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What is Aggravated Assault?

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Assault is one of the most frequently investigated criminal offences in Ontario. according to Statistics Canada crime data, Ontario police investigated more than 70,000 assault cases and arrested almost 37,000 people for assault during the 2020 reporting period, These numbers do not include sexual assault categories, adding nearly 10,000 more investigations and more than 3,000 arrests to the respective tallies.

When people consult with our Toronto-area law offices about assault charges, they are often confused about the severity of the charges and unsure about the legal jeopardy they might face. This is primarily caused by how Canada’s Criminal Code characterizes assault under several different categories and how resultant charges can arise from everything from a threat to physical harm requiring hospitalization.

In particular, our clients are most confused about the difference between assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm and aggravated assault, as well as their sexual assault equivalents. These four offences are considered the most severe assault charges and carry the harshest penalties. However, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, and sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm carry the most legal jeopardy as they are prosecuted solely as indictable offences.

The Basics of Assault in the Criminal Code

Section 265(1) of Canada’s Criminal Code broadly describes assault as an offence in which a person:

  • “(a) without the consent of another person, he applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly;”
  • “(b) he attempts or threatens, by an act or gesture, to apply force to another person, if he has or causes that other person to believe on reasonable grounds that he has, present ability to effect his purpose; or
  • “(c) while openly wearing or carrying a weapon or an imitation thereof, he accosts or impedes another person or begs.”

This definition of what is commonly termed “simple assault” covers those arrested for assault and domestic assault that typically result from fistfights and domestic disputes that turn physical. At this basic level, assault can be charged as either a summary conviction offence or the more serious indictable offence. The maximum penalty for a simple assault conviction as an indictable offence is five years in prison. The maximum sentence for a summary conviction simple assault is six months in jail. It should be noted that Ontario courts address most simple assault charges as summary conviction offences.

Assault Causing Bodily Harm Versus Aggravated Assault

The basic definition of assault applies to other forms of assault, which include additional conditions. Additional provisions that dictate charges of assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm are that the person who committed the assault:

  • “carries, uses or threatens to use a weapon or an imitation thereof,
  • “causes bodily harm to the complainant, or
  • “chokes, suffocates or strangles the complainant.”

The additional provision that dictates aggravated assault charges is that the assailant “wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant.”

The sexual assault equivalents are also defined with these provisions but include additional conditions related to firearms, victim’s age, consent, and other factors used to guide sentencing.

Potential confusion over assault causing bodily harm versus aggravated assault arises because both cause physical harm. The severity of injuries is what distinguishes the two. In general, charges of assault causing bodily harm are issued when the complainant suffers cuts, bruising, or other relatively minor injuries. Aggravated assault charges are typically issued when the wounds require hospitalization, cause disfigurement or maiming, or if the assault had put the complainant’s life in danger.

Both types of assault charges are serious, and a conviction can result in significant penalties. The maximum sentence for assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm is 10 years in prison as an indictable offence or 18 months in jail when charged as a summary conviction. Aggravated assault is automatically tried as an indictable offence and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

The sexual assault equivalents carry similar penalties, though the maximum sentence for aggravated sexual assault is imprisonment for life. Additionally, other sexual assault provisions—such as use of a firearm and victim’s age—can dictate mandatory minimum sentences ranging from four to seven years imprisonment.

Defence Strategies for Assault Charges

Anyone facing assault charges in Ontario should seek out the services of an experienced criminal defence assault lawyer, such as those who work at the Greater Toronto Area’s Mass Tsang criminal law firm . Those who face aggravated assault charges need the services of exceptionally skilled criminal trial lawyers due to the severe legal jeopardy they face. Our highly skilled trial lawyers are adept at strategizing effective criminal defences that can lead to acquittals, withdrawn charges, dismissal, or reduced charges or penalties. Common assault defence strategies include:

  • Self defence
  • Lack of intent
  • Raising of reasonable doubt
  • Consent for the use of force
  • Plea bargain for reduced charges
  • Charter Rights violations/other procedural mistakes

Self Defence is covered under Section 34 of the Criminal Code that allows a not guilty finding if:

  • “[The suspect had] reasonable grounds [to believe] that force [was] being used against them or another person or that a threat of force [was] being made against them or another person;
  • “The assault was “committed for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or the other person from the use of that force; and
  • “[T]he act committed [was] reasonable in the circumstances.”

The lack of intent defence strategy is used when your lawyer believes they can prove that the assault was not intentional or resulted from a reflexive reaction to external stimuli.

The raising of reasonable doubt is effective because a finding of guilt in criminal cases must pass the legal concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Skilled criminal lawyers question any element of a Crown’s case that could raise doubts about the evidence. The more doubts that can be raised about the relevance of the evidence, the weaker the Crown’s case becomes.

Consent for the use of force is a defence strategy raised in assaults that occurred due to a fistfight. This defence tries to mitigate the accused’s guilt in the assault by proving that it “takes two to tango.”

Plea bargain negotiations for reduced charges is typically used when the defence doesn’t see a clear path to acquittal or dismissal of the charges.

Skilled defence lawyers always review potential Charter Rights violations because judges will exclude relevant evidence connected to any such violations and may even dismiss all charges if the violations are especially egregious.

Trust Mass Tsang for your Aggravated Assault Defence in Ontario

The criminal trial lawyers at Mass Tsang carefully examine all elements of each client’s assault charges in the Toronto area, with a dedication to securing the most favorable outcome possible. This dedication has helped Mass Tsang lawyers successfully defend thousands of Toronto-area assault cases. If you or someone you know has been charged with aggravated assault or any other assault in the GTA contact the expert lawyers at Mass Tsang today for a free consultation.



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