Is Domestic Violence Assault?

September 15, 2020

The injuries and conduct in domestic violence span a range of offences similar to assaults. Although domestic violence is not officially classified by the Canadian Criminal Code, intimate partner violence is and has recently been enhanced under bill C-75.

Where domestic violence and assault overlap, it is often viewed differently in the Justice System and tends to receive closer attention by the Crown and 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 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:

  1. Applying direct or indirect force to someone without their consent
  2. 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.
  3. 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. The four primary types of assault are:

Simple (Common) Assault: 

No lasting damage or major injury, such as slapping or verbal threats. The least severe type of assault. 

Assault with a Weapon or Causing Bodily Harm

Any assault resulting in non-trivial bodily harm or 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

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.

Sexual 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

Domestic violence occurs between people in an intimate relationship. It can apply to people living in the same household, 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 violence is more physically and emotionally damaging to the victim.

Intimate Partner Violence

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. 

Intimate partner violence is a form of domestic violence that can apply to current or former partners. Physical violence, verbal, economic, and sexual abuse are common forms of IPV.

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.

Toronto Assault Lawyer

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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