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You’ve heard of peace bonds, but don’t know a lot about them. As it happens, you or someone that you know is facing a legal issue. One of the options is to sign a peace bond. What does that mean and how would it impact you now and in the future? Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about peace bonds in Ontario along with some information you can put to good use.
What’s the Definition of a Peace Bond?
A peace bond is a legally binding agreement that establishes a promise or covenant to conduct oneself in a manner that the court considers to be good behaviour. In this sense, the promise to do so constitutes an agreement to keep the peace. In Ontario as well as the rest of Canada, peace bonds come in two different forms: a common law peace bond and the s. 801 peace bond.
The common law peace bond does not depend on a statute as in the case of an s. 801 peace bond. Rather, it focuses on the application of common law. There is no need for the complainant to present information that points to a fear that the accused party will cause bodily injury or other harm. Instead, this type of peace bond is broader in scope. It’s only necessary to provide some grounds for thinking the accused may breach the peace in some general manner. In fact, there’s no time limit that applies to a common law peace bond, although it’s highly unusual for a court to impose the bond for more than one calendar year.
The s. 801 peace bond draws its name from the fact that it’s issued in full compliance with section 810 of the Criminal Code of Canada. This kind of bond is issued by a court when someone presents reasonable information that indicates the person currently under accusation might injure or otherwise cause harm to the individual making the claim, or someone close to the complainant. This type of peace bond does come with a time limit. The court will not award the bond for more than a period of one calendar year.
In both forms, negotiating a peace bond is a practical approach when there’s an attempt underway to pursue criminal charges of a more serious nature, such as assault.
What Sort of Commitment is the Accused Making by Signing a Peace Bond in Ontario?
Agreeing to sign either form of a peace bond commits the accused party to abiding by the terms spelled out in the bond. On a broad basis, doing so means choosing to refrain from actions that the court would view as being a breach of the peace or outside the scope of what the court considers good behaviour.
For the duration of the peace bond, the accused party agrees to not commit any action that would be in violation of any current law. It’s not unusual for the court to include prohibitions that apply specifically to the case itself or have to do with limiting where the accused can go for as long as the bond is in effect. This means that the accused party may have to refrain from having contact with certain people, being physically present in specific public and/or private venues, or attempting to utilize third parties to establish a connection with certain individuals.
It’s important to note that while the peace bond may be issued in Ontario, the terms outlined in the bond are not only in force within the province. Should the accused party travel to any other part of the country, all the provisions still apply and are fully enforceable by local officers.
What’s the Benefit of Signing a Peace Bond?
If offered the opportunity to sign a peace bond, it’s often in the best interests of the accused party to do so. This is especially true in situations such as domestic assault. Choosing to enter into a covenant to maintain distance from the alleged victim and to limit contact in other ways often means that the prosecutor agrees to withdraw the charges.
Even do, it’s not advised to sign a peace bond without first consulting your legal counsel. While helpful in many instances, there could be some aspect of your case that makes this type of commitment irrelevant or even harmful in some way.
Does the Accused Have to Deposit Money With the Court as Part of the Peace Bond?
In most instances, the accused will not have to deposit any funds with the court as part of the establishment of a peace bond. That doesn’t mean there is a lack of financial commitment on the part of the accused party.
What the accused will do is pledge the required amount of money to the court. Generally, the amount will be somewhere between $500 and $1000, but the court does have the authority to impose a higher or lower figure. The idea behind this pledge is to provide the accused with an added incentive to abide by the bond’s terms.
What Could Happen if You Fail to Honour the Peace Bond in Any Way?
There are serious consequences for choosing to not comply with the terms found in the peace bond. In the case of breaching the s. 801 peace bond, the accused party has willingly committed an offence that is in breach of s. 811 of the Criminal Code of Canada. While the court has some leeway in determining the punitive action that will take place, it is possible to face up to four years in jail.
In the case of a common law peace bond, the breach is still an offence that violates the Criminal Code of Canada. It’s simply a different part of the Code. Essentially, the breach falls into the areas that address the offence of disobeying a court order. Again, the court can take all factors into account and determine the punishment. It can also be as much as four years spent behind bars.
In addition, the pledge made by the accused party at the onset of the bond may be called once the breach is confirmed. That means whatever amount was pledged becomes due to the court within a specified time frame.
The original charges that were withdrawn may also be filed again by the prosecuting attorney. This would mean the original complaint is once again active and the court will hear it.
Is Breaching a Peace Bond Considered a Criminal Offence?
Yes. If found guilty of breaching the peace bond, the accused party has committed a criminal offence. As such, the offence will become a permanent part of the individual’s criminal record.
Note that if the accused party is able to successfully defend against the claim of a breach, there is nothing to add to the criminal record. There will be no jail term and there will be no need to pay the pledged monetary amount.
Isn’t Choosing to Sign a Peace Bond the Same Thing as Admitting Guilt?
Opting to sign a peace bond does not constitute an admission of guilt or any other state. It does not prevent the accusation of criminal action from proceeding through the legal system, and it in no way influences the outcome of the case.
The peace bond is simply a commitment to keep the peace in a manner that complies with the requirements of the court. The focus is on what the individual might do in the future rather than making any decisions about what has come before. It’s based on the belief that the accused party might commit some action in the future and function as a way to discourage that action.
Does the Peace Bond Show Up in Criminal Background Checks?
The peace bond does not show up on a general criminal record check. That doesn’t mean it can’t be found anywhere in the legal record. What it does mean is that the information is not likely to show up in a routine criminal check.
Where can information about the peace bond be found? There’s a sector of the records that’s known as outstanding entries. If what’s known as a vulnerable record check is done, it’s possible for the details surrounding the peace bond to be found. This is true after the peace bond expires without any breach taking place.
It’s also possible to find information about the peace bond as part of a police record. Be aware that some entities, including educational institutions and employers who are conducting background checks may consult police records as well as conduct general criminal background checks.
Is It Possible for the Peace Bond to Become a Factor in Future Criminal Proceedings?
Yes. This is possible because the prosecutors in those future criminal proceedings would have access to any record about the peace bond, up to and including whether there was a breach or if you complied with the terms all the way to the expiration date.
This could be a good or a bad thing for you. If you did comply with all the terms and did not breach the bond, this could increase the odds that the prosecutor would ask the court to offer you a peace bond in relation to the new charge.
If you breached the previous bond, the prosecutor has little to no incentive to offer one in the current case. That would mean the potential to utilize this option to have the charges withdrawn would not be present.
In either scenario, the prosecutor would not be able to refer to the peace bond as part of your criminal background as it relates to the pursuit of the current charges.
Could There Be Any Unforeseen Outcomes of Signing a Peace Bond?
In order to enter into a peace bond, there is a procedure that must be followed. The information that led to making the offer is read into the official record. That means it is possible to obtain a transcript of that record and gain access to that information.
This does not have to be an issue. As part of the record, your legal counsel will likely recommend making a statement that you do not admit to the veracity of the information being cited, but that you do agree there is a reasonable basis for entering into the peace bond. It’s also important to reference elements of the offence proper that you dispute. Doing so creates a situation where the information cited cannot be later identified as truth.
Some licenses that you currently hold may be suspended or lost, at least for the duration of the peace bond. For example, someone who currently possesses a firearms license will lose it after signing an s. 810 peace bond.
You may also find that your ability to file suit against other parties is limited while the peace bond is in effect. That includes those related to the current complaint in some manner. That group may include the original complainant, the law enforcement personnel involved, and the crown attorney. You will be also limited in the ability to file suit against a prosecutor based on a claim of negligence.
While there are valid reasons to agree to a peace bond, it’s important to seek legal counsel before proceeding. Contact criminal lawyers who can review the specifics of the case, the terms found in the peace bond, and whether the bond would help or hinder you. Doing so allows you to secure advice that’s provided with the intent to help you protect your legal rights and interests.