Abuse is against the law in Canada.
The law in Canada is divided into different areas, including family law, criminal law, civil law, child welfare law and more. These laws deal with abuse in different ways. A person’s experience with abuse, and the necessary legal responses, usually cannot be neatly categorized into areas of the law. Instead, a person experiencing abuse may interact with several areas of the law and different processes.
Everyone’s experience with the legal system is different.
Jess is experiencing abuse by their partner, with whom they have two young children. If Jess or someone else calls the police, the police may charge Jess’ partner with one or more crimes. If Jess leaves the relationship, they may need an Emergency Protection Order to keep their partner away from them and the children. Jess will also have to go to family court to get an emergency interim parenting order to keep the children with them and make decisions for the children. If Alberta Children’s Services get involved, Jess may have to navigate that system too. If Jess’ partner has incurred debt, they may also have to deal with consumer and bankruptcy laws.
Canada’s Criminal Code describes criminal offences. The criminal justice system prosecutes the person charged with a criminal offence. Crimes are wrongs against society. Even though you may be a victim of crime, it is not a private matter between two people. Crimes are prosecuted by Crown prosecutors.
A person causing harm may be committing one or more crimes. For example:
- hitting someone may be the crime of assault
- forcing a partner to have sex may be the crime of sexual assault
- threatening to hurt someone may be the crime of uttering threats
- taking money may be the crimes of robbery or extortion
- posting photos online may be sharing intimate images without consent
There are many criminal offences that relate to abuse.
The person experiencing abuse, or someone else such as a friend or neighbor, may call the police. The police can then investigate and lay charges if they have evidence a crime was committed. The person experiencing abuse does not get to decide whether the police lay charges. Read more on the Going to the Police and Going to Court pages.
TIP | For more information about the criminal process, see CPLEA’s Sexual Violence and the Law: Reporting Sexual Violence to Police info sheet. While this info sheet is mainly about sexual violence, the process is the same for other criminal offences.
Family law deals with issues between family members – usually separated partners or spouses or parents of children. Family laws describe how to deal with:
- separation and divorce
- parenting time with children
- financial support (child support, spousal support, partner support)
- dividing family property
- protection orders (Emergency Protection Orders and King’s Bench Protection Orders)
- moving with children
- adult interdependent relationships
There are several laws that deal with different family issues. Sometimes the laws overlap. Sometimes you will have to use more than one law to deal with your issue.
- Canada’s Divorce Act describes the process for getting divorced, as well as parenting orders, child support and spousal support for divorcing families.
- Alberta’s Family Law Act describes parentage and guardianship rules, as well as parenting orders, financial support and exclusive possession of the home orders.
- Alberta’s Family Property Act describes how married couples and adult interdependent partners divide property when a relationship ends, as well as Exclusive Possession Orders.
- Alberta’s Adult Interdependent Relationships Act describes adult interdependent relationships.
- Alberta’s Protection Against Family Violence Act describes Emergency Protection Orders and King’s Bench Protection Orders.
TIP | Visit www.cplea.ca/family to find more information about family law in Alberta.
Civil law recognizes wrongs between parties, such as between two individuals. The people involved in the civil case are called the parties.
For example, a restraining order is a civil court order. It is a type of protection order you can get against anyone, regardless of their relationship to you. Read more on the Restraining Orders page.
Child Welfare Law
Child welfare laws describe how the government can intervene to support parents and children if a child’s welfare is at stake. Alberta Children’s Services may become involved if someone has raised a concern about a child in your home. The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act describes when Children’s Services get involved and what can happen if they do. If Children’s Services contacts you, get legal help immediately.