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Assault

Many people believe that assault refers only to a violent physical attack. However, under the Criminal Code, an act can be considered an assault even if there is no actual physical contact. However, words alone cannot be an assault. There must also be a gesture or some other action that leads to harm or the threat of harm.


There are a number of offences that deal with assaults, depending on the nature of the assault, whether a weapon was used, and whether the victim was physically harmed. Sexual assault is a separate offence and is discussed separately here.

An assault can include any of the following acts...

  • intentionally applying force to a person, such as hitting, poking or shoving them
  • attempting to apply force to a person, whether or not actual contact is made
  • threatening with an act or gesture to apply force to another person, causing them to believe they are in danger
  • carrying a weapon, or what appears to be a weapon and blocking another person's way, accosting them or begging

Intent

There must be a deliberate action or intention to either use force or threaten force against someone else. For example, accidentally bumping into someone may be applying force to that person but because there was no intention to harm or threaten harm, it is not considered an assault. Similarly, if force is applied because of a reflex action, such as a sudden movement when startled, there is no assault.

Degree of Force

To prove an assault it is not necessary to show that there was actual force used or that the victim was physically harmed. There may be some cases where the use of force is so minor, that a court may find that no assault occurred. For example, in one Saskatchewan case, a person was charged with assault after he pushed someone aside in order to get out of his office. However, the court decided that even if an assault occurred, it was of such a minor, insignificant nature that it did not need to be dealt with in court. In this case, the accused person was acquitted.

In some circumstances, it is possible to consent to an action that otherwise might be considered an assault. Suppose that two people agreed to engage in a wrestling match with each other. Each will apply force to the other person. However, because they have agreed to the force that will be applied against them, no assault has occurred.

Another example might be where someone enters a sporting event, such as hockey or football. Even though a body-check or tackle involves the use of force against another person, people who participate in these sports agree to such contact as a recognized part of the game.

But, in the case of sporting events, the body contact must fall within the accepted standards of the game. In deciding whether someone has consented to the use of force against them in a sporting context, the court will consider such things as...

  • common or expected practices of game participants in general
  • the nature and extent of contact expected by the specific participants
  • the degree of force or contact actually used in a given instance
  • the risk of serious injury from the conduct in question

The force that is being consented to must be within reasonable limits, and not meant to cause serious injury. So, if someone purposefully tries to injure a sport opponent, they cannot claim that the other person consented to the risk.

Consent cannot be forced or coerced. It is not consent if an assault victim merely goes along with something - a fist-fight, for example - in which they feel there is no practical choice to "opt out." The consent must be given freely, with a full understanding of the risks involved.

Defences to an Assault Charge

Individuals charged with assault may have a defence to the charge if, for example, they acted in self-defence or in defence of property.

Sentences for Assaults

Sentences for assault increase with the severity of the offence, up to a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

Sexual Assault

It is a criminal offence to have non-consensual sexual contact with another person. It's important to understand what is required for consent to be valid.

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