British Columbians, and indeed people from around the world, will continue to face for some time, serious challenges and effects the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, on a scale and magnitude never before experienced. It's no wonder many, including judges, have termed these times as unprecedented.
While our attention is focused on the daily reports of those infected, hospitalized or deceased, another problem is also brewing: an increase in family violence.
Since states of emergency were declared across Canada, reports have emerged about an increase in the incidents of family or domestic violence. A Vancouver domestic violence crisis line, for example, experienced a spike in calls by as much as 300 per cent. Police forces across the country similarly report sharp and sudden increases in their dispatch calls relating to family violence. For example, in Ontario’s York Region, a 22-per-cent increase in domestic calls was reported in March when the pandemic had not yet taken its total grip on people's lives.
This jump is not surprising. Added to the usual causes for this type of violence or abuse in domestic settings are the novel evils of COVID-19 including the stresses due to mass lay offs, a significant decrease in family income, the increase in the daily interactions between partners due to stay-at-home and social-distancing orders, and increased isolation.
Family violence is defined in British Columbia's Family Law Act (the "FLA") as including physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse and, in the case of a child, direct or indirect exposure to such abuse. The FLA also provides mechanisms for addressing family violence through, for example, family law protection orders. Under the FLA, a family member whose safety is, or is likely to be, at risk from family violence, may obtain a variety of protective orders designed to protect him or her from harm. Before making such an order the court will consider the history of the family violence, the number and frequency of occurrences, patterns of coercive or controlling behaviour, current relationship status, perceptions and other circumstances. Such orders can include limits on physical contact and communication or directions to a police officer to remove the other family member from a residence. At-risk family members may obtain such orders on their own application, an application brought on their behalf, or on the court's own initiative. A finding by a court that family violence has occurred could impact a court's decision on parenting arrangements and what allocation of parental responsibilities are in the best interests of a child. Generally, protection orders remain in force for 12 months and can be renewed.
While courts in British Columbia have suspended regular operations due to COVID-19, the courts will hear urgent matters. and will do so on an urgent basis. Family violence, by definition, easily fits within one of the classes of matters that deserve and receive the court's immediate attention. Since the shutdown, the courts in BC have heard applications for protection orders (also known as restraining orders), conduct orders and exclusive possession of a home. Where the safety or security of a party or a child is at risk, the courts will continue to act.
There is no one simple answer to all situations of family or domestic violence. Seeking a family or criminal protection order may or may not be the best first step. To determine what is best in your case it is important to seek professional assistance. That assistance should include developing a proper safety plan and considering all consequences prior to going to court. Ensuring one has a safety plan in place, as well as a support system and adequate resources, is critical. There are many local resources, from crisis phone lines to shelters, available and increasing their capacity during this precarious time of COVID-19.
How Connect Family Law can help during COVID-19
We at Connect Family Law are fully operational and can meet with you by video conference, email or phone, to discuss your family law issues at all times respecting the need to social distance.
If you have questions, or would like more information, please contact us.
NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on the Connect Family Law website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action, based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. One of our lawyers would be pleased to discuss any specific legal concerns you may have.