Uttering threats is a charge that can be laid when a person knowingly utters or conveys a threat to cause a person’s death, to cause bodily harm to any person or identifiable group, to burn, destroy, or damage someone else’s property, or to kill or cause harm to an animal that is the property of another person.
You may be charged with uttering threats even if you threatened a person or group indirectly, for example by getting someone else to pass along the threatening message. Further, you may be charged with uttering threats even if you did not actually verbally utter a threat. As an example, you can still be charged with uttering threats when you make a threatening gesture without any words, say by mimicking the motion of slitting a throat. You can also be charged with uttering threats if the threat is sent electronically by text, email, Facebook, etc. In fact, even if the person or identifiable group you threatened was never made aware of the threat, or did not take the threat seriously, you may still be charged with uttering threats.
A person will be found guilty of uttering threats when the Crown proves the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- A threat was made. In order to determine whether the utterance or gesture truly constitutes a threat, an objective assessment will be made from the perspective of a reasonable bystander. That is, the court will consider whether a reasonable person who was fully aware of the circumstances in which the threat was made would perceive it to be a threat of death, bodily harm, or a threat to that person’s property; and
- When you made the threat, you intended the threat to intimidate or to be taken seriously. When assessing intention, it will be looked at with reference to your subjective intention at the time you made the threat. In order to establish your subjective intention, the Crown can draw inferences from the surrounding circumstances, like how others who heard it perceived the threat, or whether you were fighting or joking around with the complainant at the time of the offence.
The Penalty for Uttering Threats in Canada:
Uttering threats is a hybrid offence, so the penalty that will follow a conviction will vary depending on whether the Crown Prosecutor chooses to proceed by indictment, or whether they proceed by way of summary conviction.
If the Crown proceeds by indictment, in serious cases you could be liable for as much as five years spent in prison. If the Crown proceeds by summary conviction, you could be liable for up to 18 months of imprisonment if convicted. Further, if you are convicted of uttering threats you can also be subject to ancillary orders or additional conditions once you are released. For example, you will likely be prohibited from contacting or going near the person that you threatened. Given that uttering threats is a violent crime, there is a high likelihood that you will also be prohibited from owning or possessing firearms or weapons for a specified period of time.
The severity of your penalty can also be influenced by the presence of aggravating factors. Some aggravating factors that can increase your penalty include whether the threat was made against a child, an elderly person, a mentally disabled person, or some other vulnerable person or group; whether the person who uttered the threat has a history of uttering threats or other violent offences; whether the threat was made in a domestic context; and whether whether a weapon was used in uttering the threat.