Chapter 9: Legislation and Policy

Balbir Gurm

Key Messages

  • Internationally, the United Nations’ Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women serves as a guiding framework for countries that ratified this treaty.
  • In Canada, the Department of Justice (2019) outlines the criminal code offences in Family Law related to relationship violence.
  • Six provinces and three territories have passed their own legislation on family violence.
  • In British Columbia, the Family Law Act (2011) covers all forms of abuse against a family member and protection orders.
  • The Violence Against Women in Relationships Policy (Government of British Columbia, 2010) is another key source document that promotes an integrated response to this issue.
  • Check out the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime (n.d.) for more information.

Relationship violence is any form of physical, emotional, spiritual and financial abuse, negative social control or coercion that is suffered by anyone that has a bond or relationship with the offender. In the literature, we find words such as intimate partner violence (IPV), neglect, dating violence, family violence, battery, child neglect, child abuse, bullying, seniors or elder abuse, male violence, stalking, cyberbullying, strangulation, technology-facilitated coercive control, honour killing, female genital mutilation gang violence and workplace violence. In couples, violence can be perpetrated by women and men in opposite-sex relationships (Carney et al., 2007), within same-sex relationships (Rollè et al., 2018) and in relationships where the victim is LGBTQ2SAI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, Two-Spirit, intersex and asexual plus  (The Scottish Trans Alliance, 2010; Rollè et al., 2018). Relationship violence is a result of multiple impacts such as taken for granted inequalities, policies and practices that accept sexism, racism, ageism, xenophobia and homophobia. It can span the entire age spectrum. It may start in-utero and end with death.

First and foremost, RV is a violation of the Human Rights Act. It is a criminal and ethical offence. In this chapter, we bring together links to statues and resources. There are national policies and international conventions, as well as legislation to charge perpetrators of relationship violence. You will find information regarding children and youth and adults. This section tries to bring together the legislation that impacts British Columbians.

Policies and Resources

There are a number of resources for working with families. There are also principles that need to be followed laid out in The BC Handbook for Action on Child Abuse and Neglect for Service Providers (2017, p. 14-15). Some of them are described below.

  • The safety and well-being of children are paramount considerations
  • Children are entitled to be protected from abuse, neglect, harm or the threat of harm
  • A family is a preferred environment for the care and upbringing of children, and the responsibility for the protection of children rests primarily with the parents
  • If, with available support services, a family can provide a safe and nurturing environment for child support services should be provided
  • The child’s views should be taken into account when decisions relating to a child are made
  • Kinship ties and a child’s attachment to the extended family should be preserved, if possible
  • The cultural identity of Indigenous children should be preserved
  • Decisions relating to children should be made and implemented in a timely manner
    • Families and children should be informed of the services available to them and be encouraged to participate in decisions affecting them
    • Indigenous people should be involved in the planning and delivery of services to Aboriginal families and their children
    • Services should be planned and delivered in ways that are sensitive to the needs and the cultural, racial and religious heritage of those receiving the services
    • Services should be integrated, wherever possible and appropriate, with services provided by government ministries, community agencies and Community Living British Columbia
    • The community should be involved, wherever possible and appropriate, in the planning and delivery of services, including preventive and support services to families and children

Also, there is in Canada, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime (n.d.) that has a number of publications for victims such as explaining restraining orders which is a helpful support to victims. To support the understanding of violence among children, Child Abuse, How to help Victims (2017) shows the history of Canadian laws on child abuse. In British Columbia, there are many policies like the Violence Against Women in Relationships Policy [VAWIR] (2010) introduced in 1993. The primary purpose of the VAWIR policy is to ensure an effective, integrated and coordinated justice and child welfare response to domestic violence. The goal is to support and protect those individuals at risk and facilitate offender management and accountability.

The Intimate Partner Violence Policy for Crown Counsel was updated in 2019. It discusses the processes for Crown Counsel from definitions of domestic violence, bail conditions and preparation for hearings.

Although many organizations have policies, and we have legislation, the policies are not enacted, they are in writing only. Sometimes, survivors are not believed; other times, they are intimidated, and at times, organizational management investigates its own employees and is biased by all things in society. It is such a complex issue, and the evidence required to prosecute needs to be meticulously gathered.

The Honourable retired Canadian Supreme Court Justice Donna Martinson and Professor Emerita and founder of the FREDA Institute Margaret Jackson wrote a report on the family law in relationship violence cases that involves women and children. They highlight that judges also have their own biases and need to be aware of them in making decisions. Also, Martinson and Jackson (2019) state that women serving organizations need to be involved in the education of judges to strengthen their understanding of the complexities of relationship violence and how it shows up in the courthouse.

Furthermore, they both state decisions need to be made based on equity rights and go through how to order and make sense of parenting assessments, discuss that a child needs to be heard and explain how section 21 reports have not improved for there are no guidelines on what must be included in these reports and no stated qualifications for assessors. As well, assessors do not work from a trauma-informed culturally competent perspective. They argue that psychological tests are relied upon that have no predictive evidence. Also, many women do not report abuse in divorce cases because they fear they will be seen as ineffective parents.  Martinson and Jackson go through all the conventions from the United Nations (UN) that impact family law as well as case law that impacts BC decisions (Martinson & Jackson, 2019). For details, read the full report.

Legal Services

West Coast Leaf  (2020) launched A toolkit for navigating section 276 and 278 Criminal Code matters as complainant counsel in criminal proceedings. Elba Bendo, Director of Law Reform at West Coast Leaf explains that best practice is to have specialized courts.[streamerType]=auto&flashvars[localizationCode]=en_CA&flashvars[leadWithHTML5]=true&flashvars[sideBarContainer.plugin]=true&flashvars[sideBarContainer.position]=left&flashvars[sideBarContainer.clickToClose]=true&flashvars[chapters.plugin]=true&flashvars[chapters.layout]=vertical&flashvars[chapters.thumbnailRotator]=false&flashvars[streamSelector.plugin]=true&flashvars[EmbedPlayer.SpinnerTarget]=videoHolder&flashvars[dualScreen.plugin]=true&flashvars[hotspots.plugin]=1&flashvars[Kaltura.addCrossoriginToIframe]=true&&wid=0_fvg8kcqu

The Legal Services Society has a number of easy to read publications for the public in plain language. Click here to access the list of publications. Survivors tell us that they are revictimized by the legal system. It is difficult to prosecute perpetrators. Survivors are only called as witnesses in these cases even though they are the targets of the assaults. Survivors need to repeat their stories a number of times, and they feel like they are on trial, and their integrity is being questioned. Jeeti Pooni, who was sexually assaulted as a young child who did not disclose until she was an adult with a couple of daughters of her own, discusses how she was disappointed with the court’s disposition (ruling). Click here to read or listen to a CBC interview with Jeeti Pooni as she discusses her story

EVABC, a provincial funded organization also has developed  Independent Legal Advice For Sexual Assault Survivors Training Pilot Project. Click here to access it.

Criminal Code Offences

There are multiple criminal codes that the law relies upon, but the first and foremost for relationship violence is the Human Rights Act. Also, the Canada Department of Justice (2019) outlines the criminal code offences in Family Law that cover crimes related to physical and sexual abuse, psychological, emotional abuse, neglect and financial abuse, as well as administration of justice. See below:

Offences related to the use of physical and sexual violence such as:

      • Assault causing bodily harm, with a weapon and aggravated assault (ss. 265268)
      • Kidnapping and forcible confinement (s. 279)
      • Trafficking in persons (ss. 279.01)
      • Abduction of a young person (ss. 280283)
      • Homicide, murder, attempted murder, infanticide and manslaughter (ss. 229231 and 235)
      • Sexual assault causing bodily harm, with a weapon and aggravated sexual assault (ss. 271273)
      • Sexual offences against children and youth (ss. 151152153155 and 170172)
      • Child pornography (s. 163.1)

Offences related to the administration of justice such as:

      • Disobeying order of the court (s. 127)
      • Failure to comply with the condition of undertaking (s.145(3))
      • Failure to comply with probation order (s. 733.1)
      • Breach of recognizance (peace bond) (s. 811)

Offences related to some forms of psychological or emotional abuse within the family that involve using words or actions to control, isolate, intimidate or dehumanize someone such as:

      • Criminal harassment, sometimes called “stalking” (s. 264)
      • Uttering threats (s. 264.1)
      • Making indecent and harassing phone calls (s. 372)
      • Trespassing at night (s. 177)
      • Mischief (s. 430)

Offences related to neglect within the family such as:

      • Failure to provide necessaries of life (s. 215)
      • Abandoning child (ss. 218)
      • Criminal negligence, including negligence causing bodily harm and death (ss. 219221)

Offences related to financial abuse within the family such as:

      • Theft (ss. 322328330334)
      • Theft by a person holding power of attorney (s. 331)
      • Misappropriation of money held under direction (s. 332)
      • Theft of, forgery of a credit card (s. 342)
      • Extortion (s. 346)
      • Forgery (s. 366)
      • Fraud (s.380(1))

Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act (2012) states the vulnerability of age and the financial situation needs to be considered in sentencing.

Six provinces and three territories have passed their own legislation on family violence. In BC, there is the Family Law Act (2011) that covers all forms of abuse against a family member and protection orders. The act covers child parenting arrangements, guardianship, family law dispute resolution and family justice counsellors. The Child, Family and Community Service Act (2017) requires that anyone who has reason to believe that a child (or youth) has been or is likely to be abused or neglected and that the parent is unwilling or unable to protect the child (or youth) must report the suspected abuse or neglect to a child welfare worker.

For more information see:

BC passed Bill 23: Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy requiring all post-secondary institutions to have a policy on sexual misconduct and develop the complaint process and evaluate it on a three-year cycle.

International Conventions 

Canada is a signatory to multiple United Nations (UN) conventions on human rights and relationship violence. In 1993, the United Nations Assembly—of which Canada is a member state—first passed the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (UN, 2009a).

Canada is a member of the Organization of American States that adopted the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Department of International Law, 1994), which is considered the first treaty to outline women’s rights against violence. The agreement states that women should be “free from every form of violence, including physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated by family members or intimate partners, members of the community or the state (Organization of the Americas, 2013).

Also, the UN Assembly (2014) passed a resolution (18/147) Elimination of domestic violence against women (UN, 2015). It expanded the definition of domestic violence to include those related by blood and intimacy, and it included economic deprivation and isolation in its definition. The UN Assembly (2018) passed 73/148 Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: sexual harassment and resolutions like 64/137 (2010), 63/155 (2009), 62/133 (2008) and 61/143 (2006). A series of resolutions on the “Elimination of all forms of violence, including crimes against women” (59/167 (2005), 57/181 (2002), and 55/68 (2000); and  “in-depth study of all forms of violence against women resolutions” (60/136 (2006) and 58/185 (2004). (UN 2019, 2010a, 2009b, 2008, 2006a, 2005, 2006b, 2004).

As well, there are a series of resolutions The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) has passed and several resolutions are on eliminating discrimination and violence against women,  14/12 (UN, 2010), 15/23 (UN, 2010b), 12/17 (UN, 2009c), 11/2 (UN, 2009d), 7/24 (UN 2008b), and many others. The United Nations resolutions and reports on RV against women can be found at UN Women website.

There are several resolutions on the Rights of the Child (UN, 2017) and the social policy paper working paper no. 16 on Rights of the Older Person (UN, 2012). In 2011a, an open-ended working group on the rights of the older person established to continue to evaluate the rights of the older person framework and identify and address gaps. Reports and resolutions on the older person can be found at the UN department of economics and social affairs (UN, 2011b). In 2019, the International Labour Council passed a convention on Violence and Harassment, and an accompanying non-binding recommendation that provides guidance on the convention’s obligations. Canada has not ratified the treaty that would require it to create national laws, prevention measures, information campaigns and workplace violence prevention policies.


Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. (n.d.). Publications.

Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. (2017). Child abuse: How to help victims.

Carney, M., Buttell, B., & Dutton, D. (2007). Women who perpetrate intimate partner violence: A review of the literature with recommendations for treatment. Aggression and Violent Behavior 12, 108 –115.

Department of International Law. (1994). Multilateral treaties.

Department of Justice Canada. (2019). Family violence laws.

Family Law Act. (2011). SBC 2011, c 25, Victoria, BC: Queen’s Printer, Canada.

Goodyear, S. (2020). B.C. woman in ‘complete shock’ after sex abuse convictions tossed over court delays. CBC Interview with Jeeti Pooni.

Government of British Columbia. (2010). Violence against women in relationships.

Government of British Columbia. (2017). The B.C. handbook for action on child abuse and neglect.

Government of Canada. (1985). Criminal code R.S.C., C-46.

Government of Canada. (2012). Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act.

International Labour Council. (2019). Convention on violence and harassment.—ed_norm/—relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_711570.pdf

Martinson, D., & Jackson, M. (2019). Family violence and parenting assessments: Law, skills and social context.

Rollè, L., Giardina, G., Caldarera, A. M., Gerino, E., & Brustia, P. (2018). When intimate partner violence meets same-sex couples: A review of same-sex intimate partner violence. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1506.

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United Nations. (2009b). Intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women. A, RES, 63, 155.

United Nations. (2009c). Elimination of discrimination against women. A, HRC, RES, 12, 17.

United Nations. (2009d). Resolution 11/2. Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women.

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