COMMENTARY: Around the Arctic January 10, 2017 - 1:10 pm

Legal Ease, Jan. 6

Domestic Assault


Probably the most common crime I see is some type of domestic assault.

Whether it is a shove, a push or a nasty beating, some physical abuse between life partners commonly comes to charges by the RCMP and then a court case.

What makes domestic assault different from other assaults is that it involves people who are supposed to love each other physically hurting each other. Some of the worst violence I have seen, including murder charges, arose in the context of domestic assault.

Why domestic assault is so common is not hard to see. When you spend a lot of time with someone in a relationship that matters, tempers can flare.

Suppose I am playing golf down south with someone I barely know and they insult me–I don’t really care. At most I think my playing partner is a jerk.

But if my girlfriend or boyfriend insults me that’s a different matter. I can become very angry indeed–and if alcohol is involved, my self control is less and violence may follow.

Now to be very clear, none of that justifies any type of assault.

And domestic assault is especially a problem in Nunavut. Our rate of domestic assault is much higher than in the South.

That may be because it’s not easy to get away from an angry partner here–there are not a lot of hotels and shelters and people who are angry at each other don’t have an opportunity to separate and cool off.

Regardless, domestic assault is never right.

While most cases of domestic assault are between a male accused and a female complainant there are cases where the woman assaults the man and of course cases where same-sex couples assault each other. Gender is no limit on domestic assault.

Of course just because there is an allegation of domestic assault, that does not mean there was an assault. Sometimes people make false complaints. A false complaint of domestic assault is a criminal act, and charges for making a false complaint are quite possible.

Another issue with domestic assault is ongoing abuse. Because people live with each other, a fight can be drawn out. People can fall into an acceptance of abuse because of self esteem issues, concerns about money or no other obvious practical options.

Should you be subject to abuse, remember there are always options and no one should live a life where there is ongoing abuse. Speak to an elder or the RCMP and they will help.

The Criminal Code recognizes that domestic assault is specially wrong. You should never hit the man or woman you love—and if you do, your sentence will be greater than if you got in a fight with, say, a neighbour.

The courts in Nunavut have made it clear that domestic assault is serious and it’s very unlikely you can expect leniency from a Nunavut judge.

James Morton is a lawyer practicing in Nunavut with offices in Iqaluit. The comments here are intended as general legal information and not as specific legal advice.