Making the Links in Family Violence Cases: Collaboration among the Family, Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems

Annex 4: Family violence responses by jurisdiction - British Columbia

Legislative Responses

Family Law Provisions Related to Family Violence

British Columbia’s Family Law Act was implemented on March 18, 2013.

The Act increases the ability of the court to deal with family violence by:

In addition, it creates a new type of order – a protection order – to replace the existing Family Relations Act restraining orders. Protection orders will limit contact and communication between family members where there is a safety risk.

To ensure there is a consistent and effective approach in cases where safety is at risk, breaches of protection orders under both the Family Law Act and the Child, Family and Community Services Act will be a criminal offence via section 127 of the Criminal Code.

The Family Law Act regulations also provide for new training and practice standards for family dispute resolution professionals. Under the Family Law Act, all family dispute resolution professionals, including lawyers, mediators, parenting coordinators or arbitrators who are working with families to resolve their family law dispute, must assess for family violence to ensure the process used is appropriate. All mediators, parenting coordinators and arbitrators will be required to meet minimum training and practice standards including a minimum of 14 hours of training in family violence. The Law Society of British Columbia has also provided similar requirements for lawyers acting in these capacities.

Child Protection Provisions Related to Family Violence

The British Columbia Child, Family and Community Services Act (CFCSA) delegates child protection workers to assess reports, provide support services, provide a family development response or investigate as needed and collaborate with other service providers, such as police, school personnel, health practitioners, etc. to help ensure the safety and well-being of children. Other legal interventions which may be applied to family violence cases include, but are not limited to:




VAWIR Policy including the Protocol for Highest Risk Cases.

The VAWIR policy is a comprehensive provincial policy framework which sets out the roles and responsibilities of service providers across the justice and child welfare system that respond to domestic violence cases including Police, Crown counsel, Corrections, Victim Services, Ministry of Children and Family Development, Court Services, Family Justice Services, and the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program.

The Protocol for Highest Risk Cases, included in the VAWIR policy, outlines the responsibilities of justice and child welfare system partners for the delivery of a coordinated response to domestic violence cases designated by police as being highest risk. The protocol emphasizes the importance of the timely sharing of information in these cases, which may include the sharing of:

Key protocol partners include Police, Crown counsel, Corrections, Victim Services and Child Protection Workers.

Referral Policy for Victims of Power-based Crimes: Family Violence, Sexual Assault, and Criminal Harassment

This policy requires police and police-based victim service programs to refer all victims and survivors of power-based crimes to community-based victim service programs in an appropriate and timely manner.

Safety Issues Protocol (SIP) between RCMP “E” Division and the Community Coordination for Women’s Safety (CCWS) Program.

The SIP allows community-based responders (e.g. victim service programs, transition house programs, etc.) who have concerns related to the RCMP that may be affecting a women’s safety, to relay those concerns to the RCMP in order to address them in a constructive manner at the local level.

In 2009, the Police Services Division began the development of a comprehensive training project for police who investigate domestic violence. Course content development included input from police experts across British Columbia, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Victim Services, Crown, Community Corrections, Community Agencies, Protection Order Registry and the Bail Options Website. The online course called Evidence-based, Risk-focused Domestic Violence Investigations, promotes continual risk assessment in domestic violence investigations. This course is mandatory for police and since its launch, over 8,600 frontline police officers and supervisors in British Columbia have taken it. All new Judicial Institute of British Columbia police recruits and RCMP cadets are required to take this course. The course is also being adopted in at least four other territories and provinces across Canada.

A second course in this series, called Assessing Risk and Safety Planning, was launched in July 2013. It is being developed using the same inter-ministerial and interagency collaboration practices as the first course. This online course introduces a standardized template for writing risk-focused Reports to Crown Counsel (RCCs). Specialist training on more structured risk assessment processes (e.g. B-SAFER) is also available to police officers seeking advanced training in this area.




Child Protection



Service-Based Responses

Victim Services

In British Columbia, the majority of victim service programs funded by the provincial government are contracted to local government and non-profit organizations. There are three main types of victim service programs:

Victim service programs focus on five major areas of service delivery:

Services are free of charge.


British Columbia funds a network of transition house programs (shelters) that includes three main types:

Shelters are operated by non-profit community organizations and are typically open to women and children who have experienced violence or are at risk of experiencing violence. Services are free of charge.

Programs for Children Exposed to Family Violence

British Columbia funds a number of Children Who Witness Abuse (CWWA) counselling programs across the province for children aged 3-18 who have been exposed to domestic violence in their homes. These programs also provide services to non-offending parents/caregivers. Services are operated by non-profit community organizations and are free of charge.

Abusive Partner Programs

The British Columbia Corrections Branch operates a comprehensive Family Violence Prevention Program that is delivered to medium and high risk sentenced spousal assault offenders in custody and in the community. The program includes a 10 week pre-treatment Respectful Relationships (RR) module delivered by Corrections staff, followed by a 17 week Relationship Violence Program (RVP) module delivered by contracted service providers. Evaluation results indicate that when delivered in the community, participation in Respectful Relationships followed by the Relationship Violence Program, reduced spousal assault recidivism by up to 50% over a two year tracking period.

Supervised Access

The Ministry of Children and Family Development may provide supervised access for parents whose children are in the care of the ministry. For the public at large, supervised access is available through community organizations typically on a fee-for-service basis.

Parent & Child Education/Information

Numerous publications are available online through the provincial Victim Services website as well as the province’s dedicated Domestic Violence website. Information is also available through the Legal Services Society, Justice Education Society and Clicklaw.

Other Services

Court-Based Responses

Linking between Civil and Criminal Justice Systems in Domestic Violence Cases

Tools/Processes to Ensure Safety

Structured Risk Assessment Tools


Screening for Family Violence

Clients referred to a family justice counsellor for further information or to discuss dispute resolution options complete the Family Justice Services Assessment Form, which includes a comprehensive screening for family violence, and related issues including level of conflict, debt, substance abuse and mental health issues. Clients who disclose family violence are referred to appropriate resources, including the police, legal assistance, safety planning and victim services.

Coordinating Mechanisms

Information Sharing Protocols

Inter-Agency Protocols

Coordinating Committees

Family Violence Action Plans

2010 Domestic Violence Action Plan

In January 2010, the province announced a Domestic Violence Action Plan in response to recommendations from the Lee/Park Coroner’s Inquest and the Representative for Children and Youth’s report on the death of Christian Lee. The focus of the Action Plan was on enhancing and integrating the response to domestic violence by justice and child welfare system partners. Released in March 2010, key components of the Action Plan included:

Taking Action on Domestic Violence in British Columbia (September 2012)

The Provincial Office of Domestic Violence led the development of an action plan, with specific targets and timelines, in response to the recommendations in the Representative for Children and Youth’s Honouring Kaitlynne, Max and Cordon report that set a course towards a coordinated and strengthened approach to domestic violence.

Future Domestic Violence Plans

In collaboration with community stakeholders, the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence is leading the development of a comprehensive three-year provincial plan that will continue to strengthen the response to domestic violence by improving the coordination and collaboration across the system of supports and services. The plan will be ready for release in 2013.

New Initiatives (Non-Justice)

Provincial Office of Domestic Violence – In response to the Representative for Children and Youth’s report into the deaths of Kaitlynne, Max and Cordon Schoenborn at the hands of their father, the provincial government created the Provincial Office of Domestic Violence in March 2012. The Office provides sustained leadership within government to ensure there is accountability to a coordinated systemic approach to domestic violence in British Columbia.

Key Reports