As pundits continue to dissect Justin Trudeau's shoving behaviour in the House of Commons 20 ways to Sunday, family law lawyers are asking themselves this question: during separation, would that act be considered unwanted touching, manhandling or assault?
On Wednesday, May 18, agitated by a vote that was less than a minute late in starting and irritated with the stalling opposition, the PM unexpectedly marched down the House of Commons aisles and "manhandled" Official Opposition Whip Gordon Brown by grabbing his arm and shoving him into his seat. On his way down to Brown, the PM pushed past some NDP MPs and elbowed MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. Immediately after, he made his way back down the aisles, confronting other members of the opposition party and reportedly telling them to "get the **** out of the way."
Although he said his actions were "accidental" and he has since apologized, the PM's behaviour has provoked concern and anger from MPs and Canadians all over the country.
What are the potential legal consequences of the PM's shoving and manhandling? Well, threatening, hitting, kicking, punching, harassing and shoving another person are all offences punishable under the Criminal Code of Canada.
No one, not even the prime minister of Canada, should be above the law.
Within the family law context, if you accidentally and in the heat of the moment (much like the PM) shove your spouse, it could be considered domestic violence. Domestic violence is not tolerated in Ontario, and a person committing such an act can be arrested, charged, convicted and jailed.
Immediately after a 911 call and the reporting of domestic violence, a variety of extremely inflexible legal processes begin. Under Canadian law, the police are compelled to act. Once police arrive at the scene, the accused person will be handcuffed and taken to jail. Usually, the accused will be placed in a holding cell and appear in court the next day to be charged and hopefully released with a return date.
Once the accused is removed from the family home, the other spouse usually gets de facto custody of the children and de facto exclusive possession of the matrimonial home. Consequently, the accused can no longer return to the family home (except to retrieve their belongings with a police escort). They may also potentially lose their entitlement to custody of their children. Domestic violence can also trigger the immediate requirement to commence paying child support, and potentially spousal support as well.
As if that weren't enough, domestic violence can also seriously and negatively impact one's reputation, often leading to the loss of a job, which affects the ability to pay support. It becomes a vicious circle.
So, whether it's an accident or not, unwantedly touching your spouse or your ex-to-be could have some serious legal consequences.
If shoving and manhandling are so egregious, why has Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not been charged for his actions? No one, not even the prime minister of Canada, should be above the law.
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NIA suggests: "She needs to know that you’re there for her, that you will support her. Don’t criticise the decisions that she’s made. Remind her that she’s not alone, domestic violence affects one in four women in their lives. "Remind her that it’s not her fault, that she isn’t responsible. Also it isn’t her responsibility to make him change or make him stop." Rise adds: "Believe the person, don't say 'Really? They seem so nice.' Say things like 'I believe you' 'this isn't your fault.' Don't say 'why didn't you say something sooner' as that is blaming a 'victim.' It doesn't matter when they tell, just that they do. Say things like 'I am pleased you've told me.'"
NIA says: "it can be really difficult to see that you’re in an abusive relationship, as women often minimise or excuse what is happening to them or find ways to think it’s their fault. It’s also hard to tell someone else, so don’t wait for your friend to ask you for help. Ask her, let her know that you’re concerned, that you know something is wrong." Rise UK add: "Being direct can help as it takes the responsibility away from the survivor, they will know what you are asking, rather than trying to guess form an ambigious question. 'Are you experiencing abuse?' might also help a survivor feel safe that they can disclose to you; you aren't afraid of what might come out."
Women's Aid says: "Tell her that no one deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what her abuser has told her. Nothing she does or says justifies the abuser's behaviour."
Women's Aid says: "Acknowledge that it takes strength to talk to someone about experiencing abuse. Give her time to talk, but don't push her to talk if she doesn't want to. "Acknowledge that she is in a frightening and difficult situation."
Don’t be afraid to broach difficult questions. Is she safe? Is she afraid? Two women a week are killed in the UK. Domestic violence is serious.
If you know her partner, don’t collude. Don’t make excuses for him, don’t agree with his excuses. Tell him that he, not she is responsible for his actins. If he genuinely wants to change, help is available, advise him to look up an organisation called 'Respect'.
"If you witness a violent incident, call the police," say NIA. Rise adds: "Be aware that doing things; preparing to leave or reporting to the police (etc) can increase risk to survivor and consider how that can be managed; make plans together, have a code word, inform the police, and contact local specialist services."
Rise says: "Ask the survivor what they want to happen or do about the situation, putting them in control. A friend or relative may want to jump in and 'fix' things, which is disempowering. Be aware that the situation probably cannot be resolved quickly, but support is available whilst decisions are made." NIA adds: "Check that she knows where she can get help. Give her the National Domestic Violence Helpline number (0808 2000 247). Also, Women’s Aid have an excellent confidential survivors forum, sharing what is happening with other women in abusive relationships can make a huge difference. You can find out where help is available locally from Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis’s websites."
Finally, don’t give up on her if she doesn’t tell you the first time you ask, or if she doesn’t leave or returns to a violence relationship. Abusers break down our self-confidence. Women often make several attempt to leave a violent and abusive relationship before they make the final break. She isn’t being weak, she being strong and brave and trying to escape. You might be her lifeline.
"Don't tell her to leave the relationship if she isn’t ready. That's her decision," say Women's Aid.
Ask if she has suffered physical harm. If so, offer to go with her to a hospital or GP.
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