Criminal Harassment

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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.

This topic will discuss criminal harassment. It is a serious offence and the penalty for criminal harassment can be as high as 10 years imprisonment.

Criminal harassment generally involves a previous relationship between the parties. It may arise if one party repeatedly communicates or harasses another person, knowing that their communications were unwanted. Sometimes, the offender is delusional (a false belief or opinion) and believes there is mutual love between the parties or believes that the love would be mutual (mutual means from both sides) if only the complainant got to know them.

The Criminal Code offence for “criminal harassment” clearly defines the prohibited behavior of an offender in circumstances where the victim reasonably fears for their safety or anyone known to them. Prohibited conduct includes:

  • Repeated following from place to place the other person or anyone known to them (also known as “stalking”)
  • Repeated communication with, either directly or indirectly, the other person or anyone known to them
  • Watching the home or place where the other person or anyone known to them resides, works, carries on a business or happens to be
  • Or engages in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any member of their family.

An offender cannot hire a private detective to avoid culpability since the court may find that the detective is acting as their agent.

Repeated contact or communication is not defined. While it likely means more than one time, the Court will consider the context to decide whether two times is “repeated” or whether more steps are required. For example, it could mean 3 times over one-hour period or 6 times over 2 days.

The Court will also consider the victim’s apprehension or feelings of fear for their safety instead of the offender’s intention when determining whether the actions of the stalker caused fear to the victim for their safety. In some cases, the Court has convicted offenders who left threatening messages on the answering machine, who made visits to the victim’s place of employment, who followed the victim on public transportation and who made rude and obscene threatening gestures to the victim.

Where a person is convicted of criminal harassment, the Court may consider aggravating factors that may increase sentencing times. These offences include but are not limited to intimidation, uttering threats, mischief, indecent or harassing telephone calls, trespassing at night, assault, assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, first degree murder, failing to comply with undertaking or recognizance, breach of recognizance or failure to comply with probation order.

Where the victim fears that the offender will cause personal injury to them or their family, or their property, they may appear before a provincial Court Judge to take preventative steps. The Criminal Code requires the victim to request a peace bond where the offender must “keep the peace” and be of good behavior. Other conditions may be imposed such as a weapons or firearms prohibition, abstaining from alcohol or drugs, reporting to a probation officer and notifying the proper authorities of any change in employment or address. The Peace Bond cannot exceed 12 months. After its expiration, a subsequent Peace Bond application must be brought. It is a crime in and of itself to refuse to sign a Peace Bond ordered by the Court or to disobey an existing bond.

You may also obtain a Restraining Order. A Restraining Order is a Court Order telling someone to stay away from you and not to communicate with you in any way. You need to go to the Court of Queen’s Bench for a Restraining Order and therefore you should consult with a lawyer. If you have a Restraining Order or Peace Bond, carry it with you at all times.

Victims are encouraged to record all incidents where they feel intimidated or fearful. A detailed chronology of the relevant incidents should be kept including the name of the harasser if known or a complete physical description. Also all incidents of conversations, types of gestures used by the offender, where the incident occurred, the time of day, any other witnesses and what confrontations may have occurred should be accurately recorded. The victim should also write down any history they may have had with the stalker. Any written letters or taped conversations should also be handed over to the police.

If you believe that you are being harassed, you should speak to the police, a lawyer or a victim’s services agency. Provide them with the recorded accounts of contacts by the offender as well as any written or taped conversations. Explain the history of your relationship with the offender if any. Explain how you might have altered your life to avoid any contact with the offender.