Yes. In Ontario, the law recognizes that domestic violence can extend beyond just physical violence. Merely making threats of violence within a domestic relationship can result in a criminal charge.

The police can and will arrest people based only on uttering a threat. The courts consider many factors, like the context and credibility of the threat.

man and woman in verbal argument
However, this is only after the partner has already been arrested and charged with an offence. A criminal conviction for domestic threats can lead to jail time and other penalties. It is essential to seek the legal advice of a qualified domestic assault lawyer. They can explain implications based on your specific circumstances.

What Is the Crime of Domestic Threats?

Assault or threats involving an “intimate partner” are considered domestic crimes. This is most commonly a husband or wife, but it also includes short-term girlfriends and boyfriends, as well as common-law partners. The “domestic” label affects every stage of the criminal process.

When the police receive an emergency call for spousal assault in Ontario, they follow a “must arrest” policy if a criminal complaint is made. Even if the call is only for uttering threats, the police have mandatory directives that they must arrest the accused partner. This is to ensure the safety of the alleged victim. The “domestic” label also means the courts can be harsher when setting bail. The judge may issue stiffer penalties and heavier sanctions if the person is convicted too.

Domestic Threats in Canada’s Criminal Code

Domestic threats fall under Section 264.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code. It states, “Everyone commits an offence who, in any manner, knowingly utters, conveys or causes any person to receive a threat to cause death or bodily harm to any person; to burn, destroy or damage real or personal property; or to kill, poison or injure an animal or bird that is the property of any person.”

There are some important details to highlight from that description:

  • “In any manner” means the threat doesn’t have to be verbal. Text messages, emails, and social media messages count too. A physical gesture, like a slashing motion across the throat, may be interpreted as making a threat too.
  • Threats extend beyond bodily harm to the victim. Threatening to damage “real or personal property” is also covered under this law. Examples would include destroying belongings or slashing car tires.
  • The final point mentions “an animal or bird.” This references threats to harm a pet cat or dog, for instance.

In the context of uttering threats, prosecutors do not need to prove motive or means. Even if the threat is uttered in the heat of the moment, it still counts if it was “knowingly uttered.” There does not need to be a record of the uttered threat. A mere verbal accusation will suffice for the police to lay a charge. This also includes conditional threats. If someone threatens to “burn the house down if you don’t clean up this mess,” they can be charged with domestic assault in Ontario.

Potential Penalties for Domestic Threats

Most people who have been charged with domestic violence are held for a bail hearing. This may take up to three days after the arrest, if not longer. This means the accused must sit in jail and wait until their first hearing. Bail is important. It means the difference between staying in jail or being released while waiting for your court date. A skilled criminal defence lawyer can help you.

The domestic assault penalties for uttering threats can vary and include the following:

  • An indictable offence has a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
  • A summary conviction offence can result in up to two years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.
  • An indictable offence for threats against property has a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
  • A summary conviction for threats to property can have up to two years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both.

A criminal conviction has other life-altering effects. You’ll likely be forced out of your home. You may not be able to visit your children. Communication with your spouse is cut with a “no contact” order. A criminal record can also affect security clearance, employment opportunities, travel to other countries, and immigration matters. Family life may be irreparably damaged.

Defending Against Domestic Assault Criminal Charges

Navigating a domestic assault or any type of domestic violence charge is stressful and overwhelming. An experienced criminal defence lawyer can assess your situation and outline your options. The reality is that jail time is possible with all domestic violence offences, but this doesn’t mean it is likely or realistic. A skilled lawyer can estimate the likelihood of a conviction and a prison sentence, and can often win your trial or avoid a criminal record.

Even if the victim wants to drop the charges, they are not able to do so. It is completely out of their hands, as the crown is completely in charge of the prosecution once the accused has been arrested and charged. This is all the more reason why an experienced criminalk lawyer is so key in getting domestic violence charges dismissed. They can develop a strategic defence. Remember that the Crown needs to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your lawyer can work to help introduce that doubt.

By Published On: August 16, 2023Last Updated: November 21, 2023Categories: Domestic Assault, FAQs

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