Family Violence

AuthorJulien D. Payne,Marilyn A. Payne
Date25 July 2022
Chapter 5
Family Violence
One of the best kept secrets of the twentieth century was the incidence of vio-
lence in supposedly intact families.1 It is only in the last twenty-f‌ive years that
family violence has been recognized as a serious social and legal problem that
encompasses the abuse of elderly parents or grandparents as well as spousal
and child abuse.
In the words of MacDonald J, of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, in
1 See, generally, Desmond Ellis, Managing Domestic Violence: A Practical Handbook for
Family Lawyers (Toronto: LexisNexis Canada, 2019); Linda C Neilson, Responding to
Domestic Violence in Family Law, Civil Protection & Child Protection Cases, 2017 CanLII-
Docs 2, February 2017; Jennifer Koshan, Janet E Mosher & Wanda A Wiegers, Domestic
Violence and Access to Justice: A Mapping of Relevant Laws, Policies and Justice System
Components Across Canada, 2020CanLIIDocs3160; Jennifer Koshan,“Mapping Domes-
tic Violence Law and Policy in Alberta: Intersections and Access to Justice,” 2021,
58Alta L Rev 521, 2021 CanLIIDocs 626. And see Linda C Neilson, “Enhancing Safety:
When Domestic Violence Cases Are in Multiple Legal Systems (Criminal, Family,
Child Protection): A Family Law, Domestic Violence Perspective,” 2d ed (2013), online:‌l-lf/famil/enhan-renfo/index.html; Joseph Di Luca, Erin
Dann, & Breese Davies, “Best Practices Where There Is Family Violence (Criminal Law
Perspective),” online:;
Department of Justice, Canada, "HELP Toolkit: Identifying and Responding to Family
Violence for Family Law Legal Advisers," (4 January 2022) online:
eng/f‌l-df/help-aide/index.html; Jennifer Koshan, Janet Mosher & Wanda Wiegers,
“COVID-19, Domestic Violence, and Technology-Facilitated Abuse” (13 July 2020),
online: ABlawg,
Canadian family law94
Domestic violence most commonly refers to a situation where an adult
intimate or former intimate partner aempts by psychological, physical,
f‌inancial or sexual means to coerce, dominate or control the other. is vio-
lence reveals a paern of conduct that may be verbal, physical or sexual. e
conduct targets another person’s self-esteem and emotional well-being. It
can include humiliating, beliling, denigrating, intimidating, controlling
or isolating behaviour. It can include physical assaults, sexual assaults, sex-
ual humiliation, sleep deprivation, extortion, economic coercion, threats to
harm or kill, destruction of property, threatened or aempted suicide, litiga-
tion harassment and litigation tactics, manipulation of children, of relatives,
of investigation agencies and helping personnel, surveillance, monitoring,
and stalking. e abuse and violence in intimate partnerships has a complex
reciprocal dynamic not found in violence that occurs between strangers.2
A sadly neglected aspect of abuse that has come to the forefront since the
1990s is abuse of the elderly.3 Although such abuse has been found in situa-
tions involving institutional care, it more frequently involves younger family
members, oen children or grandchildren.
e most common abuse of the elderly is f‌inancial abuse, which is oen
accompanied by emotional abuse. e retirement savings of an elderly parent
or grandparent may be squandered by children or grandchildren. Monthly
pension or disability cheques may be withheld. Children and grandchildren
may “jump the gun” on prospective inheritances without any thought for the
impact of such conduct on the elderly parent or grandparent. e of money
or possessions represents more than 60 percent of all cases of abuse of the
elderly. In some instances, resistance by the elderly person may result in
physical abuse.
It has been estimated that at least 4 percent and perhaps as many as 15 per-
cent of the elderly in Canada are abused f‌inancially, emotionally, or physically
by their children, grandchildren, spouses, or caregivers. Health and Welfare
Canada has estimated that more than 315,000 Canadians over sixty-f‌ive years
of age are victims of abuse. However, the incidence of abuse is likely to be much
higher because of the ease with which it can be concealed by family members.
2 2013 NSSC 89 at para 20.
3 See, generally, P Lynn McDonald et al, Elder Abuse and Neglect in Canada (Toronto:
Butterworths, 1991); see also Manitoba Law Reform Commission, Report No 103,
Adult Protection and Elder Abuse (Winnipeg: The Commission, December 1999).
Chapter 5: Family Violence 95
e characteristics of the abused victim are similar to those identif‌ied
with respect to the “baered wife syndrome.” Victims of elderly abuse feel
helpless and sense that they have no place to go in order to avoid the abuse.
ey oen have low self-esteem, are dependent on the abuser, and lack the
physical, emotional, and oen f‌inancial ability to withdraw from the abusive
environment. ey are fearful of being abandoned or sent to an institution;
they are ignorant of their legal rights; and they are oen isolated or unable
to communicate.
Abuse of the elderly is not a new social problem but its incidence is
increasing with the aging of the Canadian population. In 1991, 11.6 percent
of the population of Canada was over sixty-f‌ive years of age. By 2031, it will
be more than 22 percent. Although federal and provincial governments, uni-
versities, and social agencies are beginning to show some interest in def‌ining
the boundaries and potential solutions to the societal problem of abuse of the
elderly, no concerted ef‌fort has yet been undertaken to come to grips with
it. ere is evidence, however, of increased awareness of the need for change.
A parliamentary study on abuse of the elderly in 19934 recommended that
federal funding should be available to provide shelters for elderly victims of
abuse.5 It also recommended that the federal government should work with
organizations responsible for professional standards and for the education
of physicians, nurses, social workers, bankers, and lawyers so that abuse of
the elderly could be identif‌ied and dealt with. It further recommended that
a large-scale federal study should be undertaken to ascertain the scope of the
problem and the means of dealing with it.6
Although the expression “spousal abuse” has been traditionally conf‌ined to
persons who are married, it is also frequently used to refer to conduct between
4 House of Commons Standing Committee on Health and Welfare, Social Aairs, Sen-
iors and the Status of Women, Breaking the Silence on the Abuse of Older Canadians:
Everyone’s Concern (Ottawa: The Committee, June 1993).
5 The f‌irst seniors’ shelter in Canada was opened in east-end Montreal in 1992: Ottawa
Citizen (12 August 1994) B7.
6 See Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, “A Draft Framework for
a National Strategy for the Prevention of Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults in
Canada: A Proposal” (7 November 2007), online:
work%202007.pdf; and “Outlook 2007: Promising Approaches in the Prevention of
Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults in Community Settings in Canada,” online: www. See, generally, the
Canadian Centre for Elder Law, online:

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