Understanding the Differences Between Assault Charges

Written on behalf of Barrison Law
View from above of a despondent man sitting on the floor with his head down, representing different types of assault charges under the Criminal Code of Canada

In the criminal law context, distinguishing between similar criminal offences is critical. For example, assault and aggravated assault are two offences that illustrate how subtle differences can lead to vastly disparate penalties. Therefore, understanding the distinction between assault and other types of assault, including assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm, and aggravated assault, is crucial.

This blog will delve into the complexities of various types of assault charges, the potential consequences individuals may face if convicted, and the distinguishing factors of each charge.

What Constitutes an Assault?

Under section 267 of the Criminal Code of Canada (the “Criminal Code”), an assault occurs when someone applies force or the threat of force against another person without their consent or legal justification. Assault is a broad offence whereby both the act and the consequences can range in severity, mainly depending on the extent of the victim’s injuries and whether or not a weapon was used.

Some of the most common types of assault charges include:

  • Assault;
  • Domestic assault;
  • Assault with a weapon;
  • Assault causing bodily harm; and
  • Aggravated assault.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the alleged assault, the severity of the charge, and your criminal history, a conviction for an assault charge may result in significant jail time. Therefore, it is crucial to speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer to understand the magnitude of the charges you may be facing and your options.

Assault Causing Bodily Harm or Assault With a Weapon

Section 267 of the Criminal Code provides that any assault with a weapon or an assault causing bodily harm are hybrid offences, meaning that the Crown can choose whether to treat an offence as an indictable offence or a summary offence. This distinction often depends on the accused’s prior criminal history.

If an accused is convicted of assault causing bodily harm or assault with a weapon, and the Crown proceeds by indictment, they may face up to 10 years in jail. If the Crown proceeds summarily, the accused may face up to 18 months in jail.

What Is “Bodily Harm”?

“Bodily harm” is defined under the Criminal Code as “any hurt or injury to a person that interferes with the health or comfort of the person and that is more than merely transient or trifling in nature.”

Assault With a Weapon

An individual may be charged with assault with a weapon even if the weapon was merely present at the time the assault took place and wasn’t used or caused injuries. It is essential to understand that almost anything may be considered a weapon, as the specific type of object does not matter; the important element is its intended use. For example, a toy gun, a real gun, a knife, or a golf club may all be considered weapons for the purpose of an assault with a weapon.

Aggravated Assault

Aggravated assault is a more serious charge than that of a simple assault and, therefore, is accompanied by more severe consequences for the accused. Section 268 of the Criminal Code states an aggravated assault occurs if the accused causes “wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life” of another individual.

The distinguishing factor between a simple assault and an aggravated assault is the injury caused by the assault. If a person is convicted of aggravated assault, they may face up to 14 years in jail.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is outlined under section 271 of the Criminal Code. A sexual assault occurs when an assault of a sexual nature occurs without the victim’s consent, ranging from unwanted sexual touching to rape. A sexual assault does not need to be violent to be considered assault.

Canadian courts take handle sexual assault charges very seriously. As a result, the accused may face up to 10 years in jail or up to 14 years if the complainant is under the age of 16, with a minimum punishment of one year of imprisonment. Alternatively, if the Crown chooses to proceed on summary conviction, the accused may face jail time of up to 18 months or up to two years if the complainant is under the age of 16, with a minimum punishment of six months imprisonment.

Notably, a person convicted of a sexual assault may end up with their name on a sex offender registry, which can have significant impacts on their personal and professional life.

Domestic Assault

Courts also take cases of domestic assault very seriously, regardless of the severity of the offence. While the Criminal Code does not distinguish a separate offence of domestic assault, many courts have specialized courtrooms that exclusively deal with these offences, as cases of intimate partner violence are incredibly sensitive in nature.

Individuals accused of sexual assault can face devastating criminal penalties with immediate consequences. For instance, even if an accused is released on bail, strict conditions will likely be imposed on such a release, including a prohibition on communication between the accused and the complainant.

Key Takeaways for Individuals Facing Assault Charges

In Canada, the spectrum of assault offences serves as a reminder that the law recognizes varying degrees of harm and culpability. It also acknowledges that not all assaults are created equal, and the circumstances surrounding each incident and each offender must be considered. Understanding the differences between the types of assault allows those navigating the legal landscape to understand their charges more effectively, as well as the potentially life-altering outcomes in the event of a conviction.

Knowledge of the various types of assault charges also serves as a reminder of the need for an open dialogue and societal awareness when it comes to issues of violence and aggression, particularly in intimate settings.

Contact the Criminal Defence Lawyers at Barrison Law for Trusted Representation in Assault Cases Throughout Oshawa, Durham, and the GTA

The criminal defence lawyers at Barrison Law in Oshawa represent clients across the Durham Region who are facing a charge relating to a form of assault. By helping clients navigate Ontario’s criminal system from bail hearings to trial, we work to ensure that clients’ rights are protected at each stage of the process, and that they are positioned for the best possible outcome. To schedule a confidential consultation with one of our criminal defence lawyers, contact us online or call our office at 905-404-1947.