Emily Schooley wants you to know: if you find yourself in a domestic violence situation – don’t wait, don’t hesitate, don’t try and protect the other person. Report what’s happened to you IN DETAIL as soon as it happens.
Bio: Emily Schooley is an actor(vist), photographer, writer, and Girl Friday living in Toronto. Through her varied and occasionally traumatic experiences life has thus far thoroughly failed to kill her, making her that much stronger. You can find Emily online at http://emilyschooley.com or on Twitter @EmilySchooley. If you’re in Toronto, catch her at Fringe in July as part of Zed.TO!
Long story short, I was (wrongfully) arrested earlier this year by the Toronto Police… not for anything I had actually done, but on the charge of “public mischief” (the police saying I’d lied to them) because I had reported my ex for domestic violence. Despite me having evidence – including a cut that needed 15 stitches to close – the first officer I’d tried speaking to about it chose not to believe me, and when I’d found someone who did – going through a Justice of the Peace to lay a private information – the officer showed up and arrested me at court, which prevented me from providing evidence against my ex. Despite having no prior criminal record I was held overnight, fingerprinted, photographed, and strip-searched (For the full story, you can visit my blog).
- If you are ever searched by police without a warrant, make it loudly known that you do not consent to the search but that you will not impede them. This is one of many steps in learning your rights.
- Any person who believes a crime has been done has the right to speak to a Justice of the Peace and file what’s called a private information. The Criminal Code is available online.
- If you find yourself in a domestic violence situation – don’t wait, don’t hesitate, don’t try and protect the other person. Report what’s happened to you IN DETAIL as soon as it happens. Don’t skip on details. Write everything down so that you can refer back to it later. Keep a log of everything that happens.
- You can’t count on anyone else to help you or for anyone else to be invested in your outcome. Not witnesses, not factual physical evidence, nothing. So much can be brushed over or skewed, even when you are telling the truth. If you do hire a lawyer for your situation, take the time to write them out a detailed timeline of events so that they at least have a record of everything that’s gone on. So many lawyers are unprepared and/or apathetic.
- Conduct in court: come dressed professionally, and be polite. You’d be surprised at how many people overlook this. Essentially, you are playing in the big-kid sandbox, and if you don’t play by their rules, they are not going to be very nice to you.
- If you’ve been charged with a crime, you have the right to request further evidence against you if you believe there may be anything else.
- If you are trying to report domestic violence, most courthouses should have a program called Victim-Witness Assistance. Again, don’t wait – get in there right away. If you are charged with a crime and cannot afford a lawyer, court houses also have Duty Counsel who can provide you with basic legal advice. They are often overloaded and underpaid.
- The criminal justice system is like a cliquey club – they have certain language they use and protocols they follow that seem meant to be confusing for the average person. Acronyms like JPT (judicial pre-trial) and OIC (Officer in Charge), for example. The good news is that Google is your friend, and most lawyers offer a free consultation. Gather your questions and do your research. You DO have the capacity to learn these things. Again, read the Criminal Code. There’s also bodies of rules pertaining to how police must behave, for example, as well as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
- Being arrested and charged is NOT the end of the world – they just want you to feel like it is. So much of police and court process is about intimidation, which is why sometimes people get physically beaten when they are not talking and giving police the answers they want to hear.
- Stick to the facts. As much as you are going to have emotional involvement in what’s happening to you, you will be taken more seriously if you can be relatively objective about everything. A lot of people make the mistake of publicly saying that the police were “out to get them”, etc. – whether or not it’s true, prove the hows and whys. Judges also don’t want to hear people ramble on; the more definitive answers you can give, the better. Yes, No, I saw, This happened, etc.
- The scariest is that the police have an internal records-management system that the public has no access to whatsoever. They can write whatever they want to in there. I’m sure they have a novel or two about me by now, with all these things that I’ve “done”. A little 1984, anyone?