At some point or another, most of us, in a moment of anger or frustration, have probably uttered a threat of some kind.

Maybe you woke up because the neighbour’s dog was barking for the third night in a row, and you told your partner you were going to “kill that dog if he doesn’t shut up.” Or maybe after a bad day at the office you told a buddy you were going to “burn that place to the ground” if things didn’t improve. Perhaps you even told a family that you’d make your ex pay for dumping you.

Unfortunately, under the right circumstances these could all be examples of uttering threats in Canada according our nation’s criminal code.

Understanding what counts as a threat and what doesn’t, and knowing how being charged under the Criminal Code of Canada for uttering threats can impact your life, is essential if you want to protect your civil rights and avoid being charged with an offence.

In this blog, we’ll be exploring the question “what is uttering threats,” looking at uttering threats examples, and considering the legal consequences a person can face if they are found guilty of uttering threats in Canada.

What is Uttering Threats?

The Criminal Code of Canada deals with uttering threats in its section on Offences Against the Person and Reputation. Technically, uttering threats is considered to be a form of assault: a person is guilty of uttering threats when they knowingly “utters, conveys, or causes any person to receive a threat.”

The Criminal Code goes on to distinguish between three distinct classes of threats:

  1. Threats to a Person: When someone threatens death or bodily harm to another person
  2. Threats to a Person’s Pet: When someone threatens death or bodily harm to a bird or animal owned by another person
  3. Threats to Property: When someone threatens to burn, destroy, or otherwise damage another person’s property (real or personal)

The most important thing to bear in mind about threats is that the threat exists in the perception of the alleged victim: it doesn’t matter whether you intended to follow through on the threat, as long as the alleged victim believed you had such an intention.

Social media has made uttering threats a particularly common type of criminal offence, especially for minors. It is all too easy to type out a callous message calling for harm to another person or their property, but if the recipient of the message fears the threat will be acted on, charges can be pressed.

A Facebook comment or Tweet that voices a threat to cause death or bodily harm can lead to serious repercussions, as in the recent case of Peter Bodnarchuk, a Winnipeg man recently charged with assault for posts he made online.

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What is the Punishment for Uttering Threats?

As you might imagine, given that it is seen as a form of assault, the punishment for people convicted of uttering threats can be quite severe.

As an indictable offence, uttering threats carries a maximum prison sentence of up to five years, and even if the charge proceeds as a summary conviction, you could be looking at six months to two years behind bars. Even if you avoid jail time, you could face a fine of $5,000, and you’ll be stuck with a lifelong criminal record.

But being charged with uttering threats can have an incredibly disruptive effect on your life even if you aren’t convicted: if the judge at your probation hearing deems you a risk to others, under the probation rules in Canada you will be held in custody until the time of your trial.

This means you won’t be able to work, and can lead to you losing your job or having to give up your residence. For this reason, people charged with uttering threats in cities like Toronto need to make sure they have Toronto criminal lawyers who can represent them at their bail hearing so they can carry on with their lives while awaiting trial.

Uttering Threats Examples

One common uttering threats example is uttering threats in a domestic relationship. Arguments between partners can become heated, and occasionally one partner may fear that the other person will act on their words.

As noted above, this type of threat is considered a form of assault, and will be treated with great seriousness by law enforcement officers.

Another common uttering threats example relates to personal property. In a dispute between neighbours, one person might threaten to cut down another person’s tree if they don’t trim the branches back. While this might seem like a minor thing, if the threat is taken seriously, it can lead to criminal charges.

The above uttering threats example shows just how quickly words said in anger can lead to real-world consequences. If you have been charged with the offence of uttering threats, you’ll need the help of a criminal lawyer in Toronto who can help you explore your legal options.

The good news is that the Crown Prosecution can withdraw the charges if they feel there is insufficient evidence to convict you. In order to get a conviction, the Crown Prosecution must prove that you:

  • Uttered the threat intentionally
  • That the alleged victim received the threat
  • That you intended to cause the alleged victim to feel fear

An experienced Toronto criminal defence lawyer will try to make the case that one or more of these conditions does not apply, and that the Crown should drop the case.

Getting into a verbal altercation with someone and then finding yourself charged with a criminal offence can be a truly horrifying experience, and the stigma of being charged with assault — even if you didn’t lay a finger on the alleged victim — can have a far-reaching impact on your life.

If you want to clear your name and make sure the situation doesn’t get even more out of hand, call the best criminal lawyer Toronto has to offer: Jeff Reisman Law.