A review of seven recent tort decisions of family violence in Canada

• by Samantha Rich

Originally published in the OFLM 2023-8 edition


It is difficult to find Canadian jurisprudence that includes damages awarded for family violence committed during relationships. The reason is that they are very few in number. This article attempts to make up in quality (i.e. providing better understanding of the claims of abuse) with what is missing in quantity (i.e. the small number of reported decisions).



The Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Ahluwalia v. Ahluwalia (2023 ONCA 476) found that the tort specific to "family violence" should not be created. The Court held that it was unnecessary to create a novel tort and that existing torts already address patterns of behaviour for both liability and damages for family violence. The Court of Appeal also provided some examples of cases that have used civil torts to award damages to victims of intimate partner violence.

The following article offers a more in-depth review of cases of intimate partner abuse in Canada. Particularly, seven recent and notable decisions are summarized with respect to the specific abuses and the court’s analysis with respect to the damages awarded.

The purpose of this article is to show the true impact of abuse by exemplifying the details that form the basis of the claims themselves. Upon appreciating the particulars of the abuse, we may then better assess whether the damages awarded actually achieved the justice that the victims deserved.  


Jane Doe 72511 v. Morgan (2018 ONSC)

In Jane Doe 72511 v. Morgan (2018 ONSC 6607), the plaintiff claimed general, aggravated, and punitive damages for assault and battery and public disclosure of private facts. The plaintiff and defendant dated for approximately six months, they were never married and never lived together.

When the plaintiff realized that she was pregnant with the defendant’s baby, their relationship deteriorated. The defendant accused the plaintiff of ruining his life and began seeing other women. One night when the plaintiff was seven months pregnant, the defendant dragged her down the stairs of his parents' home, choked her, threatened her with a knife, and forced her out of the house.

The following provides a more detailed description of the events:

Jane gave birth to a son, MK, in November 2013. Nicholas' physical and verbal abuse of Jane escalated. He would often drag her up or down the stairs, throw her around, cover her mouth with his hand and choke her. Nicholas' parents, the Morgans, witnessed his verbal and physical abuse because it took place at their home. They did nothing to stop it or to prevent further attacks.

One day in March 2014, after Jane left the Morgans' house to catch the bus, Nicholas chased after her, wrestled her to the ground, forced her into his car, dragged her back out of it by her feet, and smashed her head against the car window. Jane phoned the police. Nicholas was arrested and later convicted of assault.

In June 2016, Jane learned through a friend that Nicholas had, without her knowledge or consent, posted a sexually explicit video of them on a pornography website. The video … had been posted in March 2014 and was linked to ten other pornographic websites.1 Jane's face was clearly visible in the video while Nicholas' face was not. When Jane confronted Nicholas about the video, he admitted that he uploaded it as revenge for Jane calling the police … (paras. 3-5)

The plaintiff claimed $120,000 in total damages:

  • $20,000 in general damages jointly and severally from the defendant and his parents for repeated assault and battery;
  • $50,000 in general damages;
  • $25,000 in aggravated damages; and
  • $25,000 in punitive damages from the defendant for the posting of the explicit video on the internet.

Justice Gomery found that the plaintiff was assaulted on several occasions and held that the defendant was liable for both assault and battery.

Justice Gomery stated that:

I do not see why assault and battery by a spouse should attract a lower range of damages than attacks by any other defendant. Violence by a partner may in fact be a more traumatic event than violence by a stranger. Spousal violence violates the trust that we are taught to have in our partners. It often involves repeated verbal and physical abuse. It typically occurs at home, the place where we should feel the most safe and secure. A battered spouse may be left not only with bruises but with an inability to trust other people or ever really feel safe. (emphasis added)

The court awarded the plaintiff the full sum of general damages of $20,000 and reasoned that this award is appropriate due to the repeated, ongoing nature of the physical and verbal abuse. The court also noted that despite the absence of any permanent physical injury, that the abuse suffered by the plaintiff has left her with “significant emotional and psychological trauma.”

The Court awarded the plaintiff a total of $100,000 for the posting of the private video on the internet ($75,000 in general and aggravated damages and $25,000 in punitive damages).


Yenovkian v. Gulian (2019 ONSC)

In Yenovkian v. Gulian (2019 ONSC 7279), the wife claimed against the husband damages in the sum of $150,000 for nuisance, harassment, intentional infliction of mental suffering and invasion of privacy and $300,000 for punitive damages.

The parties were married for six years and had two children.

The court found that the husband was abusive during the marriage. Specifically,  

Mr. Yenovkian damaged furniture in anger, including with knives; trashed a laptop; threatened to kill both himself and Ms. Gulian; engaged in significant verbal abuse, including in front of the children; and orally threatened that if his business did not succeed, he would kill himself and the children. In December 2015 Mr. Yenovkian wrote an email attacking the respondent and her "satanic cruel family." He threatened that if Ms. Gulian sought to "take the children from [him]" or limit the time that he spends with the children he would "ensure that the damage done is irreparable" to Ms. Gulian and her family. (at para. 7)

Additionally, the husband orchestrated a campaign of cyberbullying in part as follows:

Mr. Yenovkian has posted a video online of a person displaying posters of Ms. Gulian and her parents and the allegations at various locations in London, England. He established an online petition to persecute Ms. Gulian and her parents and enlisted the help of members of the public. He has spread his allegations on the internet and distributed them and links to the sites to friends, family members and business relations of Ms. Gulian and her parents, members of the Armenian community and her church in London, England, as well as to Ms. Gulian's fellow employees. (at para. 176)

Justice Kristjanson held that:

In this case, the false publicity is egregious, involving alleged criminal acts including by Ms. Gulian against her children. The false publicity is widely disseminated on the internet, as well as through targeted dissemination to church friends and business associates. Ms. Gulian has suffered damage as a mother, as an employee, in the Armenian community, and in her church community. She is peculiarly vulnerable as the spouse of the disseminator of false publicity. The false publicity has had a detrimental effect on Ms. Gulian's health and welfare, humiliation, caused her fear, and could be expected as well to affect her social standing and position. Mr. Yenovkian has not apologized, nor has he retracted the outrageous comments despite court orders. (emphasis added) (at para. 191)

The court awarded the wife $50,000 in compensatory damages for intentional infliction of mental suffering. Justice Kristjanson reasoned that “the damages for intentional infliction of mental suffering are intended to be compensatory.”

The court also awarded the wife $100,000 in damages for the tort of invasion of privacy and punitive damages in the sum of $150,000. The punitive damages were awarded “to express the court's denunciation, deterrence, and punishment.”


O.O.E. v. A.O.E. (2019 SKQB)

In O.O.E. v. A.O.E. (2019 SKQB 48), the wife claimed damages against her husband for, among other things, assault, battery, and negligent infliction of mental suffering.  

The parties were married and lived together for approximately one and a half years. They had no children.

Justice Tholl found that the wife was battered and assaulted in excess of fifty times by the husband, “with such incidents including hitting, dragging, pushing, kicking and knocking her to the floor.” The wife was “also frequently and constantly belittled, insulted and threatened” by the husband.

The Court considered the recurring nature of the abuse in this matter and the fact the majority of the abuse occurred within the spousal relationship. The Court reasoned that while the physical injuries suffered by the wife were more transitory in nature than some of the physical injuries noted in previous cases that awarded higher levels of damages, the wife has PTSD because of the husband’s actions. The Court awarded the wife combined general damages and aggravated damages in the sum of $40,000.

Justice Tholl held that the husband’s “conduct was a marked departure from ordinary standards of decent behaviour.” However, the Court considered the husband’s very limited financial resources and awarded the wife punitive damages in the minimal amount of $5,000.


Petrie v. Lindsay (2019 BCSC)

In Petrie v. Lindsay (2019 BCSC 371), the wife claimed damages for personal injury arising from assault and battery during an incident that occurred between the parties just before separation.

The parties lived together for 28 years with only the last three years as a married couple. They had one daughter together who was an adult at the time of separation.

The details of the family violence were found at paragraph 14 of the decision:

The claimant testified the relationship was marked by constant violence including, mental and physical abuse, emotional manipulation and financial control perpetrated against her by the respondent. She struggled to testify about her experiences, saying it was difficult for her to speak about the abuse. She also admitted to having difficulty recalling details of events because she tried to put many things out of her mind. She also admitted she had substance abuse problems for many years, which she attributed to the abuse she suffered.

She described the respondent's frequent and typical behaviour towards her throughout their cohabitation as follows: kicking and pushing her; throwing her down; sitting on her chest to the point that breathing was difficult; choking her; calling her stupid and "ugly as sin"; telling her no one liked her; and demeaning and belittling her. When he got mad because she was not doing what he said, he would spit at her, getting saliva in her face and hair. She also said that the respondent told her she would get "what's coming to her" and that "he always threatened that he was going to kill [her]". She said she was traumatized, "living in fear all the time" and scared of everything.

She said the respondent injured her by giving her bruises, a broken nose, and a broken thumb. She would not go to the hospital for treatment because she was trying to just "move on". She was embarrassed and "wanted everything to be OK". She testified that during the last violent incident before the date of separation, the respondent injured her back. She stated that injury was improving, but she was not yet 100% recovered.

The respondent would sometimes withhold money from her. He would abruptly leave without notice and be gone for as long as two weeks, leaving her no money, and she would run very low on food.

She explained that she married the respondent, in September 2013, because she wanted and hoped things would get better and, she admitted, she did love him. However, things got worse after the marriage. He began threatening that he would call the police to take her away by saying that she had tried to kill herself. She did not perceive this as an attempt to get help for her, but as a threat. She testified this happened "constantly". She was afraid she would be locked up, and afraid the authorities would not believe her. She testified she was "afraid of [her] own shadow" at that point.

She testified that as a result of the respondent's abusive behaviours, she was paralyzed with fear, often not leaving her home for long periods of time. She described herself as "broken" and often used the word "traumatized" to describe her state of mind during the relationship. She turned to alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms, but said she had not used drugs for the past five or six years, and has not been drinking for the two months leading up to trial.

Their daughter witnessed the abuse. According to the claimant, when their daughter was seven years old, the respondent kicked the girl in the stomach. The claimant knew it was wrong not to report that assault to the police, but the claimant stated she was always fearful of the respondent.

The wife claimed between $50,000 and $70,000 in damages.

Justice Sharma held that:

Despite my findings that the claimant suffered years of sustained physical, mental, emotional and financial violence from the respondent, the claim for damages as pleaded relates only to the violent incident that triggered the parties' separation. In relation to that, however, I am satisfied that she injured her back, and it has not completely healed, more than three years after the assault. I also note that since that incident, the claimant has not worked and has been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression.” (emphasis added) (para. 181)

The Court awarded the wife $20,000 in general damages.

It appears that the vast majority of the abuse during the nearly 30 years of the parties’ relationship was not compensated for by the court.


Schuetze v. Pyper (2021 BCSC)

In Schuetze v. Pyper (2021 BCSC 2209), the husband and wife both claimed damages from one another based on the intentional tort of battery.  

The wife’s claims for damages included non-pecuniary damages, damages for past and future loss of earning capacity, the cost of future care and special damages, as well as aggravated and punitive damages based on the history of violence and the nature of a particular violent incident.

The wife claimed an award of non-pecuniary damages in the range of $155,000 to $185,000.

Justice Fleming held that:

The amount of the award is not determined by the nature or seriousness of the plaintiff's injuries alone. Additional factors include the plaintiff's age; the severity and duration of the pain; disability; emotional suffering; impairment of family, marital and social relationships; impairment of physical and mental abilities; loss of lifestyle; and the plaintiff's stoicism .... An appreciation of the plaintiff's loss is the key (emphasis added) (para. 398)

The wife was awarded a total amount of $795,029, comprising of the following damages:

  • $100,000 in non-pecuniary damages;
  • $11,250 for psychology/trauma counselling;
  • $8,450 for a kinesiology/rehab assistant;
  • $249 plus GST for the cost of a self-defence course;
  • $300 for an annual pass for restorative yoga sessions;
  • $1,210 for physiotherapy/active vestibular therapy;
  • $800 for occupational therapy;
  • $239,485 for past loss of income;  
  • $425,000 for loss of future earning capacity; and
  • $8,273.23 in special damages.

The Court did not award the wife punitive damages, reasoning that the very significant damages already awarded to the wife would serve to punish the husband and deter other wrongdoers.


ES v. Shillington (2021 ABQB)

In ES v. Shillington (2021 ABQB 739), the plaintiff and defendant were not married but lived together for approximately 11 years. They had two children together.

The court found that the relationship was marred by the defendant committing multiple acts of physical and sexual assault against the plaintiff. The parties separated when the plaintiff left the defendant and went to live in a shelter for women at risk.  

The specifics of the abuse were highlighted at paragraphs 10 to 14 of the decision:

The Plaintiff testified that prior to this relationship she was a happy person, and was loving and appreciated her sexuality. As part of her relationship with the Defendant she shared with him photographs of her in which she was in various states of undress and engaging in sexual activity. These were shared with her partner as a private gift to him. One of the reasons she provided him these images was due to their separation caused by his military deployment. It was understood between them that he would not distribute these images in any way.

While he was deployed, near the end of their relationship, the Defendant confessed to the Plaintiff that he had posted her images online. Through accessing the Defendant's social media accounts the Plaintiff was able to track some of these postings and was disturbed to find many of those private, explicit images available on the internet at pornography sites. At no time did the Defendant have the Plaintiff's consent to publish these images. The Defendant admitted that he had posted photos as early as 2006, and the Plaintiff has located images posted as late as 2018. As recently as early 2021 the Plaintiff was able to find some of these images online.

The availability of these photos, including the fact that the Plaintiff is identifiable in some images, resulted in the Plaintiff being recognized in them by a neighbour that spoke to her sexually, having seen her likeness on a website. She has experienced significant mental distress and embarrassment as a result of the postings. She suffers nervous shock, psychological and emotional suffering, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, embarrassment, humiliation, and other impacts to her wellbeing.

The relationship was also marred by abuse. The final instances occurred on November 11, 2016, when the Defendant violently sexually assaulted the Plaintiff in a public Legion in front of bystanders. He grabbed her by the throat and pressed her up against a wall and then ripped open her shirt and roughly handled her breasts. While trying to leave the Legion and simultaneously convince the Defendant to not go to his parents' home (where their children were) the Defendant punched the Plaintiff in the stomach while in the parking lot. Following this, in the vehicle on the drive home, with other people present in the car, the Defendant pulled down the Plaintiff's pants and attempted to insert his fingers in her vagina. He then exposed his penis and tried to push the Plaintiff's head into his lap. Upon arriving home, the Defendant forced the Plaintiff to remove her clothes and then attempted to force intercourse, but she was able to escape from him.

Following this series of events, the Plaintiff suffered bruising and soreness to the abdomen, nervous shock, psychological and emotional suffering, sleep disturbances, post traumatic stress disorder, public embarrassment, and humiliation.

The plaintiff claimed damages for the torts of public disclosure of private facts, breach of confidence, assault, sexual assault, battery, and intentional infliction of mental distress.

The Court found that the evidence provided showed that the plaintiff had suffered physical, mental, and emotional harm and that the consequences suffered by the plaintiff are ongoing.

Justice Inglis awarded the plaintiff the sum of $80,000 in general damages. She held that, “the pain and suffering she has experienced are significant.”

The plaintiff was also awarded the sum of $50,000 in punitive damages and $25,000 for aggravated damages.

The plaintiff claimed non-pecuniary damages of $175,000; aggravated damages of $50,000; and punitive damages of $50,000.

The Court awarded the plaintiff all of the damages claimed. Justice Inglis held that, “The criminal aspects of the attacks against the plaintiff in the supposed safety of her partnership warrant significant recognition by this court.”

The plaintiff claimed special damages for medical costs, childcare expenses, necessities of life expenses, and schooling costs. The Court held that, “the direct causation link to the torts was not fully developed, particularly related to the delays in her schooling and potential future loss of income.” The Court awarded the plaintiff only a portion of the special damages in the sum of $30,000.


Smith v. Smith (2021 ONSC)

In Smith v. Smith (2021 ONSC 6315), the wife claimed damages in the sum of $50,000 for two assaults by the husband.

The parties were married for 19 years (1999 to 2018) and did not have any children.

The wife claimed abuse during the marriage, with the first assault taking place in 2003 when husband choked her and pushed her up against the fridge in the kitchen. The second claim was in 2016, when the husband elbowed her in the back so hard she fell out of bed. The wife also claimed the husband threw a land line phone at her in 2018, but it missed.

In terms of evidence, the Court found that the wife did not provide any medical records in respect of any injuries arising from the assaults nor did she particularize the nature of her injuries.

Justice Fitzpatrick found that on the balance of probabilities, the assault in 2003 did occur and the assault in 2018 did not occur.

The court reasoned at paragraph 96 of the decision as follows:

I make these findings on the basis of the nature of the alleged assaults. I believe Fay when she says she was choked in 2003. Being choked is hard to forget.

Being elbowed in bed is also not easy to forget, but it can be explained as an accidental hitting or an unfortunate result of another person's sleep pattern. On the evidence I do not believe the interaction between Paul and Fay rises to the level that would allow me to find a civil assault occurred in 2018.

I find Fay has not proven any significant damages arising from either incident. I appreciate she testified she has been traumatized by the events leading to her separation and thereafter. However, there was not sufficient evidence led for me to make the necessary causal connection between the 2003 incident and the trauma Fay testified she experienced and is experiencing on an ongoing basis.

Justice Fitzpatrick ultimately held that:

Fay has not proven any significant damages arising from either incident. I appreciate she testified she has been traumatized by the events leading to her separation and thereafter. However, there was not sufficient evidence led for me to make the necessary causal connection between the 2003 incident and the trauma Fay testified she experienced and is experiencing on an ongoing basis. (emphasis added)  

The Court awarded the wife nominal damages for the 2003 assault in the sum of $500.



In the context of family violence claims, there are several torts under which one could potentially claim damages. In the most recent cases as canvassed above, damages resulting from family violence were successfully claimed under the following torts:

  • invasion of privacy;
  • public disclosure of private facts;
  • breach of confidence;
  • assault;
  • sexual assault;
  • battery; and
  • intentional infliction of mental distress.

The awards of general damages ranged between $20,000 and $100,000. The awards of aggravated damages ranged between $25,000 and $75,000. The awards of punitive damages ranged between $5,000 and $150,000. In some cases, where applicable, compensatory, special and non-pecuniary damages were also claimed and awarded to claimants.

The reasoning for the awards of damages focused on the credibility of the claimant as well as the evidence presented. Where the judge found the claimant’s version of events credible and sufficient expert evidence was presented, the court generally found in the claimant’s favour.

Overall, the above cases show how difficult it is for claimants of family violence of various kinds to achieve meaningful results. It takes mental stamina, financial resources and an ability to re-live the trauma for many months or even years after the abuse has stopped.

It is no wonder that only a few claimants decide to embark on these perilous legal paths to begin with.