The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic will discuss the offence of causing a disturbance under the Criminal Code of Canada. If you have been charged with causing a disturbance, you should seek legal advice immediately.
Causing a Disturbance Defined
It is a criminal offence to engage in conduct that “disturbs the peace and order” in or near a public place.
Conduct that disturbs the peace and good order may include:
- Screaming or shouting;
- Swearing or the use of insulting or obscene language;
- Being drunk in public;
- Discharging firearms;
- Impeding or molesting others;
- Exposing or exhibiting indecent materials;
- Loitering in a public place in a way that obstructs other people trying to use the public space.
Causing a Disturbance in a Public Place
In order to be convicted of causing a disturbance, you must be in or near a public place. A public place is defined as “a space that the public has access to”. A public place can include, but is not limited to:
- Shopping malls;
- Parking lots;
- Office buildings.
Causing a Disturbance in a Private Place
A private home, or a dwelling, is not a public place and a person may not be charged with causing a disturbance within one. For example, if you were shouting at a party in a friend’s home, you could not be convicted of causing a disturbance.
A person may be charged with causing a disturbance in a private home, if they disturb the peace of the persons in that house or apartment. For example, if you engage in disorderly conduct in the public hall of an apartment building, where people normally expect quiet, you may be charged with causing a disturbance.
Evidence of Causing a Disturbance
A police officer’s evidence that conduct was disturbing to someone else may be enough evidence for a conviction, even if nobody from the general public testifies that your conduct was disturbing them. For example, if you were fighting on the street and a crowd gathered, a police officer can prove that you caused a disturbance by giving evidence that there was a crowd present and that the conduct of the crowd gave the officer the impression that the people had been disturbed.
A Crown prosecutor does not need to prove that you intended to create a disturbance. They only need to prove that you intended to engage in a specific conduct or activity in or near a public place, and that the conduct or activity actually caused a disturbance.
Exposing or Exhibiting Indecent Material
Exposing or exhibiting indecent material in a public place is also considered to be causing a disturbance under the Criminal Code. For example, openly displaying pornography in public can be considered exposing indecent material.
Whether or not conduct is “indecent” is decided on a case-by-case basis. Deciding whether something is indecent will require the Court to consider:
- The audience;
- The place; and
- The context.
Penalty for Causing a Disturbance
Causing a disturbance is a summary conviction offence. If a person is convicted of causing a disturbance they may be sentenced to pay a fine up to $5,000.00 or serve up to 6 months in prison. The conviction will be recorded on a person’s criminal record.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.