Legal information about Family Violence laws and resources
In Canada, it is against the law to assault, threaten, or harass another person. The laws apply to everyone in Canada. The laws apply whether the people are strangers, friends or family members, whether they are married, living together or dating. The law is also clear that parents and caregivers cannot abuse their children, or allow another person to abuse their child.
Abuse is behaviour used to intimidate, isolate, dominate or control another person. Family violence is abuse that happens at home, within a family, or in an intimate relationship. Abuse can happen in any family or relationship. It happens to individuals of all backgrounds, religions, races, cultures, ethnic origins and sexual orientations, regardless of income, occupation, or education.
Abuse is never the survivor's fault.
This page talks about family violence in an intimate relationship, when one partner abuses the other. On this page partner means husband, wife, spouse, common-law partner, boyfriend or girlfriend, and victim or survivor means someone who has experienced family violence.
There are resources to help survivors of family violence and abusers who want to get help. They are listed under Resources below. If you are an abuser there is supportive counselling and programs to help you learn more about what triggers these behaviours and how you can stop being abusive.
If you have been called as a witness to a Family Violence trial, you can find more information here.
This page gives general legal information. It does not provide legal advice. Go here for ways to get legal advice, and see the Resources section below.
What is a healthy relationship?
Healthy relationships are respectful, trusting and supportive. You feel comfortable around the other person and know they will not hurt you. You like being around the other person. You feel like you can talk openly with them. Both people treat each other equally and share in decisions. One person does not make all the decisions.
People in healthy relationships are not violent or abusive with each other. No one has the right to be violent or abusive with other people.
What is abuse?
Abuse is behaviour used to intimidate, isolate, dominate or control another person. Abuse can be acts, words or neglect. It may happen once or over a period of time. Family violence includes many different forms of abuse, neglect, mistreatment or harm that may happen in a close, personal relationship. Family violence is also sometimes called intimate partner violence, partner abuse, domestic violence, dating violence or gender-based violence.
Family violence is complex and often crosses over the examples of abuse listed below. If you feel that something in ‘wrong’ in your relationship speak with a trusted friend or professional to help you identify why this is so and how to keep safe.
Examples of Abuse:
Physical Abuse: when your partner hits, chokes, kicks, burns, punches, or pushes you, or throws objects at you. This does not include acts to protect yourself or someone else from harm or abuse.
Sexual Abuse: when your partner forces, threatens, or manipulates you into sexual acts you don't want to do, uses force, weapons, or objects in sexual acts without your consent, involves other people in sexual acts without your consent. It includes forcing you to watch violent pornography. Sexual abuse also includes sex trafficking — where a person forces another person to perform sex acts. Sex trafficking includes kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault or death. This can happen against an adult (19 or over) or a child. It can include other behaviours such as stealing or destroying identification documents (for example, a passport) with the aim of committing or facilitating trafficking of that person.
Threats to Kill or Cause Bodily Harm: this includes threats directed at you, your children, your pets. It includes threatening to do harm or actually doing that harm.
Harassment, including stalking: any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends, threatens or humiliates you. It may also include following you and not leaving you alone, sometimes called ‘stalking’
Psychological or Emotional Abuse:
Includes when your partner
- uses words to hurt you. This includes name calling, put-downs, blaming, bullying, humiliation, threats and teasing.
- cuts off your contact with friends and family, makes hurtful or cruel comments; constantly criticizes, insults or belittles you; frightens you, or threatens to harm or take your children or pets.
- uses your friends or relationships to harm you. This includes spreading rumours, gossiping, excluding others from a group or making someone look foolish or unintelligent.
Financial Abuse: when your partner controls your finances, steals your money, refuses to share money so you can buy food or other basic needs, or prevents you from working or going to school.
Killing or harming an animal: when your partner kills or harms an animal, or threatens to do those things.
Online Abuse: when your partner uses the internet, social media, email, texting, instant messaging or other technologies to intimidate or harass you or others. This includes sharing intimate images of you without your consent, or invading your privacy by trying to keep track of your electronic communications. Sometimes also called cyber-abuse or cyber-bullying.
Damage to property: when your partner threatens to damage property, or damages property.
Neglect is also abuse. Your partner neglects you if they intentionally do not provide what you need to survive, such as food, clothing, medical care, or shelter, or prevents you from getting medical care you or a family member need.
Coercive and controlling family violence: a pattern of abusive behaviour aimed at controlling or dominating another family member. The controlling family member might use emotional, psychological, sexual, financial or other forms of abuse, such as choosing a partner’s clothing, controlling their money, or preventing them from working or seeing friends. This abuse often happens together with physical abuse.
Coercive and controlling family violence is a very dangerous form of violence. This is because it is part of an ongoing pattern, tends to be more serious and is more likely to affect parenting. For example, a controlling partner often tries to use the children to control their former spouse. They might refuse to comply with parenting orders, or threaten their former spouse with the loss of parenting time.
Those who commit coercive and controlling family violence are more likely than those who commit situational couple violence to continue the family violence in the future. Perpetrators of coercive and controlling violence are less capable of separating their role as a spouse from their role as a parent, and therefore are more likely to abuse their children after divorce.
Is family violence a crime?
A crime is a violation of the Criminal Code of Canada. The Criminal Code applies to all of Canada. Some acts of family violence are a crime.
- attempted murder
- human trafficking
- physical assault
- sexual assault
- threats to harm
- criminal harassment (also called ‘stalking’)
- property damage (also called ‘mischief’).
The behaviour does not have to be a crime to be considered family violence under family laws.
What is physical assault?
Assault is when one person applies force to another person, or attempts or threatens to apply force to them without their consent. There are different levels of physical assault. Depending on what happened, your partner might be charged with:
Assault: when someone slaps, pushes or threatens, for example. There may not be any physical injuries. It includes an attempt to assault.
Assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm: when your body is hurt and there are physical injuries, and/or when someone carries, uses or threatens to use a weapon. A weapon can be anything used, or intended to be used, to cause death or injury, or to threaten or intimidate. Examples are a knife, a bat, a belt, a coat hanger or a toy/imitation gun.
Aggravated assault: when a person’s life is put in danger and/or the person is badly hurt.
What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is a sexual act or touch that you do not consent to. This includes kissing you or touching you without your consent, forcing you to have sex (also called rape), torturing you in a sexual way, threats to force you to do any of these things. All the facts are important, including the type of contact, words and gestures. It is sexual assault if sexual gratification is the goal of the assault. Sexual assault is a crime even if you are not physically hurt. Sexual activity without consent is against the law.
What is human trafficking?
Human trafficking is a crime. It is about the exploitation of another person. It can take many forms but often is about being made to provide sexual services or labour through force, coercion, deception and/or abuse of trust, power or authority. It can happen to adults or young people, especially young girls. Sex trafficking happens when you are forced into sex acts without your consent and you believe that you have no other option but to stay in the situation. The abuser may be your intimate partner. You may have a child together. Your abuser may control your money and carry out other abusive behaviours or acts against you. It is important that you reach out for help.
You, your child and important people in your life can be protected and stay safe. Anyone who is a victim of human trafficking or knows a victim can contact the confidential Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at any time at 1-833-900-1010 (toll-free) or https://www.canadianhumantraffickinghotline.ca/
What is consent?
Consent means freely and voluntarily agreeing to take part in sexual activity, like touching, kissing, or having sex. Consent must be ongoing. You can change your mind at any time during a sexual activity.
There is no consent when someone:
- says or does something to show they are not consenting to a sexual activity
- says or does something to show they are not agreeing to continue a sexual activity that has already started
- is not capable of consenting to sexual activity because, for example, they are unconscious, even if they consented when they were conscious.
- abuses a position of trust, power or authority to get consent. A person in a position of trust or authority includes people like a teacher, coach, police officer, babysitter, religious leader or healthcare worker
- claims to consent on someone else’s behalf
- lies to get consent.
You can find out more about consent at breakthesilencens.ca
Depending on what happened, your partner might be charged with a crime. This could be crimes such as:
- sexual assault
- sexual assault with a weapon
- threats to a third party or causing bodily harm
- aggravated sexual assault
- human trafficking.
Can the police charge my partner with sexual assault?
Yes, a partner can be charged with sexual assault. Being married or in a close or intimate relationship does not give your partner the right to sexually assault you. There does not have to be a witness other than the survivor for a judge to convict a person of sexual assault.
If you have been sexually assaulted, you may want to visit a nurse through the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program (SANE) to do a medical exam and/or collect evidence within seven days of the sexual assault. Medical evidence can help if you decide to report what happened to the police and the person is charged with sexual assault. Sexual assault survivors can get services and support by calling the SANE response line in your area or by contacting the police, a healthcare professional, or a local transition house or shelter.
Other examples of crimes that are considered family violence:
- If your partner forced you to stay somewhere by threatening you or physically stopping you from leaving, they might be charged with 'forcible confinement'
- If your partner threatened to harm you, your child, pets or property, they might be charged with 'uttering threats'. Threats might be made to you in person, or in another way like text messages, on social media posts, or by telephone
- If your partner damaged your property they might be charged with 'mischief'. This is when someone damages property such as keying your car or punching a hole in the wall during an argument.
- If your partner took your property (for example, your pet or vehicle) without your consent they might be charged with theft.
- 'Criminal harassment' is also a common charge in partner abuse cases. Criminal harassment includes things like stalking, harassing phone calls, or unwanted visits to your home or workplace. Stalking is when you have a reasonable fear for your safety because your partner does one or more of the following:
- watches and follows you
- damages your property
- tries to contact you when you don't want them to
- sends you lots of messages that you don't want by mail, voicemail, text, email, social media posts, or through other people.
When do the police get involved?
You can call the police if your partner assaults or threatens you. A family member, neighbour, friend or someone else might call the police if they hear or see the assault and are worried about you or your children.
The police enforce the law and look into crimes. Police are allowed to come into your home when they get a report of abuse or family violence.
When they come to your home, the police will talk with you, your partner and any other family members or witnesses who saw or heard what happened. They will do this before deciding if they should charge either or both of you with a crime.
The police decide what happens. You do not decide. Your partner does not decide.
Could I be charged with a crime?
The police will talk to both you and your partner, and look for evidence to decide if they will charge anyone involved with a crime. There is always a chance that you will be charged with a crime, even if you are the person who was abused.
Sometimes an abused partner could be charged with a crime because:
- your partner lied to the police about what happened
- the police might not have a good understanding of family violence or abusive relationships and may not know what is really going on
- language and/or cultural barriers make it difficult for you to explain what happened to the police.
If the police think there is a good legal reason (called reasonable grounds) to believe that someone committed a crime, they must charge that person with a crime. This means the police may charge your partner, you, or both of you with a crime.
The police must also make a referral to Child Protection Services if they think your child or children have been harmed or are at risk of being harmed. Child protection law says everyone must keep children safe from harm. If a child protection worker contacts you then it is important for you to understand the reason why there has been a referral and anything you can do to make sure your child is safe. You can get legal advice about child protection from a lawyer you would pay, or from Nova Scotia Legal Aid. You can get more information about child protection at nsfamilylaw.ca.
If your partner is charged, the police can connect you with Victim Services. They can help support you. See the RESOURCES section below for more information.
Will the police take my partner from our home?
If your partner is charged with a crime the police will most likely take your partner from your home to the police station. Your partner might be released by the police or by the court if your partner agrees to follow certain conditions, which could include:
- not contacting you
- not going to the family home
- having limited or no contact with your children
- not having a gun or any kind of weapon
- handing in their passport
- showing up in court on the date ordered.
These conditions will be written in a legal form called an 'undertaking' (a written promise to a police officer) or a 'recognizance' (a court order from a judge). These forms are also sometimes called a 'no contact' order.
If your partner was released and contacts you, or does not follow other conditions, you should call the police. Your partner may be arrested, charged with a new crime, and/or kept in custody until the matter goes to court.
Conditions can be changed by the court at any time during the court process. They end when the case is over. If your partner is found guilty then the sentence they get may have similar or new conditions they must follow.
Your partner might try to force or scare you into asking the Crown Attorney (a government lawyer) or the court to change or remove the conditions. If your partner threatens you or your children, you should tell the police. Your partner can be charged for making this type of threat.
If you also have a family court case, you need to tell your family law lawyer or the family court about any conditions of release. It is important that your family court orders and criminal court orders say the same things.
Divorce law says judges must make sure they know about cases happening in other courts, such as criminal court or a child protection case. You have a legal duty to tell the court about other criminal or non-criminal cases. In all family law cases the judge must consider family violence so be prepared to answer questions about other cases.
If I call the police will I have to go to court?
You may have to go to court if the police charge your partner with a crime. If you need one the police and the courts must provide an interpreter free of charge for you and any other witnesses. You will have to go to court if you are charged with a crime.
Can the charges be dropped?
Only the Crown Attorney can change or withdraw criminal charges.
My partner is abusing me. Can my partner be ordered to stay away from me?
Police or court conditions for someone charged with a crime:
If the police were called and the person is arrested, the police can require them to sign an undertaking. This is a written promise to follow conditions. This can include a promise to not contact the person being abused until it goes before the court. A judge can also order them to stay away as part of their release from custody.
If you want to keep your partner away, but you do not want to call the police, or the police do not charge your partner with a crime, you can apply for:
- an Emergency Protection Order, or
- a Peace Bond
- a Cyber-Protection Order to stop cyberbullying.
What is an Emergency Protection Order?
An Emergency Protection Order (EPO) is a temporary court order made by a Justice of the Peace to protect a victim of family violence when the situation is serious and urgent. An Emergency Protection Order may be made under Nova Scotia's Domestic Violence Intervention Act.
If you live on reserve, go to nsfamilylaw.ca for specific information about Emergency Protection Orders on reserve.
You can apply for an EPO if you are 16 or older, and:
- live with, or lived with, your partner as a couple; and/or
- you have a child or children together, even if you have never lived with each other.
If granted, an EPO:
- can order that your partner have no contact with you
- can give temporary care of a child to you or to another person
- can order your partner not to take, sell or damage property
- can give police power to remove your partner from the place where you live (owned or rented), and/or, go with you or your partner to the home to oversee getting personal items
- can give you temporary possession of personal property like a car, bank card or other important things you need
- is put in place right away and lasts up to 30 days.
An EPO gives immediate, short-term help. It gives you time to look at longer-term options like applying for a peace bond, making a report to the police to see about possible criminal charges, or applying to family court.
If your partner disagrees with the EPO, your partner may challenge it at the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.
An EPO is not a parenting order. While care of a child can be granted in an application for an EPO, it is not common. Talk to a family lawyer about parenting arrangements like decision-making responsibility and parenting time, and other family law issues like child and spousal support, and dividing family assets and debts. If an EPO that covers the care of a child is put in place, the EPO will temporarily replace any other court order that covers parenting arrangements. When the EPO runs out the other court order will be in place.
An EPO can last up to 30 days. It may be extended for up to another 30 days. If you want an extension you must apply to court at least one week before the EPO runs out. Or, if you have new evidence, you could apply for a new EPO.
You apply for an EPO over the phone by calling the Justice of the Peace Centre at 902-424-8888 or 1-866-816-6555 or by contacting the nearest transition house or police services for help applying.
You can apply any day of the week from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. A police officer or other designated person (such as someone working at a transition house) can apply on your behalf after regular business hours.
When you call, a Justice of the Peace will speak with you to decide if an EPO should be made.
If you need an interpreter to help you apply for an EPO, you must arrange one. The interpreter cannot be your family member or friend. They must be a professional interpreter. Nova Scotia Victim Services and/or The Association of Translators and Interpreters of Nova Scotia (ATINS) can help you find a professional interpreter (see the RESOURCES section below for more information).
If your partner does not follow the EPO and is charged and found guilty of that offence they face a fine or up to 3 months in jail for a first offence. Failing to follow an EPO will not result in criminal charges.
If you have an EPO and you think you might want to apply for a peace bond in the future, it is a good idea to talk with a lawyer.
What is a peace bond?
A peace bond is a criminal court order. You can apply to court for a peace bond if you fear that your partner or ex-partner will harm you, your family, or your property. A peace bond can require that your partner or ex-partner stay away from you.
You can apply for a peace bond at the Provincial Court or Family Court.
The court will give you the forms you need to apply. Once you fill out the forms you will speak with a Justice of the Peace who will decide if the application will go to court. Only a judge can order a peace bond.
Applying for a Peace Bond can take a long time. Tell court staff before your court date if you need an interpreter. The court may arrange one depending on the language and interpreter’s availability. You do not have to pay for the interpreter. You can go to court with a lawyer or on your own. It is always a good idea to talk with a lawyer if you have to go to court, even if you go to court without a lawyer.
If a peace bond is granted it is a court order. It will include a condition that your partner not break the law ('keep the peace and be of good behaviour') for a period of up to 12 months. It may also have conditions saying your partner must:
- have no contact with you (except with your written consent)
- have no weapons, and/or
- stay away from certain places like where you live or work.
If your partner does not follow the conditions of the peace bond they may be charged with a crime. If found guilty your partner could be fined, sentenced to probation for up to three years with conditions, or jail. Depending on the terms of the sentence your partner could get a criminal record if they break the peace bond.
Here is more information about applying for a peace bond.
What is a Cyber-protection order?
The Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act aims to protect people from being bullied online, or from having intimate images of themselves shared without their consent. Cyber-bullying is when someone uses electronic communication, like email, text messaging or social media communication, to harm your health or well-being. They might be doing this on purpose to hurt you or they might not care about hurting you.
Examples of cyber-bullying:
- creating a website, blog or profile that takes your identity
- sharing sensitive personal information or breaking your confidence
- posting or sharing private intimate images online without your consent
- threatening, intimidating, harassing or scaring you online
- making false statements about you
- communications that are grossly offensive, indecent, or obscene
- encouraging you to commit suicide.
Cyber-bullying can also include encouraging or forcing someone else to do these things.
The law also protects you if someone distributes a private intimate image of you, such as a photograph, film, or video, without your consent. An intimate image is one that is private, shows sexual activity or nudity or partial nudity. It is an image you have good reason to think will stay private.
For example, without asking you and to try to hurt you, your former partner posts a private, sexually explicit, intimate picture of you on Facebook that you had good reason to think was going to stay private.
A cyber-protection order can order the person to stop the bullying and/or sharing of images, and do things like:
- stop the person from contacting you
- order that they take down or disable access to an intimate image or communication about you; and/or
- award damages to the victim.
You apply to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a cyber-protection order. You can apply with a lawyer’s help or on your own. A parent or guardian of a victim under the age of 19 can also apply to Supreme Court for a cyber-protection order. You can get information about applying to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a cyber-protection order at courts.ns.ca.
Cases under this law have been heard at the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. When the court finds that cyberbullying happened, the court may order the offender(s) to pay money to the victim. The amount of money could be significant.
Nova Scotia’s CyberScan Unit oversees Nova Scotia’s Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act and can give you help and information, including about applying to court for a cyber-protection order. Contact CyberScan at novascotia.ca/cyberscan/ or call 902-424- 6990 or 1-855-702-8324.
What happens with my children?
The law says that anyone who has reason to believe that a child has been harmed, or might be harmed, must report this to Child Protection Services. Harm can include the child being exposed to family violence, even if the child is not being physically hurt. You can get more information about child protection at nsfamilylaw.ca, and read the Child Protection Booklet - What you need to know when child protection takes your children into care, also available in french Ce que vous devez savoir lorsque les Services de protection de l'enfance prennent en charge vos enfants and in Mi'kmaq: Ta'n nuta'q +kjijitun ta'n tujiw lkalkewaq wesua'la'tiji kinijink anko'tasinu
Child Protection Services will contact you if a report is made. They will suggest services and resources to help you. They may tell you to prevent a person from having contact with your child, or if there is contact it must be supervised. If supervised contact has been directed then consider who is best to supervise the contact because in most cases it would not be appropriate for you to provide the supervision. Child Protection Services can remove your child from the home if they believe it is necessary in order to protect your child. Therefore, it is important for you to get legal advice so you can make good choices to protect your children and keep them safe and connected with you.
Get legal advice right away if you or your child has any contact with Child Protection Services.
If you are asked to sign anything, or your child is removed from your home, you should contact a lawyer right away. You have the right to know where your child is and to have contact with your child, unless there is an undertaking to a police officer or a court order preventing you from contact with your child. For help you should contact Nova Scotia Legal Aid or a lawyer you would pay who does family law, including child protection law to obtain legal advice on your rights and the rights of your child in this situation.
See the RESOURCES section below for support services.
Children and violence
Remember that children love their parents and other important people in their life. If there is abuse then children experience that abuse too – sometimes they see the abuse, other times they hear the abuse or see the impact of abuse.
You have a duty to protect your children from abuse and abusive situations. You also have a duty to make sure that your child is not placed in the middle of a separation. Children need to be informed in a child centered way about what is happening. They need to know where they will live, when will they see the other parent and other important people in their life, what school they will be going to, whether they will still be able to take part in their favourite extracurricular activities, etc. Helping to remove some of the anxiety your child will experience at the time of separation will help create resilience and acceptance that their new circumstances will be okay. It is important to reassure your child or children that you recognize their feelings and needs.
if a child experiences or is at risk of experiencing family violence by their parents or other important caregivers or people in their lives then there is a duty to report to child protection. If a child protection worker determines the child is at risk of harm, then depending on the level of risk, the parent may be asked to place the child outside of the home with the other parent or relatives. If there is a child protection process the child may be placed in the care of the Minister of Community Services. If child protection is involved then it is important to get legal advice. It is important that each parent take steps to address the protection concerns, such as registering for a family violence awareness program or personal counselling as soon as possible.
If there is family violence, parents, lawyers, and anyone who works with the family must focus on keeping the child safe. Everyone must work together to create a legal response to support healthy relationships, minimize exposure to violence and improve the child’s or youth’s overall safety. It is also important to make sure the child’s voice is heard and considered.
Children have a right to be safe. Family laws, including the Divorce Act (federal) and the Parenting and Support Act (Nova Scotia) recognize the impact of family violence on children and their caregivers. Family laws say a judge must look at family violence as a factor in deciding what is best for a child. This includes whether family violence was directed at the child or whether the child is directly or indirectly exposed to family violence. Parents should:
- always make decisions in the best interests of their child (listening to them will help), and
- not involve their children in their disputes (for example, parents should not record their conversations with the child for possible use in family court proceedings, or ask the child to carry messages to the other parent)
Abuse and immigration status
If you are a Canadian citizen born abroad or a permanent resident, you can stay in Canada if your partner is arrested or if you leave the relationship. You will not be deported.
Speak with a lawyer who does immigration law as soon as possible if:
- you have temporary status or no immigration status
- you are sponsoring your partner
- your sponsor is trying to force you out of Canada
- your partner or someone else is threatening to hurt your family back home.
A lawyer can also tell you if you are able to get government income support like income assistance and the child tax benefit.
If your spouse has been charged with a crime, your spouse may try to use threats to keep you from leaving or to try to scare you into dropping the charges, but charges can only be changed or dropped by the Crown Attorney (a government lawyer). The complainant or victim does not have the power to change or drop the charges.
Conditional Permanent Residence
Conditional permanent residence no longer applies to anyone. This means there is no conditional period (set amount of time) where you must live together with your sponsor to keep your permanent residence status in Canada.
What can I do?
Abuse is a community issue—not a private family matter. Everyone has a part to play in helping to stop abuse and foster healthy relationships. You can get help and support if you are in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, or if you want to help someone who is experiencing abuse.
If it is an emergency or someone is in danger, call 9-1-1. They can connect you with the police or medical help.
You can go to:
- nsdomesticviolence.ca for information and resources about family violence
- nsfamilylaw.ca for more information on the law and family violence
- breakthesilencens.ca for information and resources about sexual violence
- Talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can help with legal problems like separation, custody, child and spousal support, criminal charges, applying for a no contact order, and immigration concerns. Go here or see the RESOURCES section below for ways to get legal advice.
If you think someone is being abused
Call the police or let the person know that they can talk to you. You can also offer to take them to a safe place if they decide to leave the abusive situation, or you can provide information about what services are available. Go to nsdomesticviolence.ca for information about other ways you can help.
If you are being abused
Call 9-1-1 if you and/or your children are in danger right now.
You can also:
- see a doctor, nurse or psychologist
- leave your partner and/or the abusive situation
- get counselling, support, help with safety planning and shelter from a transition house or community organization
- talk with someone you trust.
If you have been hurt
If you have been physically hurt and it is an emergency, call 9-1-1 for medical help. If you have been sexually assaulted in the past 5 days (120 hours), you can call the police and ask for an ambulance to take you to the health centre. You have the option to ask for a female nurse at the health centre.
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Program
If your community has a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Program (SANE), you can ask the hospital or health centre staff to call SANE for you. SANE is a 24-hour, 7 day a week program that serves people of all genders (including trans-identified people) and all ages who have experienced a sexual assault in the past 7 days (168 hours).
SANE has several 24 hour response lines depending on where you live:
- Annapolis Valley, South Shore and Tri County areas: 1-833-577-SANE (7263)
- Halifax area: 902-425-0122
- Guysborough, Antigonish, Pictou and Richmond Counties: 1-877-880-SANE(7263)
- Sydney and greater Cape Breton areas: 1-844-858-8036
- Cumberland, Colchester East Hants and Eastern Shore areas:1-833-757-SANE (7263)
The response lines offer non-judgemental, confidential support and information about options after an immediate sexual assault. SANE also offers supportive care and follow-up for sexual assault survivors. The response line will get an oncall nurse to call you, and can answer your questions. More information on this program is at nshealth.ca/sane.
You decide if you want to get a medical exam and/or have evidence collected.
A medical exam may include:
- taking a medical history
- treatment of injury
- documenting the details of the sexual assault
- taking blood and urine samples to test for pregnancy and/or infections
- doing an internal exam (vaginal) and general physical exam
- emergency contraception (eg. Plan B / the ‘morning after pill’)
- antibiotics for treatment of sexually transmitted infections
- medication to help prevent getting HIV/AIDS.
- follow-up treatment information
- safety plan
- contact information for aftercare or other needs
To collect evidence (or do a forensic examination), nurses prefer that you do not shower, bathe, douche, use the washroom, change your clothes, eat/drink or clean your teeth until the exam is completed. This could destroy evidence. Nurses could also ask to collect your clothing for evidence, do a head-to-toe visual exam looking for injuries and/or take photographs of the injuries. Police are not present during the exam. If you decide to immediately report the sexual assault to the police, SANE nurses can help notify the police and will provide the evidence collected. If you decide not to file a report with the police, they can still collect evidence and keep it for a period of time. If during this time you decide to report the sexual assault, SANE can give the evidence to the police. The evidence will not be destroyed without your consent.
Go to nshealth.ca/sane for SANE contact information in communities across the province.
If you are being bullied online
If you have been bullied or harassed online, or by text or email, or had intimate pictures of you shared without your consent, you can speak with the police, or contact Nova Scotia’s CyberScan Unit. CyberScan oversees Nova Scotia’s Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act. Contact CyberScan at novascotia.ca/cyberscan/ or call 902-424-6990 or 1-855-702- 8324. You can also speak with a lawyer. And, see the information on cyber-protection orders above.
If an abusive partner needs help
There are community programs that give education and counselling to people who have abused their partners and/or children. There are gender based programs and couple based programs. They programs teach about how to have healthy and respectful relationships. If you have abused or been in an abusive relationship these programs may help improve communication and safety if you have children with the abuser. Children are harmed when they fear, witness or experience family violence. If you are a parent it is important to find a program or service that helps you find and maintain a safe relationship with the other parent.
See the RESOURCES section below for more information on how to contact these programs.
I am thinking about leaving
Remember you are not alone. This is not your fault.
- Make sure you and your children are safe.
- Get legal help. Call a lawyer. Nova Scotia Legal Aid can help. You can also contact a lawyer you would pay (a lawyer in private practice).
- You might want to leave your home and go to a safe place like a transition house.
- You might be able to get your partner court-ordered to leave.
- You might be able to get your partner court-ordered to stay away from you.
- You might want to take your children with you.
- You can apply to family court for custody of your children.
- You might be able to get your partner to pay money to support you and your children.
- You can apply to the government for help with money.
- You might be able to end your lease early.
- You might be able to take time off work and get paid for some of that time.
Do I need a lawyer?
You may need to talk to a family lawyer for help with parenting arrangements, child and spousal support or property division, or help if you are trying to get an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) or other court order. You can speak to a criminal lawyer if you have a criminal charge or need help to get a peace bond. It is a good idea to talk with a lawyer if you want to apply to Supreme Court for a cyber-protection order. You can speak with an immigration lawyer if you have immigration concerns.
A trusted family member or friend may be able to help you find a lawyer. You can also contact Legal Info Nova Scotia’s Lawyer Referral Service (902-455-3135 in Halifax or 1-800-665-9779 for the rest of Nova Scotia, or email que[email protected]) for a referral to a lawyer you would pay. Go here for other ways to find a lawyer. Before hiring a lawyer, ask the lawyer how they charge for their work and how much the lawyer thinks the process will cost.
If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact Nova Scotia Legal Aid (NSLA). You can apply for Legal Aid online at www.nslegalaid.ca/onlineapplication, or by calling or visiting your local NSLA office (see the RESOURCES section below for more information).
If you need an interpreter for meetings with your lawyer, you will be responsible for the cost if the lawyer is not a Legal Aid lawyer. You do not have to agree to have your children or friend interpret for you.
Where will I live if I leave my partner?
If the police are called during or after an assault, you can ask them to take you to a transition house or shelter. Transition houses and shelters give women and their children a short-term safe place to live, and can give you information and support.
Help is still available during the COVID-19 pandemic. Transition houses throughout Nova Scotia are providing shelter with government support, while still following public health advice.
You can contact a transition house or shelter yourself. Contact the shelter nearest you or contact the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia (THANS) - 902- 429-7287, or call 1-855-225-0220 toll free, day or night. THANS is a network of shelters and transition houses with locations across the province. Or, you can contact Nova Scotia 2-1-1 to find your closest transition house or shelter.
After leaving an abusive situation, second stage housing provides safe and affordable housing for women and their children for six months to one year.
You can also choose to rent an apartment or stay with a family member or friend. Shelters and crisis services are also available for men. For more information, see the RESOURCES section below.
Can I take the children with me?
It is best to take your children with you if you are concerned about their safety or you think that your partner will try to stop you from seeing them.
As long as it is safe, you have a duty to tell the other parent about how the children are doing and, when it is safe to do so, arrange for the parent to spend time with the children. Often parents work with a neutral person to help maintain a child’s connection with the other parent after separation where there has been abuse and/or risk of abuse. You should contact a family law lawyer to get legal advice about your situation as soon as possible.
If the other parent has taken the children and refuses to let you see them, then see if there is a neutral friend or relative who can reach out to the parent and arrange your time with the children. If contact is refused then you should seek out legal advice. You may make an emergency application at family court for parenting time with your children.
Whether or not you take the children with you, you can apply immediately to family court for interim (temporary) parenting order for care of your children, and child and spousal support orders for you and your children. You can ask the court to limit your partner’s time with your children, and to make it against the law for your partner to take the children from you.
You can ask the court to set a schedule for the other parent’s time with the children. When appropriate you may ask the court to require the parent’s parenting time to be supervised or that the exchange of the children take place in a public or supervised setting.
You should not try to take the children out of the province or the country as your partner could accuse you of kidnapping the children. If you plan to visit with family in a nearby community then you should inform the other parent of your plan to visit so they do not worry about the children. Your lawyer will explain what you can and cannot do. You can get legal information, about family law at nsfamilylaw.ca, including information about family law rules around relocating with a child after separation or divorce. See the RESOURCES section for ways to get family law advice.
Can I get income assistance?
If you leave your partner and have no income, you may also be able to get income assistance from Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services, if you are a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, refugee claimant, or a Temporary Resident Permit holder (not the same as a Temporary Resident Visa for school, work, or visits). You can apply for income assistance over the phone by calling 1-877-424-1177, or go to your local Nova Scotia Community Services office. You will be asked for your bank statements, Social Insurance Number (SIN), Nova Scotia Health Card number, and other documents to help the intake person understand your financial and/or family situation. You may find out on the first call whether you are eligible. Or you may get a meeting with a worker or be asked to wait for someone to return your call.
Ending your lease early
You might be able to end your lease for your rented apartment or home early, without a financial penalty, if you are leaving an abusive situation.
Year-to-year or fixed-term lease: Contact the Department of Justice Victim Services (902- 424-3309 or 1-888-470-0773) to see if you can end your lease with one month’s notice to the landlord. If you are a survivor of domestic violence, Victim Services can help you file an application to end the lease.
Month-to-month or week-to-week lease: You can end your lease using Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies Form C (“Tenant’s Notice to Quit”). You must give one month’s written notice to end a month-to-month tenancy, or one week’s written notice to end a week-to-week tenancy. Contact Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies (Access Nova Scotia) at 902-424-5400 or 1-800-670-4357 for more information about Residential Tenancies. Nova Scotia Legal Aid or Dalhousie Legal Aid can also help.
Taking time off work
After at least three months in a job, you might be able to take time off work if you and/or your child experience abuse. This is called domestic violence leave. It gives employees the right to take time off work to move or to get medical, legal and/or psychological support or other professional counselling for you and/or your children.
Domestic violence leave allows an employee to take:
- up to 16 weeks in a row of unpaid leave, and
- up to 10 days of protected leave in a calendar year, taken all in a row or broken up. Protected leave means that after the leave you must be allowed to return to the same job or, if that job is no longer available, to a comparable one with no loss of seniority or benefits. Employers must pay for up to three days of domestic violence leave.
This leave applies to employees in provincially regulated workplaces, and to unionized employees. You can combine domestic violence leave with other types of leave. Contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards (902-424-4311 or toll-free at 1-888-315-0110) for more information about domestic violence leave and other leaves from work.
If you have an emergency, call 9-1-1
If someone is hurting you or you are afraid, call 9-1-1.
General information and resources
211 Nova Scotia
2-1-1 or text 21167
Finds services in your community any time. Expanded supports are available for women, and people of all genders, including trans, non-binary, two-spirited, and gender-diverse folks. No matter where Nova Scotians live or how they identify, if they have concerns about their well-being, safety, and/or the safety of others, services are available any time of day or night and any day of the year. Supports include information, navigation, referrals, and brief intervention counselling. All Genders Helpline, Women's Helpline, Men's Helpline: call 2-1-1. Free and confidential.
2-1-1 can help you find:
- a safe place away from an abuser
- information or advice about the law
- victim services to help when you need it.
Information or advice about your health. It can help you find a health care service in your area. Nurses can help you in French or English. They can also help through an interpreter in many languages.
Adult Protection Services - Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness
Adult Protection Services can help if you are worried that an adult is being neglected, abused or harmed. You can call between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Child Protection Services (Department of Community Services)
2-1-1 to find Child Protection Services near you.
Call Child Protection Services if you believe that a child is being abused or neglected or could be abused or neglected, you can call Child Protection Services. During the day, contact the district office of the Department of Community Services near you. After 4:30 p.m., call 1-866- 922-2434.
Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline
Anyone who is a victim of human trafficking or knows a victim can contact the confidential Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at any time at 1-833-900-1010 (toll-free) or https://www.canadianhumantraffickinghotline.ca/
Neighbours, Friends and Families Program
A campaign to help people learn signs of violence against women. To learn more, visit nsdomesticviolence.ca/nff
General information on family violence and resources
Help with information, support, advocacy and referrals across Nova Scotia
Making Changes: a book for women experiencing intimate partner abuse, with information that is also relevant to men and nonbinary people who have experienced abuse. A Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women publication.
Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project
Seeks equity, justice, and human rights for 2SLGBTQIA+ people in Nova Scotia pdf
Healthy Family Relationships: What newcomers need to know (1.52 MB)
Independent Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors Program
Up to 4 hours of free legal advice if you have been sexually assaulted and are 16 years old or older. You do not have to report to police or go to court if you use this service. They can help in English or French, or use a free interpreter for other languages.
Halifax Refugee Clinic
Gives immigration legal services to refugee claimants and people in need of protection who cannot afford a private lawyer. They offer legal advice to survivors of domestic violence only about their immigration status.
Nova Scotia Legal Aid
nslegalaid.ca or look under Legal Aid in the telephone book
Free legal information, advice and representation for adults and youth. Legal Aid might help with criminal or family law, employment insurance, income assistance, or a problem with your landlord. Some services are based on financial need. Apply online at nslegalaid.ca or contact your local Legal Aid office. Legal Aid can help if you are accepted into Domestic Violence Court in Sydney or Halifax.
Dalhousie Legal Aid Service
Free legal information, advice, and advocacy if you have low income. They can help with issues like income assistance and tenant rights and housing. They do not do immigration issues or adult criminal matters.
Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia
1-800-665-9779 (toll-free) or 902-455-3135
Email: [email protected] (English or French)
Free legal information on any legal topic, or help to find a lawyer and other legal help, provided by telephone, email and live chat. You do not have to give your name.
Accès Justice Access
902-433-2085 or 1-844-250-8471 (English or French)
Free legal information and legal form-filling help. You must make an appointment. In-person in Halifax.
Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network
Support services and victim support services to Aboriginal people in Nova Scotia, particularly through the Mi'kmaw Court Worker Program and the Mi'kmaw Customary Law Program.
902-429-5878 or 1-866-429-5878
Legal referral service for people with disabilities.
Nova Scotia legal information about parenting arrangements, separation, divorce, child and spousal support, and domestic violence.
Emergency Protection Order—Justice of the Peace Centre
1-866-816-6555 toll-free or 902-424-8888
Call the Justice of the Peace Centre to apply for an emergency protection order. A justice of the peace will hear your story and decide right away whether to give you an emergency protection order.
Online Abuse (CyberScan Unit)
902-424-6990 in Halifax or 1-855-702-8324 toll-free
CyberScan helps if someone has shared private pictures of you without your consent or is bullying you online, or by text or email. They might also help you apply to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a cyber-protection order.
Domestic Violence Courts
902-563-3510 (Sydney) , 1-844-424-7404 (Halifax) or by email at [email protected] (both courts).
Special court that helps protect survivors of domestic violence and their families from future abuse. Programs to help people who commit abuse change behaviour and prevent future abuse. Connects family members to
services and supports near where they live
Transition Houses and Crisis Help
Transition House Association of Nova Scotia
902-429-7287 or 1-855-225-0220 (day or night) or call 2-1-1
They can help you find a shelter near you if you want to leave an abusive relationship. Shelters can also help with information, crisis support and safety planning, even if you do not want to live at a shelter. You do not have to give your name.
Bryony House (Transition House Association of Halifax)
902-422-7650 (crisis number)
902-423-7183 (shelter main number)
Women in Halifax who are leaving domestic violence or abusive relationships can call any time of the day or night and any day of the year.
Autumn House Support Line
902-667-1200 any time of day or night.
Contact for women and men in abusive relationships. Men who abuse their partners who want help to change can also call this number, or 902-667-4500 during the day.
Eskasoni Mental Health Services
902-379-2099 1-855- 379-2099 any time of day or night
Province-wide support to Mi’kmaq people, provided by Eskasoni Mental Health.
Mental Health Mobile Crisis
1 888-429-8167, any time of day or night.
Help for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis.
Provincial Victim Services Program
Information, support, and help if you are a victim of crime, or the spouse or relative of a victim. Information about your case, help to write a victim impact statement, help to apply for money or counselling and get special help for child victims or a witness of a crime.
Halifax or Dartmouth or the South Shore: 902-424-3309
Annapolis Valley: 902-679-6201 or 1-800-565-1805 toll-free
Northern Nova Scotia: 902-755-7110 or 1-800-565-7912 toll-free
Cape Breton: 902-563-3655 or 1-800-565-0071 toll-free
Halifax Regional Police Victim Services
Helps you in a crisis and after a crisis. Emotional support and help to find services. Help applying for a peace bond in the Halifax area.
Mi’kmaw Victim Support Services
1-877- 379-2042 (Cape Breton)
902-895-1141 (Mainland NS)
Victim support for aboriginal people dealing with the criminal justice system. Provided by Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network
RCMP Victim Services
Information or emotional support after a crime. Call and leave a message. They call you back in 24 hours.
Sexual Assault Centres and Programs
If you have been assaulted in the past five days, call and leave a message. A nurse will call you back right away. You can also go to an emergency department for medical help or go to the police to report the assault. You can also tell your family doctor or nurse practitioner.
Guysborough, Antigonish, Pictou and Richmond Counties: 1-877-880-SANE (7263)
Sydney area: 1-844-858-8036
Yarmouth area: 1-833-577-SANE (7263)
Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association
Counselling for all genders
Avalon Sexual Assault Centre
Counselling for women, trans and non-binary individuals
Colchester Sexual Assault Centre
Counselling for all genders
Sexual Violence information and Training
Nova Scotia information, resources, and training about sexual violence
Independent Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors Program
see Legal Help above.
A Survivor’s Guide to Sexual Assault Prosecution
Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service publication for sexual assault survivors that explains each step of a sexual assault prosecution, and what the survivor can expect to happen in court.
Services for men who want to stop hurting their partner
Freeman House's Alternatives Program (Bridgewater)
902-543-7444 or 1-877-882-7722 toll-free, or [email protected]
New Leaf (Pictou County)
African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes
Focuses on the needs of immigrants of African Diaspora descent
Salvation Army Atlantic Refugee and Immigrant Services Project
902-477-5393, extension 224
Helps you fill out immigration forms and travel papers.
Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia
Helps newcomers settle in Nova Scotia. Also helps permanent residents who have a crisis, like abuse in a relationship. Free interpretation is available.
Association of Translators and Interpreters of Nova Scotia
Provides access to certified professionals for people who need language services.
Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia
Privately sponsors, resettles, and advocates for LGBTQI+ refugees in Nova Scotia.
YMCA Newcomer Programs
Programs and outreach services for newcomers.
Last reviewed: July 2021
Reviewed for legal accuracy by: Lawyer Shelley Hounsell-Gray, QC
Thank you to Justice Canada for funding to help update our legal information on family violence.
This publication was created with support from Nova Scotia Department of Community Services, and we gratefully acknowledge their support.
Some content was adapted, with permission, from Community Legal Education Ontario.