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Police in Ontario using new risk assessment in domestic incidents

Individuals accused of domestic violence in Ontario often encounter obstacles to being released on bail. This can limit not only an accused individual's ability to move about freely while mounting a criminal defence; the terms of release on bail can also affect matters of child custody and access, as well as the accused person's right to return to the home where the domestic incident allegedly occurred.

Police in Ontario have started using a new assessment tool to determine whether a person accused of domestic violence should be released on bail. Recently in Hamilton, a court considered the Ontario Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment (ODARA) before denying bail to a man facing a charge of domestic assault. The police claim that ODARA can accurately predict the likelihood that a person accused of domestic violence will re-offend in the next five years.

The assessment tool takes into account 13 factors, including questions of whether the accused has a prior domestic incident record and whether the alleged victim expresses concern about possible future incidents. Police also consider whether children are in the residence and whether the accused is known to have substance abuse issues.

The limits of the tool should be noted: it was designed to assess the likelihood that males accused of domestic violence would re-offend against female intimates; the assessment may not be relevant in disputes between people in other kinds of relationships. Also, every case is different, and ODARA only takes into account statistical data and not psychological assessments.

Already, police officers are under significant pressure to make arrests when responding to domestic incidents, as the problem of domestic abuse continues to be the focus of numerous studies and media attention. Individuals accused of domestic violence will need a strong criminal defence to protect against long-term negative consequences.