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Uttering Threats Charges

In Canada, it is illegal to engage in certain types of threatening activity. Uttering threats charges are a very common part of a criminal lawyer’s trial practice. Originally, the legislation was designed to deal with organized crime and threatening behaviour. The law involving threats has evolved into a very common charge both in the domestic setting and public setting.

Uttering Threats of Death or Bodily Harm

People often do not realize the consequences of making a threat. In Canada, it is against the law to intentionally threaten another person with causing their death or bodily harm. It is also against the law to threaten to cause damage to a person’s property or animals.

The Crown Attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused conveyed or uttered a threat as mentioned above to any individual. The actual intended recipient of the threat does not need to be aware of the threat for a finding of guilt. For example, a husband could tell his wife that he was going to kill her mother and this would be an offence.

The threat can be conveyed in any manner which means personally by voice, email, Facebook message, telephone, etc. Gestures can also potentially be construed as illegal threats (i.e., Making a gun pointing gesture at someone depending on the context and circumstances could be considered a threat for criminal purposes). A threat can be defined as a declaration of hostile intent or a determination to inflict punishment, loss, pain, and injury to another person.

Not every statement of hostile intent, however, represents a threat. A distinction must be drawn between a threat and a promise, and the mere observation that particularly unpleasant events will occur. For example, the phrase “you will die,” could either represent a threat or merely an accurate reflection on another’s mortality.

Things Which May Not be Threats

In one case, an accused had hit his wife and told her that he had imagined hitting her across her windpipe, thereby killing her and that she was lucky that he had only punched her on the leg. The judge found that the words were not used regarding a hostile intention to cause anything to occur, and therefore were not a threat.

Also, words spoken in jest or the context of a joke are not a threat under Canadian law. This does not mean that people never get criminally charged for a joke and then have to defend their conduct at trial.

It must be remembered that it also does not matter if the threat would be impossible to carry out by the accused. The Crown will, however, have to prove that the accused knowingly made the threat and that he intended the threat to be taken seriously so as to cause a reaction of alarm or fear in the mind of the recipient. It doesn’t matter if the recipient didn’t know about the threat or was not intimidated by the threat. The Crown also does not have to prove that the accused intended to carry out the threat.

Potential Defences

  • Drunkenness in certain circumstances may provide a defence.
  • A lawful excuse in certain circumstances may also provide a defence.
  • The credibility of the complainant as to whether or not a threat was made.

If you or someone you know is charged with uttering threats they should contact an experienced criminal trial lawyer.

Our office can be reached at 416.605.4811 to discuss your charges.


Frequently Asked Questions

Not all threats are criminal in nature. For a threat to be criminal, it has to be extortive, or a threat to: cause death, cause bodily harm, cause damage to real or personal property, or to injure or kill an animal that is personal property.

The act is proven if a reasonable person fully aware of the circumstances in which the words were uttered or conveyed would have perceived the words to be a threat of death or bodily harm.

For intent, the prosecutor must prove that the accused intended the words uttered or conveyed to intimidate or to be taken seriously.

The sentence for uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm depends largely on the severity of the conduct and the presence or absence of a criminal past. Sentences range from non-permanent criminal records (absolute discharges and conditional discharges) to jail. Uttering death threats against a domestic partner is an aggravating feature of the conduct. It is possible to be sentenced to jail for uttering threats, however, it is unlikely for a first-time offender with no criminal record.

A criminal lawyer needs to review the case in detail to be able to give an accurate assessment of the potential range for sentence.

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