugee Law Office.

Legal Aid Ontario services extend to all victims of domestic violence, regardless of immigration status in Canada. Free telephone interpretation services are also available.

For help finding a lawyer, visit the Law Society of Upper Canada website for information about the Law Society Referral Service, which offers up to 30 minutes of legal advice.
This email alert gives general legal information. It is not a substitute for getting legal advice about a particular situation.
November 2012

On the Radar is a monthly email alert from CLEO that highlights timely legal information.

Related CLEO Resources:

Do you know a woman who is being abused? A Legal Rights Handbook (PDF)
CLEO's new Family Law Series addresses many family law topics and includes detailed sections on finding legal help.

Other Resources:

A Self-Help Guide: How to make an application for a restraining order (from the Ministry of the Attorney General)
Ontario Women's Justice Network
Conditional permanent residence for sponsored spouses (from the Canadian Council for Refugees)
Your Law: Family Law in Ontario (from the Law Society of Upper Canada)

You can view and order CLEO publications at

Information on a wide range of legal topics from hundreds of organizations, including Abuse and Family Violence, as well as key legal and community services across the province.

CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario / Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario)
119 Spadina Ave., Suite 600, Toronto, Ontario, Canada  M5V 2L1
Phone: 416-408-4420 Email: 

You are receiving On the Radar because you have subscribed to receive information about CLEO publications or have ordered CLEO publications in the past. To unsubscribe visit this page.