Criminal Harassment Lawyers

Criminal harassment, often called stalking, is a complex legal issue in Canada due to its subjective nature and varying degrees of severity. The charge can encompass a range of acts, making it challenging to define and prosecute.

Moreover, potential harassment charges can have serious consequences, including criminal penalties and civil remedies. Seeking legal help is essential if you find yourself on the receiving end of a harassment charge. As experienced criminal lawyers, we can help you understand the specific charges against you, the elements that need to be proven, and the potential consequences you may face.

Frequently Asked Questions About Harassment

What Constitutes Criminal Harassment or Stalking in Canada?

Section 264(1) of the Criminal Code deals with the offense of criminal harassment. It defines harassment as behavior that includes stalking and that gives the victim good reason to fear for their personal safety and has no legitimate purpose. For this behavior to rise to the level of harassment, it must happen repeatedly, although a single incident may be considered criminal harassment if it is overtly threatening. It is not an excuse for the person to claim that they did not intend to frighten the victim.

Criminal harassment is classified as domestic or non-domestic. When the victim shares or has shared a romantic or intimate relationship with the accused, the charges will be classified as domestic. Criminal harassment charges can also stem from civil matters like business disputes or disagreements over money. Although rare, public figures sometimes face harassment from strangers. These charges are referred to as non-domestic charges. Other charges, such as uttering threats, assault, and mischief often accompany a charge of criminal harassment. This is due to the severity and repetitive nature of the offense, which often surpasses the seriousness of most straightforward assaults and uttering threats charges.

If you are convicted of criminal harassment in Canada, you may face serious legal consequences.  The penalties for harassment or stalking convictions can vary depending on whether the Crown is proceeding by indictment or summary conviction. If it is an indictable conviction, the maximum sentence for criminal harassment you could expect to receive can be as long as 10 years in prison. Conversely, if the offense is tried as a summary conviction, the maximum penalty imposed could be imprisonment for up to two years less a day and/or a fine of $5,000. Additionally, a conviction for criminal harassment will leave you with a criminal record, which can have long-lasting consequences.

You should know that harassment cases are treated with the utmost severity, even more so than some other offenses, such as assault. This is because harassment can significantly disrupt a person’s sense of safety, and the law reflects this seriousness.

While assault is indeed a serious crime, its maximum penalty is generally 5 years in prison. This disparity in sentencing highlights the gravity with which harassment is viewed in Canada. The essence is respecting each other’s personal space and peace of mind, as the legal consequences can be substantial.

If you have been charged with criminal harassment, you should seek help from an experienced harassment or criminal assault lawyer immediately. Pyzer Criminal Lawyers Toronto will provide you with the necessary legal expertise and help you navigate the complexities of the legal system, protect your rights, and build a strong defense.

What Are Examples of Criminal Harassment?

In Canadian criminal law, harassment is defined as anyone engaging in a course of conduct that causes another person to fear for their safety or the safety of someone else, or that causes them to suffer substantial emotional distress.

For example, if a man repeatedly sends unwanted messages to a woman, even after she has asked him to stop, and he then continues to contact her through various means, such as phone calls, emails, and social media messages. Another example is an employer repeatedly making unwanted sexual advances toward an employee, such as touching her inappropriately, making suggestive comments, and pressuring her to engage in sexual activity.

In summary, the following prohibited conduct (section 264(2) Criminal Code) constitutes criminal harassment:

  • Following or watching someone repeatedly
  • Persistently making phone calls or sending repeated emails or text messages
  • Sending unwanted gifts or letters
  • Behavior that is threatening or intimidating
  • Damaging someone’s property
  • Showing up uninvited to the complainant’s work or home.

How to Prove Harassment in Court

The prosecutor must prove several key elements to the court in order to win a conviction for criminal harassment. These elements establish the offense and are necessary to establish the accused’s guilt. The elements include:

  • Conduct: The prosecutor must show that the accused consistently behaved in a way that can be seen as harassment. This could include actions like consistently following or communicating with the complainant or making threats towards them or a member of their family.
  • Actions without legal right: It must be demonstrated that the accused didn’t have any legal right to behave the way they did.
  • Intent: The Crown has to prove that the accused either knew their actions were causing harassment or didn’t care whether their actions would lead to harassment.
  • Reasonable fear: Lastly, it needs to be proven that, because of the accused’s actions, the complainant had reasonable fears about their own safety or the safety of people they know.

Defending Criminal Harassment Charges

When facing harassment charges, there are a number of defenses that you can raise. These may include challenging the credibility of the accuser, questioning the evidence, or asserting that the alleged harassment did not meet the legal definition as stipulated in the Criminal Code.

The specific defense strategy will depend on the unique details of your case, including the nature of the charges, the available evidence, and the individual circumstances of the accused. A skilled criminal lawyer will assess all these factors to determine the best possible defence strategy and fearlessly advocate on behalf of your interest.

Lawful Authority

Lawful authority is a common defense against an allegation of criminal harassment. It refers to situations where a person had a legitimate reason to engage in the conduct that caused the alleged harassment. For example, a police officer may have lawful authority to follow and monitor a suspect as part of an investigation, even if the suspect feels harassed by the officer’s actions.

For a successful lawful authority defense, you must have had a legitimate reason or purpose for your actions that resulted in the alleged harassment. Moreover, your conduct must have been reasonable under the circumstances, which means a reasonable person in the same situation would have acted similarly. However, it's important to note that the lawful authority defense is not applicable to all criminal harassment cases. Its success hinges on the specific facts and circumstances of each individual case.

Lack of Reasonable Fear

The term “reasonable fear” refers to the complainant’s fear of harm or danger that is objectively reasonable in the circumstances. The Crown must establish that the complainant’s fear was reasonable in all of the circumstances. This means that the complainant’s fear must be based on more than just a subjective feeling of discomfort or annoyance but rather on a genuine and reasonable fear of harm or danger.

You can demonstrate a lack of reasonable fear by presenting evidence that shows your behavior was not threatening or harmful, or that the complainant's fear was based on a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of your actions. However, it's crucial to understand that you cannot rely solely on your own subjective belief that your conduct wasn't threatening or harmful. Instead, you must provide objective evidence to support your claim.

Lack of Intent

In criminal harassment cases, your defense of lack of intent involves proving that you did not possess the necessary intent to commit the crime. To achieve this, you must show that you lacked awareness of the harassment, acted without recklessness, and did not specifically intend to instill fear or harm in the complainant. It's crucial to understand that lack of intent doesn't necessarily equate to innocence or absence of repercussions from your actions. It simply denotes that you didn't harbor the required mental state to be found guilty of criminal harassment.

Incorrect Identity

In criminal harassment cases, your defense of incorrect or mistaken identity involves proving that you were not the person responsible for the alleged harassment. To succeed, you must show that you were mistakenly identified as the person responsible for the offense. To succeed, you must present sufficient evidence to persuade the court that you were not the culprit of the alleged harassment. This could entail presenting evidence proving you were not present at the time of the alleged offense, or having an alibi confirming your innocence.

Factual Innocence

Factual innocence is a strong defense to a criminal harassment charge and entails the accused maintaining they did not commit the offense they are charged with. Mistaken (or incorrect) identity is one of the defenses against a charge of criminal harassment. You may also present an alibi to show that you were not present at the time of the alleged offense. You could argue that there is insufficient evidence to support the Crown's case or present evidence demonstrating that the complainant's fear was based on a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of your actions.

Charter of Rights Violations

In criminal harassment cases, your defense could involve asserting that your rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were violated either before or after your arrest, or during the trial. To successfully employ this defense, you must prove that your Charter rights were infringed upon in a manner that affected the fairness of your trial or the reliability of the evidence against you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Harassment and Stalking

What does “repeatedly” following, communicating with, or watching mean?

In the context of criminal harassment, “repeatedly” following, communicating with, or watching someone refers to persistently engaging in these behaviours over time. It implies a pattern of behavior rather than a one-time occurrence.  It is this repetitive nature that distinguishes criminal harassment from other forms of behavior. The intent behind these actions is to cause fear, intimidation, or distress to the victim.

Does the complainant’s fear need to be reasonable for a conviction?

The complainant’s fear does not need to be reasonable, but it must be objectively understandable in the circumstances. The prosecutor does not have to prove that the complainant suffered harm, but they must prove that the accused engaged in conduct that caused the complainant to fear for their safety or the safety of someone known to them.

Is domestic harassment and workplace harassment different?

Yes. Domestic harassment refers to abusive behavior that occurs within a domestic or family relationship, while workplace harassment refers to abusive behavior that occurs in the context of employment. The prosecutor does not have to prove that the complainant suffered harm for a conviction of criminal harassment, but they must prove that the accused engaged in conduct that caused the complainant to fear for their safety or the safety of someone known to them. In the context of workplace harassment, the focus is on the behavior and its impact on the work environment with the goal of creating a safe and respectful workplace.

Facing criminal harassment charges can be a daunting experience. However, you do not have to navigate this legal maze alone. Pyzer Criminal Defence Lawyers are well-versed in these matters and stand ready to defend your rights. As experienced criminal and workplace harassment lawyers, the Pyzer team will strive to protect your interests. We understand that every case is unique and deserves a personalized defence strategy. Whether you are being accused of criminal harassment or workplace harassment, we encourage you to reach out to us and let us put our knowledge and experience to work for you, safeguarding your future by delivering the best possible outcome for your case.

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