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.