Cases in adult criminal courts involving intimate partner violence
by Pascale Beaupré
- Majority of completed cases involving violence in adult criminal courts were related to intimate partner violence
- Most frequent offence for completed cases in adult criminal courts is common assault
- The majority of completed intimate partner violence cases involved a female victim
- Over half of intimate partner violence cases completed in court involved dating partner violence
- Intimate partner violence cases slightly less likely to result in a guilty verdict compared to non-intimate partner cases
- Larger proportion of guilty findings among non-intimate partner violence cases for major assault and sexual assault relative to intimate partner violence cases
- Case processing time shorter for intimate partner violence cases than for non-intimate partner violence cases
- Probation most common sentence in intimate partner violence cases
- Custody more often imposed in non-intimate partner violence than in intimate partner violence cases
- Males found guilty in intimate partner violence cases more likely to be sentenced to custody than female accused
- Shorter custodial sentences common in intimate partner violence cases than in non-intimate partner violence cases
- Most probation sentences for intimate partner violence cases are between six months and one year
- Analytical approach: Record linkage process and study limitations
- Survey Descriptions
- Detailed data tables
The legal response to the issue of intimate partner violence has evolved over the last thirty years, with the criminal justice system playing a more active role in addressing this form of violence - once considered a private matter (Sinha 2013; Schneider 2008). While there are currently no nationally legislated offences in Canada specific to intimate partner violence, special consideration is given to the harm that comes from intimate partner violence in the Criminal Code of Canada in section 718.2(a) (ii), which makes it an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes when an offence involves the abuse of a spouse or common law partner. The majority of provinces and territories have also implemented justice system responses specific to intimate partner violence to better address the unique needs of both victims and offenders (Tutty et al. 2008; Department of Justice Canada 2003). Examples of these responses include changes to policing and prosecution protocols (such as pro-charge and pro-prosecution policies), specialized training programs for police and Crown counsels, dedicated domestic violence courts, interagency protocols and the availability of civil protection/restraining orders (Department of Justice Canada 2013; Johnson and Dawson 2011).
Intimate partner violence is complex and can result in a crisis situation for victims who require immediate protection and a rapid response from the justice system or quick intervention in order to ensure the offender has access to treatment (Gill and Ruff 2010; Tutty et al. 2011; Nova Scotia Department of Justice 2010). Current research notes that victims of intimate partner violence are at greater risk of further violence when they leave an abusive relationship (Johnson and Hotton 2003). The potential for violence may be even greater when the leaving coincides with the involvement of the criminal justice system (Drouin and Drolet 2004). As such, it is important to explore how the criminal court system treats cases related to intimate partner violence.
While national level statistics on the prevalence, nature and extent of intimate partner violence have been well documented, in contrast there has been little research to date examining what happens to intimate partner violence cases once they enter the criminal court system. Some studies, however, have reviewed intimate partner violence cases once they have entered specialized Domestic Violence Courts, which have been developed with the objectives of facilitating the prosecution of domestic violence cases and providing early support to victims and their children (see Text box 3 for a brief description of these courts). Research reports focusing on these specialized courts have looked at court processes and outcomes (Nova Scotia Department of Justice 2010), their effectiveness (Tutty et. al. 2011) as well as their intent and impact (Gill and Ruff 2010; Quann 2006).
To help address the gap in national level data on intimate partner violence court processes and outcomes, a demonstration study was undertaken in 2004 that linked police records from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey to criminal court records in the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) (Gannon and Brzozowski 2004). The linking of these data files permitted researchers to analyze outcomes of cases involving incidents of some form of family violence before the courts. While this study was not nationally representative, as data were available only for a select number of urban areas, the data made it possible to analyze the similarities and differences in sentencing outcomes between family violence cases and non-family violence cases.
This Juristat article builds on the Gannon and Brzozowski (2004) study with more recent data, linking police-reported incidents from the Incident-based UCR Survey with their related court cases from the ICCS. This report examines violent incidents reported between 2006 and 2011, and adult criminal cases completed between 2005/2006 and 2010/2011 for all provinces and territories (excluding Quebec).
This record linkage analysis sheds light on the characteristics of completed cases in adult criminal courts and highlights differences and similarities between intimate partner violence (referred to as IPV) cases and non-intimate partner violence (referred to as non-IPV) cases (see Text box 2 for detailed definitions). In addition, the report examines the relationship between the victim and the accused and the seriousness of the offences. This analysis also explores the outcomes of completed cases, the sentences imposed, and the time required to complete IPV and non-IPV cases in order to determine whether or not courts treat IPV cases differently, by imposing longer sentences and/or processing these cases in a more expedient fashion relative to non-IPV cases.
Text box 1
Differences between police-reported offences and final charges in completed criminal court cases
This report examined those court cases from the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (completed between 2005/2006 to 2010/2011) which could be linked to police-reported violent incidents from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey. It examined all completed criminal court cases where the linked police-reported incident involved at least one violent offence, and resulted in a charge for one or more offences. These cases were then classified according to the relationship between the victim and the accused. The linkage excluded all cases where the incident involved multiple accused.Note 1
By the time a case is completed in the courts, the violent incident initially reported by police may differ from the final charge or charges processed by the court. A police-reported incident may involve multiple offences for which only one charge is laid. The charge laid may be in relation to an offence other than the violent offence reported in the incident. In addition, the decision on the charges for which an arrested individual will be tried rests with the Crown attorney. As a result, the number and nature of charges addressed by the criminal court can differ from the offences initially reported by the police. The Crown attorney may request changes to charges as a result of plea negotiations, deciding that there is insufficient evidence to prove the initial charges, evidence of additional crimes which were not initially charged, or the withdrawal of the complaint by the complainant. In many provinces and territories with pro-charging and pro-prosecution policies, withdrawal of the complaint is less likely to occur in IPV cases where there is reasonable prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute (Department of Justice Canada 2013).
To illustrate such a change, a charge of common assault against an intimate partner initially laid by the police (according to the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey) could be changed to a charge of violating the conditions of a probation order in adult criminal court (according to the ICCS). As a result, the charge then becomes an offence against the administration of justice rather than a crime against the person. Although the criminal charge dealt with in court is then not directly related to violence against an intimate partner, it is included in this analysis because it examines the court processing of all incidents where police have reported a violent offence, regardless of whether or not the case was dealt with as a violent offence in the courts.
It should also be noted that in cases where there are multiple charges, the most serious offence identified in the court data is the one with the most serious decision (ex. guilty), even where it is a less serious offence than the other charges in the cases which did not result in a guilty decision.
Intimate partner violence (IPV): Includes violence committed by a spouse, a common-law partner or a dating partner. Includes violence committed in the context of an intimate relationship.
- Includes spousal violence: Police-reported violent offence committed against a spouse (married or common-law) or an ex-spouse (from a marriage or common-law union).Note 2
- Includes dating violence: Police-reported violent offence committed by a boyfriend or girlfriend (current or former) or by a person with whom the victim had a sexual relationship or a mutual sexual attraction (but who was not considered the victim’s boyfriend or girlfriend). Dating partners may or may not live together.Note 3
Non-intimate partner violence (Non-IPV): Includes police-reported violence committed by a friend, an acquaintance, an associate (in business or in a criminal relationship), an authority figure, a neighbour, a stranger, or a non-spousal family member.Note 4
An IPV case refers to any case completed in adult criminal court between 2005/2006 and 2010/2011, where the court record could be linked to a police-reported incident involving a violent offence, and where the victim and the accused were intimate partners (current or former spouses or dating partners).
A non-IPV case refers to any case completed in adult criminal court between 2005/2006 and 2010/2011, where the court record could be linked to a police-reported incident involving a violent offence, and where the victim and the accused were not intimate partners.
Violent offence: Offences against the person include using or threatening to use violence against a person. These offences include homicide, attempted murder, physical assault, sexual assault, offences resulting in the deprivation of freedom, criminal harassment, uttering threats and other offences against the person or involving the threat of violence.
Completed case: A completed case is one or more charges against an accused person that were processed by the courts at the same time and received a final decision.
Majority of completed cases involving violence in adult criminal courts were related to intimate partner violence
Between 2005/2006 and 2010/2011, there were close to 335,000 completed casesNote 5 in adult criminal court involving a police-reported violent offence. Of these cases, almost 6 in 10 (57%) involved a police-reported violent offence committed against an intimate partner (see Text box 2). The remaining completed cases were linked to police-reported violent incidents where the accused was a friend or acquaintance (21%), a stranger (14%), or a family member (9%) of the victim (Table 1).
The larger proportion of cases involving IPV completed by the courts may be attributed to the fact that police are more likely to lay charges in violent incidents where the victim is an intimate partner. According to police-reported data, charges were laid in 71% of IPV incidents compared to 50% for non-IPV incidents (Beaupré 2015).
However, it should also be noted that the larger proportion of completed court cases involving IPV may also be related to the manner in which the data files were linked for this analysis. For the linking of the court and police data files, those police-reported incidents involving multiple accused were excluded due to the fact that the victim accused relationship could not be clearly defined. This exclusion may have resulted in more non-IPV cases being removed from the analysis as these types of incidents are more likely than IPV incidents to involve more than one accused.
In more than one third of the completed court cases examined in this analysis, the most serious offence in the case was common assault (36%). The next largest proportion of cases involved a non-violent offence, with nearly three in ten (29%) of the completed court cases involving crimes such as theft, break and enter, fraud, possession of stolen property, even though the police originally reported that the incident involved a violent offence (see Text box 1) (Table 2).
Further analysis of cases before the courts indicates that there are some differences in the distribution of the most serious offence types between IPV and non-IPV cases. Specifically a larger proportion of IPV cases (43%) were related to common assault compared to non-IPV cases (27%). In contrast, a larger proportion of non-IPV cases involved major assault than IPV cases (18% and 11% respectively) (Table 2).
Police-reported data show that females are more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence than males (Beaupré 2015), which was also evident in the completed cases before the criminal courts. In about two-thirds of all completed cases in adult criminal court involving violence over the six year period, the victim was female (66%). The percentage was higher among IPV cases, where 85% of victims were female and 15% were male. Among non-IPV cases, a larger proportion of victims were male (57%).
Among all cases involving a female victim, a large majority (72%) were IPV cases. In contrast, among completed cases of violence involving male victims, the perpetrator was more likely to be a friend or acquaintance (35%) or a stranger (29%) than an intimate partner (25%) (Table 1).
Overall, in court cases linked to police-reported violent incidents, the median age of the victim at the time of the incident was 31 years, regardless of the relationship between the victim and the accused.Note 6 In nearly 60% of IPV cases, however, the victim was between 25 and 44 years of age at the time of the incident, compared with approximately 40% for non-IPV cases. For non-IPV cases, there were larger proportions of victims under the age of 25 (36%) at the time of the incident.
In completed cases involving violent offences, the accused was most often male, regardless of whether the violence was committed against an intimate partner (85%) or another person (82%) (Table 3).
Overall, about six in ten of all completed court cases in the study included multiple charges against the accused, for both IPV and non-IPVNote 7 cases (Table 4). This was especially prevalent for cases involving males accused in IPV cases (60%), while the proportion of cases with multiple charges was smaller when the accused was female (44% of all cases – IPV and non-IPV).
According to police-reported data, victims of dating partner violence account for a larger proportion of intimate partner violence than victims of spousal violence (Beaupré 2015). Similarly, among IPV cases completed in adult criminal courts, 54% involved dating partner violence, while 46% of cases were spousal violence. Almost one-quarter (24%) of IPV cases involved post-breakup violent offences between ex-spouses or former dating partners (Chart 1).
Intimate partner violence cases slightly less likely to result in a guilty verdict compared to non-intimate partner cases
Of interest to many is whether the decisions of the courts in cases of intimate partner violence differ from cases of similar violent acts outside of an intimate relationship. Overall, most completed cases involving violent offences (both IPV and non-IPV) led to a guilty verdict on at least one charge.Note 8 Of note, however, is that a slightly larger proportion of non-IPV cases (64%) resulted in a guilty verdict than did IPV cases (60%) (Table 3).
Among completed IPV cases, a guilty outcome was more common for male accused (63%) than for female accused (44%). This difference was not as pronounced in non-IPV cases, where 65% of male accused and 57% of female accused were found guilty.
Of the 189,493 completed cases involving multiple charges, approximately three-quarters resulted in a guilty outcome, regardless of whether the violence was committed against an intimate partner or another person. In contrast, single charge cases were more likely to result in a stay or withdrawal (56% for IPV cases and 51% for non-IPV cases) (Table 4).
Larger proportion of guilty findings among non-intimate partner violence cases for major assault and sexual assault relative to intimate partner violence cases
In this study, cases involving common assault were those most frequently seen by the court. For cases involving common assault 52% of IPV cases resulted in a guilty finding compared to 55% of non-IPV cases. Furthermore, common assault cases, whether IPV on non-IPV related, were predominantly single guilty decisions. For cases involving uttering threats, mischief, breach of probation and failure to comply with a court order, the difference between IPV and non-IPV cases was similarly small (Table 5).
However, in cases involving major assault or sexual assault, non-IPV cases had a notably higher proportion resulting in a guilty finding: 62% of accused in non-IPV major assault cases were found guilty compared to 49% in IPV cases. Overall, sexual assault cases were less likely to result in a guilty finding, but again accused in non-IPV cases (45%) were more likely to be found guilty than accused in IPV cases (34%) (Table 5).
The only offence where IPV cases had a higher proportion of guilty decisions than non-IPV cases was criminal harassment where 60% of IPV cases resulted in a guilty finding compared to 51% in non-IPV cases (Table 5).
Case processing time shorter for intimate partner violence cases than for non-intimate partner violence cases
Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, accused persons have the fundamental right to be tried within a timely manner.Note 9 In general, there is no set time period prescribed for the completion of criminal court cases; however, a period of 8 to 10 months is considered acceptable (Department of Justice Canada 2006). The time required to complete a case is the time elapsed between the first appearance and when a final decision is rendered on all charges in the case.Note 10 Given the family context of many IPV cases, processing these cases in a timely manner is a particular concern for the justice system. Speedy processing for IPV cases may ensure timely protection for victims and ensure that offenders get the required treatment and may result in fewer victims recanting and/or withdrawing their complaint (Tutty et. al 2011).
Results from the linked file analysis indicate that IPV case processing times were significantly shorter than for non-IPV related cases. For most types of cases, whether they involved single or multiple charges or resulted in a finding of guilt or otherwise, IPV cases were completed more quickly than non-IPV cases on average. Overall, the median processing time for all completed cases covered in this analysis, between 2005-2006 and 2010-2011 was 134 days or just over 4 months. The median time to complete IPV cases (124 days) was just under one month shorter than the time needed to complete non-IPV cases (151 days) (Table 6).
Nearly half (49%) of completed IPV cases were completed in less than four months (data not shown) while a slightly smaller proportion of non-IPV cases (40%) were completed within the same time period. A minority of IPV (9%) and non-IPV (15%) cases took more than one year to be completed.
The shorter amount of time involved in the completion of IPV cases was evident when looking at cases involving all the most frequently reported offence types with the exception of uttering threats. For that offence, the median amount of time taken for processing was similar between IPV and non-IPV cases.
The length of time taken to complete cases in criminal court can also depend on the number of charges against the accused. From the first appearance to the completion of IPV cases, the median processing time was 99 days for cases with a single charge and 143 days for cases with two or more charges. This difference was also evident among non-IPV cases, though it was less pronounced (134 days for a single charge case versus 163 days for multiple-charge cases) (Table 6).
Due to the unique circumstances that are often present in IPV cases, provinces and territories have introduced numerous initiatives over the past couple of decades to assist intimate partner violence victims who come into contact with the justice system (Du Mont et al. 2005). While these initiatives vary by jurisdiction, there are several common elements between them, specifically the introduction of pro-charging policies, pro-prosecution policies, interagency protocols and specialized domestic violence courts.
Pro-charging policies have been implemented in many provinces and territories with the primary objective of shifting responsibility for laying charges from the victim to the police, which in turn increases the number of charges laid and the reporting of intimate partner abuse incidents (Department of Justice Canada 2003). Another objective of these policies is to ensure that intimate partner cases are treated with the same criminal standard as is applied to other violent offences (Department of Justice Canada 2013). Similarly, pro-prosecution policies seek to promote more rigorous prosecution of intimate partner violence cases, to ensure that these cases are not treated any less seriously than stranger assault, to reduce the number of withdrawals and stays of charges in intimate partner violence cases, to promote victim co-operation in the prosecution, and to reduce re-offending (Department of Justice Canada 2003).
Domestic violence courts are a somewhat recent innovation in Canada, but have become increasingly present in jurisdictions across the country. The first was introduced in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1991 (Ursel 2013). The overall objective of these courts is to more effectively address family violence by increasing the accountability of the offender, improving victim safety (Tutty and Koshan 2013), facilitating intervention and prosecution, expediting court processing, and providing a focal point for programs and services for both victims and offenders (Department of Justice Canada 2013). As such, these courts often liaise with other sectors of the community, such as treatment agencies, specialized police units, Crown prosecutors, victim advocates and probation officers (Tutty and Koshan 2013; Department of Justice Canada 2013).
During sentencing, the judge considers several factors before arriving at a decision. These factors include the seriousness and nature of the offence, minimum sentences provided for in the Criminal Code or other statutes, aggravating and mitigating circumstances, offender rehabilitation, the offender’s prior criminal history, the need to protect the victim and his/her family, and the interests of justice and society (Dawson 2004; Department of Justice Canada 2003).
At the end of proceedings, probationNote 11 and custodyNote 12 were the sentencesNote 13 most often imposed in cases involving violent offences, for both IPV and non-IPV cases. In IPV cases, probation was the most common sentence, handed down in just under half of such cases (49%). A smaller proportion (40%) of guilty non-IPV cases resulted in a sentence of probation (Table 7).
It is important to note that these results do not take into consideration time spent in detention before sentencing and its subsequent impact on the type of sentence and length of custodial sentence ordered.
The type of sentence and length of custodial sentences could be affected if time was spent in pre-sentencing custody. For example, “time served,” or time spent in detention before the court decision and sentencing (which is not uncommon for more serious offences), is likely to reduce the length of the sentence in some cases to the point that no further time in custody is considered appropriate, even though other types of sentences may be ordered instead (Uniform Law Conference of Canada 2009). In addition, the family circumstances of IPV cases make them different from non-IPV cases. IPV cases may be more likely to involve the need to protect the victim from further harm which may have an impact on denial of bail and pre-trial detention, which may influence sentence length.
IPV cases were less likely to result in a sentence of custody (31%) than were non-IPV cases (39%) (Chart 2, Table 8). This may be related to the fact that non-IPV cases were more likely to involve the more serious charges of major assault and sexual assault. These two offences comprised 21% of guilty non-IPV cases, while representing 9% of IPV cases with a guilty decision (Table 8).
Males found guilty in intimate partner violence cases more likely to be sentenced to custody than female accused
Examining sentences by the sex of the accused reveals that males were more commonly sentenced to custody than females when found guilty in IPV cases. In IPV cases, the proportion of males who received a sentence of custody was over twice as high as that of females found guilty of some form of IPV (33% versus 14%) (Table 9). For females found guilty in IPV cases, probation was more often considered. The courts handed down probation for 62% of IPV cases involving a guilty female accused compared to 48% of guilty male accused. These differences may be related to the fact that completed IPV related cases involving male accused were proportionally more likely to involve multiple charges (61%) relative to female accused (44%) (data not shown).
Shorter custodial sentences common in intimate partner violence cases than in non-intimate partner violence cases
In accordance with the fundamental principle of proportionality set out in section 718.1 of the Criminal Code, the sentence generally increases with the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.Note 14 This was evident in IPV cases, as breach of probation, sexual assaultNote 15 and major assault were the offences most likely to result in a sentence of custody (Table 8).Note 16 In approximately half of guilty cases involving major assault against an intimate partner custody was imposed, a proportion three times higher than for guilty IPV cases of common assault (48% versus 15%).
While imprisonment is often considered the most serious penalty, custody sentences in IPV cases were typically fairly short, with the majority (85%) of those imposed in IPV cases being for six months or less (Chart 3; Table 10). Furthermore, the length of sentenced custody was one month or less for half of the persons convicted in these cases. For approximately 4% of convicted persons, sentences were between six months and one year less a day. Few of those found guilty in IPV cases were sentenced to more than one year in custody (3%).
The length of sentenced custody tended to be slightly longer in non-IPV cases. In these cases, 44% of custodial sentences imposed were for one month or less, while more than 10% were for more than one year (including 7% for two or more years).
Among completed IPV cases involving custody, the length of the sentence was more likely to be one month or less for persons facing one charge (58%). In cases with two or more charges, the custodial sentence handed down by courts tended to be slightly longer. In these cases, the majority of offenders still received a sentence of one month or less (51%), but a larger proportion received longer sentences. About 7% of those found guilty, in cases with multiple charges, were sentenced to more than six months in custody, compared to about 4% of those found guilty of one charge (Table 11).
As stated earlier, these results do not take into consideration time spent in detention before sentencing and its subsequent impact on the length of custodial sentencing. Time served or spent in detention before sentencing may reduce the length of the custodial sentence (Uniform Law Conference of Canada, 2009).
For the majority of accused persons in IPV cases who were sentenced to probation (59%), the length of probation was more than six months but less than one year (Chart 4; Table 12). The proportion was similar for persons accused in non-IPV cases (57%). Probation sentences of less than six months were seldom handed down (8% for IPV cases and 12% for non-IPV cases).
The seriousness of the offence is also a factor considered in determining the length of probation sentences. As with custody sentences, cases involving sexual assault and criminal harassment resulted in the longest probation sentences for those convicted in IPV cases and in non-IPV cases. More than half of persons found guilty of sexual assault or criminal harassment were sentenced to more than one year of probation. By contrast, probation sentences for common assault were shorter, with three-quarters of persons charged with this offence sentenced to less than one year of probation (Table 13).
Findings from the analysis of the linked data through the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey and the Integrated Criminal Court Survey for the period from 2005/2006 to 2010/2011 found a number of different patterns in court characteristics between intimate partner violence and non-intimate partner cases. The majority of completed cases involving violence in adult criminal courts were related to intimate partner violence. Most cases of both IPV and non-IPV resulted in a guilty verdict.
Overall, the case processing time taken for IPV cases was shorter than the time taken to complete non-IPV cases. Regardless of the relationship between the victim and the accused, the median time for completion was shorter in cases that involved only one charge and resulted in a guilty verdict.
In completed cases involving violent offences, probation was the most common sentence that the courts imposed. Overall, persons found guilty in IPV cases were less likely to be incarcerated than those who had committed similar offences in non-IPV cases. In cases involving sentenced custody, those found guilty in IPV cases generally received a shorter sentence relative to those that were guilty in non-IPV cases, though the potential impact of pre-trial detention could not be accounted for in this study.
It is important to note that the current study could not control for several factors that can impact both case processing and outcomes. These factors could include but are not limited to previous criminal history of the accused, plea bargaining, whether or not children witnessed the incident, and/ or whether the case was heard in a specialized domestic violence court (for further discussion on the study limitations see Analytical approach: Record linkage process and study limitations).
As part of a study on family violence in Canada, a probabilistic record linkage of data files was performed by Statistics Canada that linked police incidents from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR 2, 2006-2011) with their related court charges from the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS, 2005/2006 to 2010/2011). The scope of the linkage included police-reported incidents in which a violent offence was committed and charges were laid, and in which the accused was not a company. It was not possible to include incidents having more than one accused due to ambiguities in the victim-accused relationship variable when more than one accused is present. Therefore, multiple-accused incidents were outside the scope of this linkage study. Due to the lack of an anonymous key to link files from policing and courts data in Quebec, this province was excluded entirely.
The record linkage project paired in-scope police-reported incidents with a corresponding court charge or police-reported charges based on a set of linkage variables, including province (ensuring the province of the respondent matches the province of the courts), accused soundex (which is the result of an algorithm that encodes names for confidentiality reasons), date of birth, sex and date of offence. Consideration was given for agreement on the UCR violation. All ICCS court charges, excluding companies and Quebec, were available for the linkage. Court charges with a non-violent UCR value were not removed from the linkage dataset because of the potential for a court charge to be downgraded from the charge laid by police.
In summary, the target population for linkage was:
- accused persons, aged 18 or older, who were charged by police for committing a violent incident (for which there were no other accused persons and at least one victim),
- for whom the incident was not reported by a Quebec police service,
- for whom the charge was not processed in a Quebec court.
The study population included all cases completed in adult criminal court that could be linked with police data and that involved an adult accused (aged 18 years and over). As is generally done in analyses based on the UCR2, the study excluded cases where the victim’s sex, age and relationship with the accused were unknown. Similarly, cases involving victims aged 90 years and over were excluded because of the possibility that cases for which the age was unknown had been incorrectly classified in this age category. Finally, victims of intimate partner violence as recorded through the UCR; under 15 years of age were excluded. The size of the sample on which this Juristat is based was 318,072 accused persons, of whom 179,826 committed one or more violent offences against an intimate partner (as captured through the UCR and the reference year).
Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey
The Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR2) collects detailed information on criminal incidents that have been reported to and substantiated by Canadian police services. This information includes characteristics pertaining to incidents (weapon, location), victims (age, sex, accused-victim relationship) and accused persons (age, sex). In 2013, the data represented police services that serve 99% of the Canadian population.
Integrated Criminal Court Survey
The objective of the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) is to develop and maintain a national database of statistical information on appearances, charges, and cases in youth and adult criminal court. The survey is intended to be a census of pending and completed federal statute charges heard in provincial-territorial and superior courts in Canada. Appeal courts, federal courts (e.g., Tax Court of Canada) and the Supreme Court of Canada are not covered by the survey.
For the purpose of this study, the main unit of analysis is the case, which consists of one or more charges brought against a person. Only cases in which all charges were dealt with in a final decision are included.
Most serious offence in a case
A case that involves more than one charge is represented by the most serious offence, which is selected according to the following rules. First, court decisions are considered and the charge with the most serious decision is selected. Decisions are ranked from most serious to least serious as follows: 1) guilty; 2) guilty of a lesser offence; 3) acquitted; 4) stay of proceeding; 5) withdrawn, dismissed or discharged; 6) not criminally responsible; 7) other; and 8) transfer of court jurisdiction. Second, in cases where two or more charges have resulted in the same most serious decision (e.g., guilty), Criminal Code sentences are considered. Charges are classified according to an offence seriousness scale, which is based on actual sentences handed down by courts in Canada. Each offence is ranked by looking at (1) the proportion of guilty charges where custody was imposed; and (2) the average (mean) length of custody for the specific type of offence. These values are multiplied together to arrive at the final seriousness ranking for each type of offence. If two charges remain tied according to this criterion, information about the sentence type and length is then considered (e.g., custody and length of custody, probation and length of probation).
Further analysis is required to fully understand the complexities of cases involving intimate partner violence, such as exploring the criminal history of the accused person and the impact on decisions and sentencing outcomes. Exploring trends in cases involving multiple victims, variations in case processing or outcomes depending on the age of the victim also merits further study.
Data from the superior courts of Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan could not be extracted through their respective electronic reporting systems and were therefore unavailable. With the absence of data from these superior courts, guilty findings may be slightly underestimated. In addition, as previously stated due to the lack of an anonymous key to link files from policing and courts data in Quebec, this province was excluded entirely from the analysis.
In general, the severity of the sentence depends on the seriousness of the offence. In accordance with the fundamental principle of proportionality set out in section 718.1 of the Criminal Code, there are a number of aggravating and mitigating factors that can also affect the type and duration of the sentence imposed on the accused. The effect of any factor largely depends on the circumstances and context of each case. The following are just some examples of aggravating or mitigating factors in intimate partner violence cases: guilty plea or confession, accused person’s criminal history (criminal record), history of violence against the accused, presence of children at the time of the offence, etc.
At the time of publication, information concerning the plea was under review (specifically, standardizing how different jurisdictions report this information). A guilty plea usually reduces the processing time of a case.
Department of Justice Canada. 2013. “Making the links in family violence cases: Collaboration among the Family, Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems, Volume I and II.” Report of the Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT) Ad Hoc Working Group on Family Violence. Ottawa.
Drouin, C. and J. Drolet. 2004. Preventing Domestic Homicide of Women. An Intervention Guide. Montréal. Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire sur la violence familiale et la violence faite aux femmes et Fédération de ressources d’hébergement pour femmes violentées et en difficulté du Québec.
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