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This article was last updated: Nov. 6th, 2023

Domestic emotional abuse is a severe and can do a great deal of harm to victims. In this post, we’ll define emotional and psychological abuse and look into the penalties if you or a loved one is convicted.


The Courts recognize that Emotional or Psychological Abuse is a pattern of behaviour where a person uses words or actions to control, frighten or isolate someone or take away their self-respect. Forms of abuse can include:

  • Verbal abuse such as threats, put-downs, name-calling or insults
  • Constant yelling or criticism
  • Controlling or keeping someone from seeing friends or family
  • Making fun or preventing someone from practicing their faith or religion
  • Destroying belongings, hurting pets or threatening to do so
  • Bullying: intimidation or humiliation (including on the Internet)
  • Gaslighting or manipulation

Emotional abuse can happen in many different types of relationships and although it is most common in intimate partner relationships, it can happen between friends, family members and even between a boss or coworkers. The goal is often to control the victim through isolation, and fear and make them doubt their perceptions.

The Criminal Code does codified and criminalize many family violence offences that involve some form of emotional or psychological abuse. However, not all forms of emotional abuse or psychological abuse are considered crimes, but they are still very serious and can be used as evidence of potential crimes. The court also has more options for release conditions in family violence cases. It can impose “no-contact” conditions or a peace bond where individuals must agree to certain conditions to keep the peace.

Some forms of emotional abuse that are criminal in and of themselves include:

  • Direct threats to harm a person, a child or their family,
  • Criminal harassment such as stalking, repeated contact or following a person


The Canadian Department of Justice defines child emotional abuse as when a person, usually in a position of power over a child, “uses words or actions to control, frighten, isolate or take away a child’s self-respect and sense of worth.”

The Child, Youth and Family Services Act in Ontario states that emotional abuse towards children happens if a parent or other caregiver “causes emotional harm or fails to protect a child from harm from verbal, mental and psychological abuse. This abuse can include name-calling, bullying, screaming, threatening, humiliating comments or involve showing little or no physical affection or words of praise.”

Emotional abuse can also include allowing a child to witness violent behaviour in emotionally abusive relationships or physical abuse of someone else.

Some forms of emotional child abuse that are criminal include:

  • Threatening to destroy a child’s personal property
  • Threatening to hurt a child’s pet
  • Harassing a child on the telephone
  • Deliberately intimidating a child, and
  • Advising a child to commit suicide.

Emotional abuse in children can cause severe long-term effects on children and lead to anxiety, depression, withdrawal, self-destructive or destructive behaviour and delayed emotional or intellectual development.


The penalties for emotionally abusive behaviour, including criminal harassment, uttering threats, making harassing phone calls, is imprisonment for up to ten years or as an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Courts often give special consideration to harm from family violence, such as emotional violence and consider it an aggravating factor in sentencing. In the case of a conviction for the crime of emotional abuse, the court will consider other aggravating factors such as the severity of the abuse, previous convictions or that the individual contravened any terms or conditions such as a no-contact order.


If you are falsely accused of emotional abuse or abusive behaviour, you need an experienced criminal lawyer who can talk you through your options and help defend your case in court. In many cases, your lawyer may have the false charges dismissed or work to create the best defence if it goes to court.

If you or a family member is facing emotional abuse charges, you need a lawyer who has experience defending clients in cases of family violence or emotional abuse. William Jaksa has over ten years of experience defending clients in the criminal justice system in Ontario. Contact William Jaksa today for a consultation on your case.

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