The terms restraining order, peace bond and release conditions are all used interchangeably but they are all actually a little different. While they might achieve the same goal (protection from another person), how they function and who is responsible for what are all different from the other.
If someone threatens, assaults or harasses you and you feel that you need protection through the legal system, you may have the following choices depending on your situation:
- Apply for a peace bond or restraining order against a person who has threatened to hurt you or your children, to damage your property, or has been harassing you, or
- File criminal charges against a person who has hurt, threatened or harassed you.
Discuss with Police
The first step is usually to discuss concerns about your safety with the police. Often, when you fear for yourself or your family’s safety, the other person may have committed a criminal offence by threatening, harassing or assaulting you. Keep in mind, however, that if the police believe that a crime has been committed and that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with charges, they do not always need your cooperation in order to proceed. If a criminal charge were brought against a person (the accused), there may be conditions imposed on the accused similar to those of a peace bond (i.e., that the accused have no contact with you, etc.) by way of Release Conditions or an Undertaking. Release conditions will continue until the matter is dealt with by the Court, by way of a guilty plea or a trial. The conditions can sometimes be changed, but the changes have to be approved by the Court.
A peace bond is a court order designed to prevent personal injury or property damage. It is a protection order under the Criminal Code of Canada and its formal legal name is an “810 recognizance”. You can apply for a peace bond if you are afraid that another person will harm you, your partner (spouse or your common-law), your child, or damage your property. The other person could be anyone – a neighbour, an acquaintance or a family member. The peace bond is an order from the court, or an agreement that a person makes with the court, “to keep the peace and be of good behaviour”. You can also ask that the peace bond set out other specific conditions. To give a few examples, the defendant may agree or the court can order the defendant to:
- not visit you at home or at work;
- not call you on the phone;
- not write you letters or send you messages;
- not contact children, parents or other family members;
- not drive by your house;
- be prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition.
You can apply for a peace bond on your own and don’t need a lawyer although it’s generally a good idea to seek legal advice so that you know what other options are available to you. You can go to the Court House and tell the Court Office staff that you want to apply for a peace bond. They will give you a form to fill out, called an “information”, and you will leave the completed form with them. They will schedule a time for you to talk to a Justice of the Peace.
When filling out the application, you are the “informant”. This means that you are applying for a peace bond, whether for yourself or on behalf of someone else. If you do not want the person against whom you are making this application to know where you are located, then you can use a friend’s or relative’s address. Be sure to get their permission first, and be sure the court can contact you at that address. If you are applying on behalf of someone else, the person on behalf of whom you’re applying is the complainant. The person who you say threatened or harmed you is called the defendant. It is important that you provide as much identifying information as possible about the defendant, including any aliases they may use. A Justice of the Peace will review your allegations and they will determine if there are sufficient reasons to order the person that you fear to attend court for a hearing to decide whether or not an order to keep the peace (peace bond) will be issued. A Justice of the Peace cannot order a peace bond automatically or instantly.
The purpose of meeting with the Justice of the Peace is so that you can provide enough information to satisfy the Justice of the Peace that there are reasonable grounds for you to be afraid of the person you are concerned about. Bring all documents, including police reports and any evidence to support your claim. You may want to bring a support person with you to the meeting. It is a good idea to prepare for this meeting. Evidence could include:
- A diary including descriptions, each date and time that the person has stalked, harassed, followed you, called you names or threatened you, has damaged or threatened to damage your property (with photographs of the damage, if you have any).
- Hospital, medical records and/or any photographs if an assault has occurred.
- Emails, text messages, voice messages, letters, broken items or clothing, injuries, etc.
- The following types of events should be noted: driving by your house several times an hour; sitting in a car watching you or your home; calling you several times an hour/day; hanging up every time you answer the phone.
The Justice of the Peace is not required to bring a person to court if he/she is not satisfied the allegations support court intervention.
If the Justice of the Peace believes, on reasonable grounds, that an order should be made, terms of the order will be decided. The defendant will then be asked to enter into the bond. If he/she agrees, the peace bond will be ordered and a court officer will prepare one. Normally, both you and the defendant will be given a copy of the peace bond before you leave the court building.
If the other person does not agree to enter into a peace bond, the matter will be scheduled for a hearing, like a trial.
It may take a few weeks for the matter to be scheduled for a hearing, or it could be scheduled right away. You will be advised by the Justice of the Peace and provided with a notice by the Clerk of the Court of the date, time and courtroom you are required to attend at the hearing. You have the responsibility to ensure your witnesses are in attendance at the time and place scheduled for the hearing or any subsequent date the hearing may be adjourned to. You don’t need a lawyer at the hearing and can represent yourself. The other party will also receive a summons to the hearing and must appear in court on the set date.
During the hearing, the Justice of the Peace will ask you to explain the reasons why you are requesting the peace bond, under oath. You should prepare what you are going to say and be aware that the defendant will have an opportunity to cross-examine your testimony and to give evidence under oath. The defendant will explain why he or she does not agree with your reasons for feeling fearful. You may both call witnesses and they will probably need to leave the room while the evidence is being presented. The Justice of the Peace will hear both sides, one at a time, and then decide on ordering the peace bond. If the Justice of the Peace orders a Peace Bond, a court officer will prepare one. Normally, both you and the defendant will be given a copy of the peace bond before you leave the court building.
Sometimes, the person you are trying to protect yourself against will tell the court that they need to be protected from you. Or, they will refuse to sign the peace bond unless you do so as well. In such cases, the justice of the peace or judge may issue a mutual peace bond requiring that you stay away from the person as well. This suggests that you have done something to provoke the harassment, which is not often the case. If possible, you should avoid signing a mutual peace bond. Also, the person may try to set you up to break the mutual peace bond. It is strongly recommended that you speak to a lawyer before signing anything like a peace bond.
A weakness of the peace bond process is that it can take a few months from your initial contact with the court services staff until the peace bond is in place. The length of time depends on whether the defendant agrees to sign the peace bond or whether there will be Hearing. How soon the hearing happens depends on the court schedule in your area. If you are in immediate danger, temporary terms can be made until the hearing. In addition, peace bonds can only last for up to twelve months and they are not renewable. If you need another one, you must make a new application.