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The conduct, behaviour and injuries associated with domestic violence can span a range of offences similar to ordinary assaults. Although domestic violence or domestic assault are not officially terms that are defined or mentioned in the Canadian Criminal Code, but intimate partner violence is and has recently been enhanced under bill C-75.

Where domestic abuse and assault overlap, it is often viewed differently by the justice system and tends to receive closer attention by both the Crown Attorney and by the Courts. Domestic violence is treated as an aggravating feature during sentencing. This piece explores assault, domestic violence and intimate partner violence, as well as how they differ in definition and treatment.


Assault is defined as the intentional application, threat or attempt of application, of force without consent. In Canada assault is defined by meeting any one of the following three criteria:

  • Applying direct or indirect force to someone without their consent
  • Threatening another person by act or gesture to the degree that they have a reasonable belief the person will, or can, follow through with the threat.
  • Accosting, begging, or impeding a person while openly carrying a weapon.

Depending on the specific assault and aggravating factors, such as the use of a firearm,  sentencing can range from no minimum penalty to a lifetime sentence. There are four primary types of assaults:

Simple (Common) Assault:

No lasting damage or major injury, such as slapping or verbal threats. May even include slightest of touches or gestures. The least severe and likely the most common type of assault.

Assault with a Weapon or Causing Bodily Harm

An assault causing bodily harm is simply defined as an assault resulting in non-trivial bodily harm. While assault with a weapon, at its very simplest, means that the assault was committed while carrying, using, or threatening to use a weapon. Sentencing can range from a fine to 10 years imprisonment, depending on the severity and aggravating factors.

Aggravated Assault

An aggravated assault is the most severe form of physical assault. Results in lasting injuries that wound, maim, disfigure, or jeopardize life. It is the most serious violent crime, after homicide. A more detailed explanation of aggravated assault can be found at the blog titled What is Aggravated Assault.

Sexual Assault

Is sexual contact without consent. Sentencing is dependent on severity, the victim’s age, and whether it is persecuted as a summary or indictable offence.

In an assault offence, there is often no significant pre-existing relationship between the offender and the victim.


Domestic violence occurs between people in an intimate relationship. It can apply to people living in the same household, a family member, such as spouses, parents, and siblings. It can also involve romantic partners who live in separate households, such as a boyfriend/girlfriend.

The designation of domestic violence differs from assault in the relationship between the victim and the accused. An action that could earn a simple assault charge may be viewed as domestic assault depending on the nature of their relationship.

Although domestic assaults involve the same types of injuries and actions as other assault charges, they are generally punished more severely. This is because domestic abuse is more physically and emotionally damaging to the victim.


Intimate partner violence (IPV) differs from domestic violence in that it can only occur between romantic partners. Domestic violence can occur between family members and roommates.

IPV is a form of domestic violence that can apply to current or former partners. Physical violence, verbal, emotional abuse, economic, and sexual abuse are common forms of IPV. Also, they may use others to commit their abuse.

Officially defining “intimate partners” and intimate partner violence in the Criminal Code is part of an effort to address violence and the victimization of intimate partners. Women and vulnerable peoples are disproportionately affected by IPV, although the Code applies to people of all backgrounds and genders.

Initiative for addressing intimate partner violence include reverse onus at bail for repeat IPV offenders, increase maximum penalties, address additional aggravating factors, offer further protection to vulnerable people, and provide greater clarity.


If you or a loved one are facing assault charges in Toronto, a criminal defence lawyer is your best option. William Jaksa is an experienced criminal lawyer who understands that you are more than your charges. He will help you understand your charges, your options, and the potential outcomes.

Contact William Jaksa today for a consultation.

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