Ask a Lawyer: The spectrum of family violence

Legal Aid Alberta lawyer Scott Thurmeier explains that family violence can be defined beyond acts of physical violence

Legal Aid AB
January 04, 2023

Legal Aid Alberta lawyers are known for their work in helping Albertans facing family violence — but how does one define violence in the eyes of the court? LAA lawyer Scott Thurmeier joined Global News Morning Edmonton in this month’s segment of Ask a Lawyer to talk about the different forms of violence and how Emergency Protection Orders (EPOs) can offer protection for loved ones.

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Thurmeier explains what counts as family violence within family and divorce law, as it extends beyond physical harm. Coercive control or intimidating behaviour for example, are defined similarly to the criminal law definition of harassment—and in these cases, may lead to an EPO.

For a parent or guardian of children filing an EPO, protections are often included for the children, and an investigation may be called to check on the children’s welfare.

Transcript of the program: 

Vinesh Pratap: One of the things Legal Aid Alberta lawyers are known for is their work helping Albertans facing family violence. What you might not know is that the definitions of violence go beyond physical abuse, and include things like coercive and controlling behaviour – and financial abuse. Here to talk about this is Legal Aid Alberta lawyer, Scott Thurmeier. Good morning Scott, how are you?

Scott Thurmeier: I am doing fine, yourself? 

Vinesh: Good, good, bright and early so let’s get at it here. A lot of work is helping people facing family violence apply for emergency protection orders. People assume that in family violence cases, it’s [physical] violence cases— but there’s more to it than physical violence, correct?

Scott: Certainly the definitions of what constitutes family violence within the act that deals with EPOs is broader than just physical acts. It can be intimidating behaviour, so threatening acts, destruction of property which—in that act, they talk about stalking. It is basically defined as something similar to what would be a criminal law definition of criminal harassment. The person engaging in it knows it is unwelcome, but continues to engage on a repeated basis is one aspect of it. 

Vinesh: When it comes to clarity, when it comes to dealing with issues like this, physical violence is one factor, but what is the threshold here when it comes to the other forms of violence? Is the threshold higher? How do you deal with this on a legal basis? 

Scott: I guess the threshold in general, like the practice of law, is determined by the individual judge. Litigation is often dependent on a variety of factors that are not easily controllable, like who the judge is and what’s going on in the broader context. 

Vinesh: What would you say to clients who approach legal aid for when it comes to situation like this—because life is complicated. There might be physical abuse but there might be other facets of abuse. Do you deal with a on an individual basis or is it all combined into one?

Scott: It depends. In terms of EPOs, the focus of the court with respect to an EPO is quite narrow. They’re looking whether or not family violence occurred and whether protection order is needed. In other contexts, so litigation under the family law act or the divorce act, you are taking more of a holistic approach. You are considering a variety of different factors, one of which is family violence. Specifically, the divorce act has been changed to encompass a broader range of possible family violence issues, including coercive and controlling behaviour. 

Vinesh: When we think of violence, we often think of two parties, but obviously they can involve parties with children specifically. When it includes that variable how much more complicated does the situation become especially when were talking about coercion and things like that?.

Scott: With respect to children, one of the areas that Legal Aid Alberta works in is child welfare, with Child and Family Services of Alberta and that relevant act. Where there is violence that encompasses children, typically there is going to be reporting to Child and Family Services and potentially an investigation on that front. In terms of EPOs, where children are involved, often times you have any EPO that extends beyond, let’s say, the mother (and family violence is not necessarily gendered, it can go both ways) if children involved, often times the children are included on the EPO. 

Vinesh: Very concerning situation. Scott, thank you so much for joining us and the wonderful work you do with legal aid, helping with the administration of justice. It is greatly appreciated.

Scott: My pleasure, thank you.

Vinesh: Legal Aid Alberta lawyers specialize in family law, child welfare, domestic violence, immigration, and youth and adult criminal defence. If you have a question for a lawyer, send it to: [email protected].

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LAA Resources:

Legal Aid Alberta Family Law info

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