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Brahm D. Siegel

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Ontario's Integrated Domestic Violence Court Safeguards Women's Rights

Posted: 12/12/11 11:24 PM ET

Brahm D. Siegel is a Toronto family law and divorce lawyer, mediator and arbitrator. He will answer your questions on all aspects of family law. Write to him at bsiegel@nathenssiegel.com.

With last week's anniversary of the Dec. 6 massacre still fresh in our minds, I can think of no better way of calling awareness to the epidemic of domestic abuse than promoting to our readers the Ontario Court of Justice called the Integrated Domestic Violence Court.

To do so, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the Honourable Mr. Justice Joseph W. Bovard, a sitting judge in the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto, who explained the importance of this innovative system and how citizens can use it to resolve difficult legal issues.

Q: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me. Tell our readers about the Integrated Domestic Violence Court? For starters, what is it?

A: First, we are doing a lot of outreach now with different sectors of the legal profession about the Integrated Domestic Violence Court (IDVC) so I am happy to talk with you about it. The IDVC is a court that handles both criminal and family law cases in the same court, before the same judge, where there is a criminal charge of domestic violence against one of the spouses and concurrent family law proceedings with respect to custody, access, child or spousal support.

Q: You say a domestic violence offence. Exactly what kinds of charges are we talking about here?

A: In order to qualify for the IDVC, the accused must be charged with a domestic violence offence and there must be ongoing or contemplated family law proceedings. We are talking here about any domestic violence case where the Crown elects to proceed by way of summary conviction (which generally means cases where the penalties are lesser and only heard in the Ontario Court of Justice and no jury trials). Examples of the kinds of cases we are referring to here include criminal harassment, threatening, assault, assault causing bodily harm and sexual assault.

Q: At present we have criminal law courts and family law courts. Sometimes they're in the same building, sometimes not. What makes the IDVC so special?

A: The hallmark of the IDVC is that it brings family and criminal cases together in one court and enables everyone involved with the family on both sides of both cases (i.e., the criminal lawyer for the accused, the Crown, the parties' family lawyers, and the lawyer and social worker for the children, if necessary) to be present and participate at the same time in a meaningful way before one judge with experience in both areas of the law. Often, family court issues are "on hold" until the criminal issues are dealt with and dealt with without the benefit of the criminal court participants. With everyone under one roof in front of only one judge, the IDVC involves less court time, fewer court appearances, less duplication and faster, more efficient results. It leads to more holistic justice and better decision-making by the court for the family, thereby enhancing the safety of victims of domestic violence.

Q: Can you give me a specific example of how things work better in the IDVC?

A: Certainly. Routinely, an accused must comply with various bail conditions that restrict contact with the complainant and/or children until the charge is resolved. The family court judge cannot vary these terms; only the criminal court can do it. This makes it very challenging when the parties' family lawyers are able to reach agreement on contact by the accused with the spouse and/or children and want to have these terms reflected in a family court order. With the IDVC we will avoid this predicament and contradictory court orders with regard to when an accused can contact a spouse and/or children because all parties and their counsel will be present and have input together. This will make things significantly smoother and easier for everyone, including the children.

Q: Where exactly is the IDVC located and who are the presiding judges?

A: At present we sit at the Ontario Court of Justice at 311 Jarvis St. in Toronto. I along with Madam Justice G. Waldman, who is one of the innovators of this project, are the presiding judges. Both of us have experience in family law and criminal law cases.

Q: How often is the IDVC sitting?

A: At present, only twice a month, but we hope to expand the number of days if and when our caseload increases.

Q: What needs to happen to get a case into the IDVC?

A: First, if the person has a lawyer the lawyer needs to explain the IDVC to his/her client and ensure there is full consent. Assuming there is, the lawyer then contacts the Community Resource Coordinator, Ms. Marijana Milinkovic (idvc.crc@mothercraft.org) Tel: (647) 969-3514. She will contact the other party (or parties) and see if they are willing to participate. If so, she then sends out an information package including the consent form, and once the paperwork is processed, the case is moved to the IDVC.

Q: What if a person is unrepresented?

A: If a person is unrepresented, Ms. Milinkovic, the court clerks or duty counsel can assist the person when they appear in the domestic violence set date court in Old City Hall, or when they file an application in family court.

Q: So participation is voluntary?

A: Yes, at this point, although we are trying to change our procedure so that in the near future any application to family court and domestic violence case in criminal court will be automatically streamed to the IDVC, provided they involve the same parties. However, the Crown always must consent for the criminal case to be heard in the IDVC.

Q: What if the case involves property issues?

A: Because the Ontario Court of Justice has no jurisdiction to deal with property issues, they would have to be dealt with in the Superior Court of Justice.

Q: What is the catchment area for the IDVC?

A: At present we are only drawing cases from Old City Hall (criminal court) but we are in discussions to expand to drawing from other courts. No decision has yet been made on this. Our family cases are drawn from 47 Sheppard Ave. and 311 Jarvis St.

Q: How novel is this kind of court?

A: This is the first integrated domestic violence court in Canada as far as I know. In the United States, however, they have had integrated domestic violence courts for over 10 years in places like New York, Washington and Ohio. In fact, in New York they have legislation by which courts can order litigants into this court.

Q: I wish you the best of luck with the IDVC and thank you again for taking the time for this interview Your Honour.

A: My pleasure.

Have a question about family law? Ask Brahm at bsiegel@nathenssiegel.com.