News reports about people charged with assault and other violent offences often reference “uttering threats” among charges police lay on the suspect(s). This makes sense because people often verbalize their intent to commit violence before committing it. For example, Toronto Police began the year seeking the public’s assistance in locating a man wanted for uttering threats and assault. According to the police report, the suspect allegedly threatened to harm the victim before assaulting him.
While uttering threats charges are often combined with other charges, police arrest plenty of people based solely on making a threat. Canadian law treats uttering threats as a serious crime because it often precedes violent acts. Thus, with enough evidence, police will not hesitate to quickly arrest someone for uttering threats in an effort to prevent a verbal assault from leading to a physical assault. According to the latest Statistics Canada Incident-Based Crime Statistics, Ontario Police investigated 23,230 uttering threats incidents in 2021 and charged 4,843 suspects for the crime. Of these provincial incidents, Toronto-area police investigated 7,898 and charged 1,787 suspects.
You do not want to become a future uttering threats statistic, according to the criminal defence lawyers of the Greater Toronto Area’s Mass Tsang LLP. A conviction carries significant penalties, so if you are charged with uttering threats in Ontario, you should seek out the services of a skilled criminal defence lawyer. With over three decades of experience defending Toronto area clients against assault charges—including uttering threats—Mass Tsang lawyers can strategize a robust defence to fight your uttering threats charges. In the meantime, read on to learn more about the crime.
Criminal Code Treats Uttering Threats as “Assault”
Canada’s Criminal Code Addresses uttering threats as the first crime listed within the Section 264.1 Assault chapter. According to the Code, “Every one 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.”
The Code treats threats to people much more severely than it does threats to personal property or a person’s animal. If charged as an indictable offense, the maximum penalty for uttering threats against a person is five years imprisonment. As a summary conviction offence, the crime carries a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine, two years imprisonment, or both. Those convicted of uttering threats against a person’s property or animal(s) as an indictable offence face a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment, while a summary conviction charge carries the maximum $5,000 fine, two years imprisonment, or both.
The “In any manner” reference in the Code’s description of the crime, combined with court precedents, has established that threats do not have to be uttered verbally to become a crime. Illegal threats can be conveyed in any form of writing, including that found in online content, social media commentary, and text messaging. Even a throat-slashing gesture can be construed as uttering threats under the law.
Additionally, prosecutors do not have to prove there was a motive driving the threat or that the suspect was capable of carrying out the threat. And it doesn’t matter if the threat was premised on a condition—“I’ll beat you senseless if you don’t….”—because it still represents a valid threat under the law.
Uttering Threats in Practice Versus According to Law
As you may have surmised from reading the above, it doesn’t take much for police to charge someone with uttering threats. People make unintended threats all the time because when tensions are high, people are prone to say things they don’t really mean. “I’m gonna kill you” is probably the most oft-stated threat throughout world history that is subsequently never carried out.
The impulsive nature of such threat-making does not matter to the law. If you’re charged with uttering threats, the Crown needs only prove that you intentionally made the threat; that you knew the meaning of the words, symbols, or gestures and what they convey; and that the alleged victim perceived it as truly threatening.
Defending Against Uttering Threats Charges
Every uttering threats case is distinctly different, and the outcome often hinges on the testimony of the involved parties. If the alleged victim is the only witness for the Crown, then the trial result often depends on who the judge or jury determines is more believable—victim or suspect. Due to the subjective nature of the evidence, skilled defence attorneys can often convince prosecutors to withdraw charges or agree to other favourable resolutions.
Absent negotiating a favourable resolution to the charges, defence lawyers typically rely on two different strategies to secure an acquittal. The first defence depends on convincing the court that a reasonable person with full knowledge of the circumstances in which the threat was made would not perceive the threat as truly threatening. In short, if it’s not genuinely threatening, there is no basis for the uttering threats charge.
The other primary defence strategy relies on eliminating the “mens rea” intent to commit the crime element required under Canadian law to secure a conviction. This involves convincing the court that your utterance was not intentionally delivered as a threat. In this scenario, your lawyer might argue that the utterance was a lame attempt at a joke or that the meaning of the words spoken was misconstrued within the context of the overall situation.
Aggravating Factors in Uttering Threats Charges
Several factors can disadvantage you in your defence efforts and in your sentencing should the Crown successfully convict you. For example, if the alleged threat was made while you were in possession of a weapon, even if legally allowed under the circumstances. Or if the threat involved children, the elderly, or an otherwise vulnerable person. Other aggravating factors that can work against you include:
- Threats against public officials or authority figures (threatening a cop will not go well for you in court!).
- Threats made while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (though this can sometimes work in your favour).
- Threats involving extortion or similar crimes.
- Threats made during domestic disputes.
- Prior incidents of uttering threats.
- Any prior convictions or history of violence.
Consult with the Criminal Defence Experts at Mass Tsang
Uttering threats is a serious crime that can result in significant penalties if convicted. Whether charged as an indictable or summary conviction offence, a conviction results in a criminal record, not to mention potential fines and prison time. Given such consequences, you cannot afford to defend the charges on your own. To ensure a successful outcome for your uttering threats charges, secure the expertise of skilled criminal defence assault lawyers, such as the team at Mass Tsang. We have decades of success helping our clients secure the best legal outcomes. Contact us for a free consultation if you or a loved one is facing uttering threats charges in the Greater Toronto Area.