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Criminal Harassment

The Criminal Code of Canada prohibits deliberate conduct that causes psychological harm and/or results in reasonable fear for one’s safety. Criminal harassment includes behaviour such as ‘stalking’ or unwanted communication and often has to do with repeated conduct over a period of time.

Being charged with criminal harassment has a heightened stigma due to the concern that the public has over “stalking” type behaviour and the violence that is sometimes associated with this behaviour.

What is Criminal Harassment?

Under section 264(1) of the Criminal Code, criminal harassment is defined as any prohibited conduct “that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them”.

To be found guilty of criminal harassment, the Crown must prove each element of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt.  That means the Crown must prove the following:

  • That the accused must have engaged in the prohibited conduct in section 264(2) of the Criminal Code listed below;
  • that the complainant was harassed. “Harassed” is not defined in the Criminal Code, but it is more than mere annoyance or bother.
  • That the accused must have known that that the conduct would harass the complainant or was reckless as to whether the complainant was harassed; and
  • that the conduct caused the complainant to fear for their safety. This fear must have been reasonable in the circumstances.

Many of these elements have to be contextually assessed, such as whether the complainant was actually harassed rather than just annoyed, or whether the fear was reasonable based on the conduct and the history between the parties.

What Constitutes Harassing Conduct?

Section 264(2) lists the prohibited conduct, which could be any of the following:

  1. repeatedly following from place to place the other person or anyone known to them;
  2. repeatedly communicating, either directly or indirectly, the other person or anyone known to them;
  3. besetting or watching the dwelling-house, or place where the other person or anyone known to them, resides, works, carries on a business or happens to be; or
  4. engaging in threatening conduct directed at the person or any member of their family.

Criminal harassment can range from repeatedly phoning or texting, to lurking outside a home, to any behaviour that makes the person targeted feel threatened and in fear of their safety.

As indicated in the Criminal Code, criminal harassment can extend to the harassment of that other person’s family or friends. This conduct includes repeated contact via text message, social media, telephone, or in person. It is important to know what constitutes harassing conduct. A common example is a messy break-up where one ex-partner is refusing to leave the situation alone and is repeatedly making contact or threats to their ex-partner or their ex-partner’s family.

Criminal harassment can occur without the intention to be invasive, creating a situation where the person being charged is both surprised and shocked.  Frequenting a location simply because you know a person will be there and you can observe them could amount to criminal harassment, as could sending repeated unwanted gifts.

Being charged and convicted of criminal harassment, like any other criminal charge, can have a significant negative impact on your life, potentially affecting your ability to find gainful employment, or to travel.

Punishment

Criminal harassment is a hybrid offence, meaning the Crown can choose how to proceed.  If the Crown proceeds by Indictment, you may be liable for a term of imprisonment not exceeding ten years.  If the Crown proceeds summarily, you may be liable for a jail term not exceeding six months.  Other outcomes could be a discharge with or without probation, or a suspended sentence with probation, or a fine.

Contacting a Toronto Defence Lawyer

Attempting to talk your way out of a charge is not a good tactic and can easily result in you hurting your own case. Contacting an experienced and skilled criminal defence lawyer as soon as you are charged is indispensable in ensuring a more favourable outcome.

If you find yourself charged with criminal harassment and need a defence lawyer to represent you, do not hesitate to contact Weisberg Law at 416.605.4811.

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