Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Farrow, Trevor C. W., and Lesley A. Jacobs. The Justice Crisis : the Cost and Value of Accessing Law. UBC Press, 2020.


Domestic violence cases in Canada present unique access to justice challenges due to complex power dynamics, structural inequality, and the fact that victims, offenders, and children must often navigate multiple legal systems to resolve the many issues in this context. The complexity of these cases has both personal and systemic impacts. Different legal systems – for example, criminal, family, child protection, social welfare, and immigration – have differing objectives and personnel with varying levels of expertise in domestic violence. Conflicting decisions by different courts and tribunals with overlapping jurisdiction may impair the safety of victims and children, and may require multiple court appearances to resolve. Victims may face contradictory messages about how seriously adjudicators will treat domestic violence, and offenders can use the existence of different systems to perpetuate abuse. These issues are gendered, as women are the primary victims of domestic violence, and the concerns may be heightened among marginalized women. The issues may also differ across Canadian provinces and territories and on First Nations reserves, given the application of different laws, policies, and dispute resolution models.

This chapter explores how the access to justice crisis in Canada manifests itself in domestic violence cases. It reviews the literature on access to justice and domestic violence, adopting a broad definition of access to justice to inform the analysis. It then documents and compares the legal and policy provisions and systems affecting litigants in domestic violence cases across Canadian jurisdictions, highlighting legal reforms as well as the systemic barriers in seeking justice that victims, offenders, and children confront. A hypothetical case study is then used to explore how the complex interaction of multiple laws, policies, and dispute resolution processes may impact victims of domestic violence. This comparative mapping analysis is a first step towards identifying the systemic reforms necessary to enhance access to justice in domestic violence cases.