Assault is punishable under multiple offences in the Criminal Code of Canada. A hybrid offence, assault may be prosecuted as either a summary or indictable offence, with maximum penalties of 18 months and ten years imprisonment, respectively. Penalties depend on the type, manner and outcome of the assault.

Assault Definition

Classified according to type (such as simple, aggravated, weaponed, domestic, sexual and violent) and resulting damages, assault under Canadian criminal law describes any intentional non consensual application of force, ranging from implicit threats to bodily harm resulting in hospitalization.

What is Assault?

You may be charged with assault if you intentionally inflict, try to inflict, or threaten to inflict bodily harm or non consensual physical contact upon another person. As long as the use of force is deliberate and unwanted, the Crown can seek an assault conviction. Evidence of physical force, such as an injury or bruising, needn’t be present.

Assault charges are usually laid in absence of physical injury — simply the intent to use force is required. But while the use of force need not be physical, the use of words alone may not amount to an assault charge.

Assault charges require a gesture indicating your will and ability to follow through with a threat. The victim must also reasonably believe you will carry out your intent to use physical force.

Simple Assault

Often referred to as “common assault”, simple assault is the most frequent assault charge. It occurs when no weapon is used and injuries sustained are minor. Simple assault results from physical altercations like fistfights and physical domestic disputes, as well as attempted or threatened assaults. Simple assault charges are usually laid in absence of physical injury. A push, shove, slap, or even a punch that isn’t injurious may all be charged as simple assault.

Assault Causing Bodily Harm

When notable injuries occur as the result of an assault, a charge of assault causing bodily harm may follow. Bodily harm is generally defined as something that is neither trivial nor transitory and may include anything from minor skin lesions to broken bones. Assault causing bodily harm can be prosecuted as either a summary or indictable conviction, which carry maximum penalties of 18 months and ten years imprisonment, respectively.

Assault With a Weapon

Assault with a weapon describes assaults involving weapons that cause physical harm. Since virtually anything can be turned into a weapon, you may face this charge if you use an item to assault someone. Assault with a weapon may be prosecuted as either a summary or indictable conviction, which carry maximum penalties of 18 months and ten years imprisonment, respectively.

Aggravated Assault

The most serious of the non-sexual assault offences, a charge of aggravated assault is laid when injuries suffered are particularly serious. Aggravated assault focuses on the result rather than the means by which an assault is carried out, and occurs when you wound, maim, disfigure or endanger the life of the complainant. A purely indictable offence, aggravated assault is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

Domestic Assault

Domestic assault encompasses the unwanted application of force over individuals in the same household and current or former intimate partners. While not a separate offence, domestic assault is considered an aggravating circumstance on sentencing and can lead to more serious penalties than simple assault. The Crown will seldom withdraw nor permit the victim to drop domestic assault charges.

Assaulting a Peace Officer

While the elements of assault (simple, weaponed, violent, or aggravated) remain the same, there are additional considerations for assaults involving a Peace Officer. Charges of assaulting a Peace Officer arise when the complainant is a Peace Officer or a person acting in aid of such an officer, and when the Peace officer is engaged in the lawful execution of their duty.

For a charge of assaulting a Peace Officer to stand, the officer must have been acting within the limits of their authority at the time of the alleged assault. If, for example, an Officer were assaulted while unlawfully arresting someone, the perpetrator would not be guilty of assaulting a Peace Officer.

Where assaulting a Peace Officer corresponds to simple assault, it can be prosecuted as either a summary or indictable offence with maximum penalties of 18 months and five years in prison, respectively. Assaulting a Peace Officer with a weapon or causing bodily harm are also hybrid offences. These offences carry a maximum penalty of 18 months imprisonment when charged summarily, or up to 10 years in prison when charged indictably. A purely indictable offence, the aggravated assault of a Peace Officer is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Assault in the Criminal Code of Canada

Dealing with simple assault, Section 265 of the Criminal Code states that a person commits an assault when

  1. without the consent of another person, he applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly;
  2. he attempts or threatens, by an act or a 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
  3. while openly wearing or carrying a weapon or an imitation thereof, he accosts or impedes another person or begs.

Section 267 of the Criminal Code classifies assault based on the way it is committed or the result of the application of force.

Section 267 states that every person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years or is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction who, in committing an assault

  1. carries, uses or threatens to use a weapon or an imitation thereof,
  2. causes bodily harm to the complainant, or
  3. chokes, suffocates or strangles the complainant.

Dealing with assault of a peace officer, Section 270 of the Criminal Code states that everyone 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.

Assault Penalties

Penalties for assault depend on the type (such as simple, aggravated, weaponed, domestic, sexual, or violent), manner and toll (physical or emotional) of the assault. In determining what sentence to seek, the Crown will assess the extent of the assaultive behaviour and the circumstances from which it arose. For less severe assaults, you may alternately enter a peace bond.

Peace Bonds

A statutory peace bond may be used when you enter an agreement in return for the Crown Attorney withdrawing charges. Peace bonds are not an admission of guilt, but an acknowledgment the victim had reasonable grounds to fear for their safety or property. Upon signing a peace pond, your charges are withdrawn and you do not gain a criminal record.

Statutory peace bonds require you to agree to certain conditions for a length of time not exceeding 12 months. Conditions may include:

  • Law abiding behaviour
  • Surrendering weapons and firearms
  • Attending anger management counselling
  • Abstaining from alcohol
  • Avoiding direct and indirect communication with the victim
  • Avoiding the victim’s residence, business, school, place of worship and other frequented establishments

Penalties for Simple Assault

  • Up to 18 months imprisonment if charged summarily
  • Up to ten years imprisonment if charged indictably
  • Possible revocation of immigration status
  • Probation
  • Criminal record

Penalties for Assault with a Weapon and Assault Causing Bodily Harm

  • Up to 18 months imprisonment if charged summarily
  • Up to ten years imprisonment if charged indictably
  • Possible revocation of immigration status
  • Fines
  • Probation
  • Criminal record

Penalties for Domestic Assault

  • Up to 18 months imprisonment if charged summarily
  • Up to ten years imprisonment if charged indictably
  • Automatic arrest and jailing until your bail hearing
  • Bail conditions forbidding your return to your residence (regardless of whether the complainant requests otherwise)
  • Bail conditions forbidding contact with the complainant or their children (regardless of whether the complainant requests otherwise)
  • Possible revocation of immigration status
  • Probation
  • Criminal record

Penalties for Aggravated Assault

  • A purely indictable offence, aggravated assault is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment
  • Probable prison time
  • Possible revocation of immigration status
  • Significant fines
  • Compensation to victim
  • Loss of right to possess weapons
  • Probation
  • Criminal record
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