Domestic abuse can be a criminal act.
The Criminal Code applies across Canada. It describes criminal offences and their punishments.
The role of police is to protect the public and lay charges. They investigate crimes and consider many things when deciding whether to lay charges. However, the Crown prosecutor makes the final decision about prosecuting the accused, based partly on whether they believe a conviction is likely.
How to Make a Criminal Complaint | Victims’ Services | Frequently Asked Questions
How to Make a Criminal Complaint
You can report a crime to police by:
- reaching out to a police and court support advocate, who can talk with you about your rights, and offer options or referrals
- calling 911, if you are in immediate danger or need immediate help
- calling the non-emergency police line in your area
- going to a police station
- for sexual violence, speaking with a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) nurse/doctor at the hospital
Once you make a complaint, the police may investigate and gather evidence. They may interview you (the person experiencing abuse) and others who have evidence of the abuse, such as family, friends, caregivers or neighbours. They may also interview the person causing abuse.
The police can lay charges if they believe they have reasonable and probable grounds that the person causing abuse committed a crime. Sometimes the police will decide not to lay charges against the person causing harm. There are many reasons why, such as:
- The police do not have reasonable grounds based on the evidence to believe the person committed the crime.
- The police do not believe it is likely the evidence will lead to a conviction.
- The police have not properly investigated what happened.
If you are not happy with how the police respond, you can:
- Make a complaint against the police. Check with your local police on how to make a complaint.
- Request copies of police records relating to your complaint. You can submit your request in writing to the police under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The police may charge you fees for this service. Contact the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta for more information.
- Start a private prosecution at the courthouse against the person who caused you harm. You must follow a specific process. Contact your local courthouse or a police and court support advocate for information. The Crown prosecutor will take over the case and choose whether to prosecute the accused.
Victims of crime can ask for help from local victims’ services units (VSUs). VSUs can:
- give information about the process
- offer specialized help, including with housing, finances, and more
- listen to your story and provide emotional support
- help you communicate your needs and concerns to police or the Crown prosecutor
TIP | Find a Victims’ Services Unit near you by calling 2-1-1 or search online.
Frequently Asked Questions
What information do I need when I talk to the police?
In an emergency, call 911 and give them your location.
For ongoing abuse or harassment, keeping a record can be helpful. Read more on the Gathering Evidence page. Continuing to get messages from the person causing harm can be upsetting. You may wish to change your email address, make a new social media profile and change your phone number. You may also wish to only share this new contact info with a few trusted people. You can ask someone you trust to check your old accounts for any messages from the person causing harm, to collect as evidence.
What happens to the accused?
If the person causing harm is charged with a crime, the police will either keep them in custody or let them go with a promise to appear.
If the accused is in custody, the court will hold a bail hearing to decide if they should stay in custody or be free until the charges are resolved in court.
The accused has rights too. Their rights include:
- the right to have a trial (have a judge or jury decide if they are guilty or not) within a reasonable time. An accused should be tried within 18 months of being charged unless there are good reasons for the delay.
- the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal
- the right not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause
The accused also has a right to defend themselves against the charges.
What is a peace bond?
A peace bond (or recognizance) is an order made by a criminal court judge saying someone must “keep the peace”. See the page on Peace Bonds to learn more.
Can police disclose information about a person with a history of abuse?
Yes. Clare’s Law allows Albertans at risk of domestic violence to get information about potentially harmful intimate partners. They can find out if their partner has a history of:
- domestic violence
- stalking or harassment
- breaches of no contact orders
- other related acts
See the page on Clare’s Law to learn more.
What are some reasons someone may not want to talk to the police?
There are many reasons why someone may not want to report relationship violence to the police:
- It can be a very intimidating, stressful, and painful process.
- Relationship abuse can be hard to prove in court and sometimes there is little the police can do.
- People from communities that have historically had difficult relationships with the police, such as Indigenous or LGBTQ2 communities, may worry about the police not taking the abuse seriously or how the police will treat them.
- People who have uncertain immigration status sometimes worry that talking to the police may lead to being deported. Learn more on our Information for Non-Canadian Citizens page.