What is criminal harassment?

By Last Updated: March 16, 2022

In Canada, criminal harassment is a charge that will be laid when you knowingly engage in prohibited conduct that causes another person to reasonably fear for their safety, or that causes them to fear for the safety of someone known to them. More commonly referred to as stalking, criminal harassment charges typically follow repeated, but unwanted attempts to communicate with a complainant. Often, criminal harassment charges are laid against individuals who might be trying to pursue an unwanted relationship with a complainant. They might do so by persistently sending the complainant messages or phone calls that are unsolicited and unwanted, which ultimately leads to a charge for criminal harassment being laid. Other examples of criminal harassment would be repeatedly following a complainant, or watching the complainant in their place of work or where they live.

In order for you to be convicted of criminal harassment, the Crown Prosecutor will need to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The complainant felt harassed;
  • You knew that your conduct would make the complainant feel harassed, or you were reckless or wilfully blind as to whether it would make the complainant feel harassed;
  • Your conduct caused the complainant to fear for his or her safety, or the safety of anyone known to him or her;
  • The complainant’s fear was reasonable in the circumstances; and,
  • You engaged in some form of the prohibited conduct outlined in the Criminal Code. Prohibited conduct includes:
  • Repeatedly following the complainant from place to place;
  • Repeatedly communicating with the complainant or anyone known to the complainant either directly or indirectly;
  • Watching the place where the complainant works or lives; and
  • Engaging in threatening behavior that is directed either at the complainant or at members of their family.

While the word harassed is not defined in the criminal code, our courts have generally interpreted it to mean that the complainant felt worried, troubled, or badgered by the conduct of the accused. Further, while the conduct must be repeated, our courts have also found that persistent harassment throughout the course of a single, prolonged interaction is sufficient to meet the ‘repeated’ element of this offence. For example, if you followed a complainant for several hours, and your conduct met all other requirements of the offence, it would be enough to charge and potentially convict you of this offence.

The Penalty for Criminal Harassment in Canada:

If you are found guilty of criminal harassment, you can face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if the Crown proceeds by way of indictment. If it proceeds by way of summary conviction, you can face up to 18 months in prison and a $5000.00 fine.

In addition to potentially spending time in jail, you may also have to contend with restrictive ancillary orders. For example, you may be given a firearms and weapons prohibition which will preclude you from owning or being in possession of any firearms or weapons for the duration of the order. If a firearms or weapons prohibition is attached to your sentence, you will also have to forfeit any guns or weapons you currently own to the Crown. Furthermore, in very serious cases, the Crown can make an application for a DNA order to submit samples of your DNA to a national databank,  or they can make an application to have you become a registered sex offender.

Given the high stakes you face if charged with criminal harassment, it is in your best interest to call one of our criminal defence lawyers immediately. We will be able to start working on your case right away and will canvass all possible resolutions with the Crown, or begin mounting you an excellent defence for trial if needed.

About The Author

Michael Oykhman

Managing Partner

Michael Oykhman is a senior lawyer and founder of Oykhman Criminal Defence, a full-service criminal law firm with central law offices across Western Canada and Ontario.

My professional experience consists of countless court appearances and thousands of successful defences and satisfied clients. Over the last 10 years, I have worked to build a law office where all the lawyers share our collective experience, resources, and passion to help people. Our team approach to legal representation is client–rather than only law–centered. We look for opportunities to add value to our clients through strategic thinking and creative solutions.

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