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 criminal harassment.
Criminal harassment occurs when one person engages in conduct that causes another person to fear for their own safety or the safety of someone they know. This can commonly be referred to as “stalking”.
Conduct that could be considered harassment includes;
- (a) Repeatedly following another person;
- (b) Repeatedly communicating with another person, directly or indirectly;
- (c) Watching another person’s house, workplace, or any other place where they happen to be; or
- (d) Engaging in threatening conduct directed at another person or any member of their family.
Specific examples of harassment are;
- (a) Leaving threatening messages on an answering machine;
- (b) Making visits to a person`s place of employment without their consent;
- (c) Following a person on public transportation; or
- (d) Making rude, obscene or threatening gestures towards a person.
In some instances, a person can wrongly believe that there is mutual relationship between themselves and another person, or believe that the relationship between them would be mutual (meaning that both people feel the same way) if the other person got to know them. Engaging in harassing behavior in these circumstances is considered criminal harassment.
An offender cannot hire a private detective to avoid being charged with criminal harassment. In this instance, a court will likely find that the detective is acting as the offender`s agent.
Repeated Contact and Communication
“Repeated contact or communication” is not defined in the Criminal Code. As there is no definition, the court will look to the specific circumstances of context of the parties to determine if “repeated contact or communication” has occurred. In some instances, contacting a person twice can be considered “repeated communication” and in other circumstances more contact may be required. For example, “repeated communication” could be contacting a person three times over a one-hour period or contacting a person six times over two days.
In determining if “repeated contact or communication” has occurred, a Court will also consider the victim’s personal feelings. These feelings can include fear for their safety or their family`s safety. The victim’s feelings are considered instead of an offender’s intention, when determining whether their actions caused the victim to fear for their safety.
Victims of Criminal Harassment
Any person who believes they are a victim of criminal harassment is encouraged to record all incidents where a person makes them feel intimidated or fearful. A detailed record of the following relevant incidents should be kept;
- The name of the harasser (if known) and a complete physical description;
- Details of any conversations between the harasser and the victim;
- Types of gestures used by the harasser towards the victim;
- The locations of any incidents between the harasser and the victim;
- The date and time of any incidents between the harasser and the victim; and
- The names and contact information of any witnesses to any incidents between the harasser and the victim.
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 a copy of any recorded communication with the offender as well as any written or taped conversations. If there is a history of a romantic relationship between you and your harasser, ensure that you explain this to the authorities. Explain any way that you have altered your life to avoid contact with the offender, and how the offender’s conduct is making you fear for your safety or the safety of someone you know.
Penalty for Criminal Harassment
If a person is convicted of criminal harassment they can receive a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. A conviction of criminal harassment can be a violation of a Peace Bond, which could be an aggravating factor that increases the penalty.
If a victim fears that an offender could cause personal injury to them, their partner, their child, or their property, they may seek that preventative measures to be put in place. Preventative measures can include a Peace Bond or Restraining Order.
A victim of harassment can request a Peace Bond from the Provincial Court of Alberta. This Court ordered Bond could require an offender to “keep the peace” and be of good behavior for up to 12 months. This would include staying away from the victim in order to keep the peace. In a Peace Bond, a Judge may also prohibit the carrying weapons or firearms, abstaining from alcohol or drugs, reporting to a probation officer, or notifying authorities of any change in employment or address. Once a Peace Bond expires, a new application may be brought.
If you have a Peace Bond against another person for your protection, it is a good idea to carry it with you at all times. In the event that police assistance is needed, the Peace Bond can be shown and they can help you enforce the Bond.
Note, it is a crime to refuse to sign a Peace Bond ordered by the Court or to disobey an existing Peace Bond.
A victim of harassment may also obtain a Restraining Order. This is a Court Order that requires a person to stay away from another person and not communicate with them in any way. Communication can include over social media.
A Restraining Order is managed through the civil courts, instead of the criminal courts. The Court of Queen’s Bench can grant a Restraining Order.
If you have a Restraining Order against another person for your protection, it is a good idea to carry it with you at all times. In the event that police assistance is needed, the Restraining Order can be shown and they can enforce the Order.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.