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Charged with Assaulting a Police Officer in Canada?—What to Do?

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If you consult with a defence lawyer because you’ve been charged with assaulting a police officer, you might expect the attorney to ask, “What were you thinking?” However, assaulting a police officer — or similar public official — is more common than you think. According to the latest Statistics Canada Incident-Based Crime Statistics, Ontario Police investigated 3,267 such incidents in 2021 and charged 1,862 people with “assault on a peace officer.”

Assaulting a “peace” officer is easier than you might think — that is, it’s easy for police to charge suspects for the offence. That’s because the threshold for what constitutes “assault” is low, and there are many different types of peace officers. Read on to learn more about “assault on a peace officer,” and know that the first thing you should do if charged with the offence is to consult with an experienced criminal defence assault lawyer, like those of the Greater Toronto Area’s Mass Tsang.

Assault on a Peace Office According to the Criminal Code

Section 270 (1) of Canada’s Criminal Code defines assaulting a peace officer as:

“Every one commits an offence who

  1. assaults a public officer or peace officer engaged in the execution of his duty or a person acting in aid of such an officer;
  2. assaults a person with intent to resist or prevent the lawful arrest or detention of himself or another person; or
  3. assaults a person
    1. who is engaged in the lawful execution of a process against lands or goods or in making a lawful distress or seizure, or
    2. with intent to rescue anything taken under lawful process, distress or seizure.”

The threshold for what constitutes assault is defined in Section 265 (1), and is as simple as intentionally applying direct or indirect force against another person without their consent. And force doesn’t actually have to be used because Sections 265 (1) (b) also defines assault as an attempt or threat of applying force by act or gesture.

Maximum penalties for assault on a peace officer are five years imprisonment if charged as an indictable offence and two years in jail or a $5,000 fine if charged as a summary conviction offence. Penalties are more severe if the assault caused bodily harm to a peace officer, a weapon was used during the assault, or if charged as “aggravated” assault based on the severity of wounds, disfigurement, or endangerment of the officer’s life. Aggravated assault on a peace officer is solely an indictable offence, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. An assault on a peace officer with a weapon or causing bodily harm carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence as an indictable offence, or two years in jail or $5,000 fine if charged as a summary conviction offence.

Whatever the charge, you do not want to be convicted of the offence and should turn to the expertise of an experienced criminal defence lawyer to prevent it.

So, What Exactly is a “Peace” Officer?

You know a cop — ahem, “police officer” — when you see one, but what other “peace” officers are covered by this assault law?

Well, under Canadian law, plenty of officials enjoy the protection offered by this status. In short, anyone authorized to enforce the law and maintain public order is included. Among those defined as peace officers in Section 2 of the Criminal Code are:

  • Holders of public office
  • Court bailiffs
  • Magistrates
  • Justices of the peace
  • Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs
  • Customs officers
  • Land conservation officers
  • Fish and game wardens
  • Pilots in command of an aircraft
  • Military police
  • Canadian military members
  • Prison wardens and guards
  • Parking enforcement officers
  • Any officer or agent the courts deems as a peace officer

Thus, there are quite a few people in Canada who you would be ill-advised to get into a scuffle with or otherwise display aggressive behaviour against.

Defending Against Assault on a Peace Officer Charge

If you intentionally punch a uniformed police officer in the face, your defence lawyer likely faces a significant — though not insurmountable — challenge in strategizing an effective defence. To secure a conviction, the Crown must prove that you knew that the officer was a peace officer, and the police uniform represents an especially clear indication of that fact.

You have a much better chance of claiming that you did not recognize the victim as a peace officer if the police officer was in plain clothes or if it was another peace officer whose dress did not clearly indicate their status as a peace officer. In such cases, the question of whether the peace officer clearly identified themselves becomes crucial. You can also claim that the alleged assault was not intentional, and by providing evidence that the contact was accidental or by raising enough doubt about the intent, avoid conviction.

Assault on a peace officer charges are often combined with resisting arrest (Section 129 of the Code). In such cases, the Crown must prove that you knew that the police were trying to arrest you. If police failed to inform you of your arrest, didn’t read you your rights or didn’t’ ask you to accompany them to the police station, your actions may be defensible.

Self-defence is another viable defence, especially if video footage or witnesses can show that the peace officer(s) used unreasonable force in detaining you.

Your defence lawyer can also effectively challenge the charges if there is evidence of Charter Rights violations by police. The court may dismiss the assault charges if the peace officer’s actions exceeded their authority, they were not engaged in the lawful execution of their duty, or they failed to follow correct protocols before, during, and after the arrest. Likewise, the officer’s initial reasons for detaining you must be justifiable.

Secure Your Criminal Defence with the Experts of Mass Tsang

Assault on a peace officer is a serious offence that can carry severe penalties if convicted. If convicted, you face potential fines, imprisonment, probation, and a criminal record if charged as either an indictable or summary conviction offence. To secure a successful outcome for the charges, secure the expertise of skilled criminal defence assault lawyers. Our legal team has a decades-long track record of securing positive outcomes for our Greater Toronto Area clients, so contact us for a free consultation if you or a loved has been arrested for assaulting a peace officer.

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