Understanding Criminal Harassment

Criminal harassment is commonly known as stalking and it can take many forms. At its root, the act can lead the victim to fear their personal safety is in jeopardy and may result in depression, isolation, hopelessness, resentment, lack of control and a lowered sense of self-worth. It is predatory in nature and although criminal harassment may not include physical harm, it can turn violent.

While the act of criminal harassment is not new, the specific section covering the offence in the Criminal Code is. Prior to 1993, those who engaged in stalking behaviour could have been charged with uttering threats, intimidation, making indecent or harassing phone calls, mischief, trespassing at night or breach of recognizance.

The crime is now covered under s. 264 of the Code. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ) the new charge was introduced “to help protect women in Canada from physical attacks and harassment.”

“The hope was that perpetrators would either be deterred by the threat of criminal prosecution, or be incarcerated or otherwise prevented from harassing or attacking their victims. The legislation is also available as a potential tool against harassment such as the stalking of children, harassment practiced by some members of politically motivated groups, or harassment related to business or personal matters not linked to violence against women,” the DOJ states.

Although the charge of criminal harassment was introduced “as a specific response to violence against women, particularly to domestic violence against women” its use is not limited to cases of domestic violence and applies equally to all victims of harassment, both men and women.

If you have been charged with criminal harassment you need an experienced defence lawyer in your corner to fight for your rights. Contact me for a free consultation. I can help you understand the complex criminal justice system.

What is criminal harassment?

According to the latest statistics, police were notified of more than 20,000 criminal harassment incidents in 2009, representing almost five per cent of all reported violent crimes. Women accounted for 76 per cent of all victims.

The majority of criminal harassment victims — 69 per cent — were harassed in their own home or at another residence, such as a friend’s house, with 52 per cent reporting that they received repeated or obscene phone calls from their stalkers. One-third said they were spied on or had been intimidated or threatened.

Criminal harassment consists of repeated conduct that is often carried out over a period of time and causes the alleged victim to fear for their safety or for the safety of someone they know. The offender doesn’t necessarily have to have the specific intention to intimidate or scare the victim. Acts that cause an alleged victim to reasonably fear for their safety can lead to a charge being laid.
Harassment can be motivated by revenge or by the false belief that the stalker can convince or coerce the alleged victim to return to the relationship.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime states that criminal harassment can be defined as behaviour that includes repeatedly following the alleged victim, communicating with them or watching over their home. “This sort of behaviour is against the law. It is not a sign of love; it is about power and abuse.” Stalking can include a variety of actions intended to control and frighten someone and can include:

  • repeated telephone calls to the alleged victim’s home, cellphone or workplace;
  • tracking their whereabouts;
  • following or watching;
  • vandalizing the alleged victim’s car or home;
  • showing up uninvited at work or home;
  • repeated letters or stealing mail;
  • repeated emails or texts that can be threatening or obscene;
  • spamming, electronic identity theft, leaving improper messages on message boards or in guest books, sending electronic viruses;
  • sending unwanted gifts;
  • harassing the alleged victim’s family, friends, colleagues or employer; and
  • threatening to harm or harming the alleged victim’s family, friends or pets.

What the Criminal Code says

According to the Department of Justice, criminal harassment prohibits deliberate conduct that is psychologically harmful to others. Section 264 of the Criminal Code came into law in August 1993 and states no person shall, without lawful authority and knowing that another person is harassed, engage in conduct that causes that other person to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.

Prohibited conduct includes:

  • repeatedly following a person or anyone known to them from place to place;
  • repeatedly communicating with the other person or anyone known to them either directly or indirectly;
  • besetting or watching the place a person, or anyone known to them, resides, works, carries on business or happens to be; or
  • engaging in threatening conduct directed at a person or any member of their family.

Harassment allegations are taken seriously, especially since stalking can escalate to acts of physical violence. Police require reasonable grounds to pursue a charge, which they could have if an alleged victim reports an incident that they believe compromises their safety or the safety of those known to them.

The DOJ states that because criminal harassment “is often a progressive crime that wears down its victims over time, early, effective intervention can go a long way toward preventing more serious psychological harm and escalation of the harassment into violence or homicide.” According to the department, the objective of a police investigation is to stop the harassment at an early stage and collect evidence for prosecution.

Contact me if you have been charged

Punishment for criminal harassment varies depending on the seriousness of the crime and whether the offender was subject to a protection order prohibiting contact with the alleged victim. If convicted, a judge could impose probation for up to three years, levy a fine and order the offender to submit DNA to the National DNA Data Bank. In extreme cases, a conviction could result in a 10-year prison sentence. A firearms prohibition may also be imposed requiring the offender to forfeit any weapons or guns to the crown.

If you have been charged with criminal harassment you don’t have to face the justice system alone. I have more than 20 years of experience in criminal law with a reputation for being a fearless advocate for my clients. I invite you to check out my Criminal Case Decisions to see how I can help you.