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Toronto Criminal Harassment Lawyer

Criminal Harassment or "Stalking"

This charge is becoming more commonplace than ever before in Ontario courts and carries a stigma that people will want to avoid. A criminal harassment conviction can make a person unattractive to potential employers and cause difficulty in trying to enter the United States. A finding of guilt for criminal harassment also carries with it a mandatory ten-year weapons prohibition. Prosecutors will routinely request DNA from criminal offenders to put on the Canadian DNA data bank.

The consequences of a finding of guilt are severe, and it is recommended that people consult with an experienced criminal lawyer to determine the best course of action when faced with this type of charge.

Getting Charged with Criminal Harassment

There is a certain “creep” factor associated with the charge of criminal harassment. The media has generated an environment where people think “stalking” will always lead to killing or sexual abuse. Often the behaviour that leads to the charge falls short of the actual criminal definition. Sometimes it’s just “teenage angst” or other times it’s a complainant exaggerating what actually happened. Weisberg Law understands that not everyone charged with criminal harassment is a “stalker”.

Information on Criminal Harassment

The following information has been prepared to give people a general understanding of criminal harassment law in Canada. It is recommended that a lawyer is hired whenever facing this type of charge to ensure that the advice given and received is current. Do not try to defend this charge without hiring a lawyer.

The Act of Criminal Harassment

The following activities will be considered criminal harassment (or “stalking”) by the courts:

  • Repeatedly following a complainant or someone known to them
  • Repeatedly communicating with a complainant or someone known to them
  • Watching or “besetting” a known place where the complainant will likely be found
  • Employing threatening conduct toward the complainant or someone known to them

To be found guilty of criminal harassment, the accused must either know or be reckless as to whether the complainant is harassed by one or more of the above-mentioned forms of conduct. Further, the complainant must reasonably in the circumstances have been fearful of their safety or the safety of someone known to them as a result of the conduct.


Frequently Asked Questions

Criminal Harassment commonly involves allegations of stalking-type behaviour. In the digital age, criminal harassment allegations are often focused on online conduct. The Criminal Code sets out certain forms of prohibited conduct, being: repeatedly following another person, repeatedly communicating with another person, besetting or watching a place the person happens to be, or engaging in threatening conduct directed at the person or any member of their family. The conduct must also cause the other person to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of someone known to them.

In order to charge a person with criminal harassment, the police must have information or witness statements that indicate the alleged victim reasonably feared for their safety because of the prohibited conduct.

The standard to charge someone is very low; the officer must only possess reasonable grounds. An officer will possess reasonable grounds if a complainant tells them that the prohibited conduct occurred and that the alleged victim reasonably fears for their safety or the safety of someone known to them.

The standard to prove someone guilty involves proving all the acts and the intent of the accused person to a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecution must establish that, because of the prohibited act, the complainant was being harassed or felt harassed. “Harassed” means feeling tormented, troubled, continually worried, plagued, bedevilled, and badgered. Mere repetition can amount to harassment. A single incident can also amount to harassment. The prosecution will also need to prove the complainant had a reasonable fear for their safety and the accused knew that, or was reckless as to whether, the conduct was harassing.

In many cases the police will issue an official warning to an accused person before charging them. The warning will usually be that a certain person feels they are being harassed and they wish no further contact. Should the accused person have further contact they will likely be charged with criminal harassment. The police-issued warning will then be used as evidence in court to prove the accused knew their further contact after the warning was harassing.

The sentencing range for criminal harassment depends largely on the seriousness of the infringing conduct and offender’s history. The maximum punishment for criminal harassment when prosecuted by indictment is 10 years in prison. Most people found guilty of criminal harassment who do not have a prior record will not receive a jail sentence unless the conduct is very extreme in nature. The sentence will range depending largely on the presence or absence of aggravating and mitigating factors.

It is important to defend these cases vigorously because a criminal record for criminal harassment can hinder an accused person’s future employment opportunities and ability to travel abroad.

There are several defences to criminal harassment that can be explored by an experienced criminal lawyer. The most common defences involve attacking the elements of the offence that the prosecutor must prove such as identity, the act itself, the accused’s intention, and whether or not the complainant had a reasonable fear. Complainants in these cases often have a motive to fabricate that should be explored through cross-examination by an experienced lawyer.

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