Understanding Assault Charges

Simply stated, assault occurs when someone directly or indirectly intentionally applies force on another person without their consent. Even if no physical contact takes place, the threat of an assault could lead to charges under the Criminal Code if you are the aggressor.

It is common for people to think of assault as an incident where someone is punched or struck with a weapon but police have laid charges after someone has thrown a hot drink on another person. Intentionally spitting or coughing on someone can lead to a criminal conviction. During the COVID-19 pandemic, an Edmonton man was charged with two counts of assault for allegedly coughing on a city bus driver and transit police following an altercation with another passenger. The man had admitted he had tested positive for the virus. Last fall, a Calgary man pleaded guilty to charges of assault and uttering a threat after spitting on people in July 2020. According to a media report, the man was shown on a video spitting on an Asian woman on a skateboard, then calling her a racial slur.

There are several degrees of assault in the Code with penalties that include up to 14 years in prison for the most serious offence of aggravated assault. 

Assault is one of the most common charges I encounter in my practice. A criminal record could have a profound effect on your life and have long-lasting consequences. If you have been charged with any criminal offence, call me before you make any statements. I will review your case and start working on your defence. I have a reputation for staunchly representing my clients. Check out my record for yourself.  

How are assault charges different?

While police across the country reported a decrease in the number of non-domestic assaults during the pandemic, violent crime remains a problem. In a recent study, Statistics Canada reported 47,797 Albertans were victims of violent crimes and criminal traffic offences causing death or bodily harm in 2016. That equates to 1,121 victims in 100,000 people, which was above the national average. More than two-thirds — 68 per cent — of victims of police-reported crime in Alberta were assaulted. Almost half were victims of common assault while 17 per cent were victims of a major assault. 

Under the Criminal Code, an assault occurs when:

  • without the consent of another person, the accused applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly;
  • the accused attempts or threatens, by an act or a gesture, to apply force to another person, or causes that other person to believe on reasonable grounds that they have the ability to commit an assault; or
  • while openly wearing or carrying a weapon or an imitation thereof, the accused accosts or impedes another person.

There are differing degrees of assault:

Simple, or common assault: This is the most basic and commonly laid charge covering occurrences not involving a weapon and covered under s.266 of the Code. It can include something minor, such as a shove. The charge can also be laid in serious incidents, such as a fistfight. Common assault is broken down into domestic or non-domestic categories.

Assaulting a peace officer: Covered under s. 270 (1) of the Criminal Code, this charge protects not only police but those in public service such as bylaw officers, court bailiffs and corrections officers. You can face trial on this charge if you assault a peace officer in the line of duty or prevent or attempt to prevent them from carrying out their assignment, or if you resist arrest.

Assault causing bodily harm: As this charge indicates, if your actions result in someone suffering injuries, you can be criminally charged. Under the law, bodily harm is described as “any hurt or injury to a person that interferes with the health or comfort of the person and that is more than merely transient or trifling in nature.” A trifling injury is one that is insignificant or petty while transient means something that passes in a short time. This charge is contained under s. 267 of the Criminal Code.

Assault with a weapon: Also covered under s. 267 of the Code, this charge is laid if a weapon is used in an assault. While it is common to think of a weapon as a gun or a knife, it can be anything that inflicts harm, such as a coffee mug or even a snowball. It is not so much a matter of what was used as a weapon, but how it was used.

Aggravated assault: This is the most serious form of assault and is considered an indictable offence under s. 268 of the Code. What sets aggravated assault apart from other assault charges is the severity of the injuries inflicted. You can face this charge if you wound, maim, disfigure or endanger someone’s life. While endangering a person’s life must involve an actual risk, it is important to note that it does not necessarily have to result in actual bodily harm.

Sexual assault: This is described as any touching of another person without their consent where the contact is of a sexual nature, or where the sexual integrity of the victim is violated. Also included in the Code is charges for aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon. For more on sexual assault, see my blog.

When I am justified in using force?

If you did not intend to inflict grievous harm or you were acting to protect yourself, your property or others, you could be found not guilty of assault charges. However, if you are acting in self-defence, your actions would not be justified if you continued to attack someone when they are no longer able to defend themselves. As well, you could argue implied consent if an injury occurred during a fistfight and you can prove the victim willingly participated.

An assault conviction comes with serious consequences

Depending on the severity of the assault and the charge laid, you could face a fine or a combination of prison and probation. It also depends on how the Crown prosecutor elects to proceed with your case. For example, if you are convicted of the summary offence of assault causing bodily harm or assault with a weapon, the maximum penalty is 18 months in jail. If those charges proceed by indictment, the maximum penalty is a prison term of 10 years.

There is a maximum prison sentence of 14 years if you are convicted of aggravated assault. You will also be subject to a mandatory weapons prohibition order pursuant to s.109 of the Code and a mandatory weapon forfeiture order pursuant to s. 491. A conviction for aggravated assault also requires you to submit a sample to the DNA data bank under s. 487.051 of the Code

Call a lawyer who has experience with assault cases

The justice system takes violent crime seriously so if you have been charged with assault you need someone on your side who can build a strong case in your defence. Your future may be on the line so it is important to make an informed choice when it comes to legal representation. I have more than 20 years of experience as a criminal lawyer and my client testimonials speak to my success. If you have been charged with assault, contact me for a free initial consultation.