Stalking is a crime called criminal harassment

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Criminal Harassment

Are you worried about your safety because someone is:

You may be experiencing criminal harassment!

It's a crime! You can get help.

What You Should Know About Criminal Harassment

What is criminal harassment?

Criminal harassment is an offence in the Criminal Code. It is harassing behaviour that includes stalking. The behaviour must give you good reason to fear for your personal safety and it must have no legitimate purpose. Generally, the behaviour must happen not just once but repeatedly. However, where the behaviour is overtly threatening, a single incident may be considered criminal harassment. It is not an excuse for the person to claim that he or she did not intend to frighten you.

Remember, though, some people do have a lawful reason to contact you repeatedly. For example, a debt collector may call you several times. Although you may not like this contact, it is lawful when done according to laws regulating collections.

Here are some examples of criminal harassment:

These are common examples. Such unwanted behaviour can be frightening and cause emotional distress. You can take action if this is happening to you. Contact the police to discuss your options.

Is criminal harassment something new?

Harassment and stalking have been around for a long time, but the specific Criminal Code offence of "criminal harassment" was only created in 1993. In the past, the police would charge a person with an offence like trespassing at night, loitering or uttering threats. These crimes still exist and may still be charged. However, since 1993 the police usually address this type of conduct through a charge of criminal harassment. Criminal Harassment legislation is a response to the increasing violence against women, especially women leaving a marriage or intimate relationship.

Who stalks and why?

Stalkers have a variety of personalities and characteristics. Some may have a mental disorder. Experts have described many types of stalkers, but they mostly fit into two basic categories:

Although anyone can be a victim of criminal harassment, Statistics Canada data show that about 8 out of 10 victims are women, and 9 out of 10 stalkers are men.

Will the stalker become violent?

It is hard to know if the person harassing you will become violent. You should ask the police to help you assess the risk. Less than 1% of criminal harassment cases involve injury to the victim. However, when criminal harassment is a continuation of a family violence situation the risk of violence is greater. It is always a good idea to find ways to increase your safety.

Why me?

Being harassed or stalked is not your fault. The person may claim to love you, but he or she really wants to control you. You have the right to reject a friendship, separate from a spouse, or break up with a partner. Just because you know the person does not mean that you must put up with the harassing behaviour. You are not to blame if someone repeatedly bothers you or follows you around. Remember, what they are doing is NOT love. It is against the law and you can take action.

Taking Action

What can I do if someone is stalking or harassing me?

How can the police help me?

Be sure to get the police file number for your case and use it whenever you call the police.

What kind of information do the police need?

The police need as much evidence as possible, so try to keep the following:

Will the police charge the person who is harassing me?

If there is enough evidence of an offence, the police will charge the person. In some provinces, the police must consult with the Crown prosecutor before they lay charges. However, if the police do not charge the person, it does not mean that they do not believe you. There may not be enough evidence to support a charge and the police may suggest other legal options such as a peace bond, restraining order or protection order.

What would the police charge the person with?

Depending on what has happened and the type of evidence, the police might charge the person with one or more Criminal Code offences, such as:

Will the person harassing me be arrested and sent to jail?

The answer is not simple. It depends on the facts and the seriousness of the behaviour. The police will assess each situation and take the appropriate action under the circumstances. For example, if the police do not arrest the person, they may require him or her to sign a "promise to appear" in court to answer the charge. Tell the police and victim services if you still fear for your safety. If the police do make an arrest, ask them to let you know if they release the person from custody. If the person goes before a judge or a Justice of the Peace, which usually happens within hours, he or she might be:

Will I have to go to court?

If charges are laid, the police will turn the file over to the Crown prosecutor's office. The Crown prosecutor is responsible for taking the case to court. If the accused person pleads guilty, you may not have to go to court. If he or she pleads not guilty, the Crown prosecutor would summon you as a witness at the trial to prove that the person committed the crime. Ask for help from victim services. A victim service worker can answer questions about what will happen in court, and keep you updated on the status of your case. They can also make sure you have an interpreter in court if you need one. You can contact the Crown prosecutor in your case if you have questions about the evidence you will present in court.

What happens if the person is found guilty?

If the accused person pleads guilty or is found guilty, the judge will decide the sentence. Before sentencing, you can give the court a written victim impact statement describing how the crime affected you. If you wish, you may read the statement at the sentencing hearing. The sentence for a criminal harassment conviction may range from jail in the most serious cases (up to 10 years) to probation in less serious cases. Probation orders can include conditions such as no contact. The court can also impose a fine. The exact sentence depends on many factors — whether violence was used, whether the person already has a criminal record, whether drugs and alcohol were involved, and so on.

Other Legal Options

Peace bond

What You Should Know About Court Orders

Court orders do not guarantee your safety. Some people ignore court orders!

Restraining order

Protection order

This is a civil court order issued under provincial family violence legislation. Not all provinces have such legislation. Where it exists, it provides various emergency and long-term orders to protect victims of family violence. A protection order may give temporary custody of children and the home to the victim, while ordering the abusive person out of the home. It can include conditions such as not allowing any contact.

Ways to Increase Your Personal Safety

Some of the following tips apply if a stranger is stalking you, others if an ex-partner is bothering you. You should not use this information in place of seeking police assistance.

Tell others

Be sure family and friends know what is happening. Ask them to keep written records and to let you know if the person contacts them.

Keep personal information private

Take your name off your mailbox or consider getting a post office box.

Be safe on the telephone

Never agree to meet the person who is harassing you.

Practise Internet safety

Do a home security check

Always be alert and have a plan

Make an emergency escape plan. Keep a packed bag and some money in your car or workplace. Let your family know about your plan.

Getting Information, Help and Support

Information about your case

Community Resource List

Create your personal community resource list. In addition to the police, there are a variety of organizations that can offer support or helpful information. Look in the white, yellow or blue pages of your telephone book for contact numbers for the following local or provincial agencies:

Helpful Resource Telephone Number
Can help you assess your safety and take action against someone committing a crime.
(911 in an emergency)
Public Legal Education and Information
Can share general information about the law, the legal system and your rights.
Victim Services
Can refer you to counselling and tell you about programs and services for victims of crime.
Crisis Line
May be able to help with crisis intervention and refer you to helpful services.
Transition House
Can provide shelter, information and referrals for women who are stalked by partners or ex-partners.
Mental Health Office
Can offer information or counselling on depression, stress and mental health issues.
People you trust
Family, friends, doctor, or religious adviser may be able to offer emotional support.
Look for other resources. You may be able to get help from a local women's centre, a sexual assault centre, a gay/lesbian support group, and so on.