What is Public Mischief?

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

There are many forms of “mischief” found within the Criminal Code of Canada (“CCC”) and we’ve previously blogged about some interesting situations in which such charges may arise.

Public mischief is one such charge. It involves a deliberate intention to provide false information to a peace offer, which leads to a formal investigation. This information can impede investigations, waste valuable resources, and result in individuals being wrongly accused for crimes they did not commit.

Public mischief is considered a very serious offence. Often prosecutors (i.e. the Crown) will seek a jail sentence and probation for even a first-time offender with no prior record.

PUBLIC MISCHIEF UNDER THE CRIMINAL CODE OF CANADA

Section 140 of the CCC reads as follows: 

140 (1) Every one commits public mischief who, with intent to mislead, causes a peace officer to enter on or continue an investigation by

(a)   making a false statement that accuses some other person of having committed an offence;

(b)   doing anything intended to cause some other person to be suspected of having committed an offence that the other person has not committed, or to divert suspicion from himself;

(c)  reporting that an offence has been committed when it has not been committed; or

(d)  reporting or in any other way making it known or causing it to be made known that he or some other person has died when he or that other person has not died.

WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS THAT MUST BE PROVEN TO ESTABLISH PUBLIC MISCHIEF? 

Before someone can be convicted of the offence of public mischief, it must be shown that:

  • They reported an offence;
  • Their actions or words were false;
  • They intended to mislead; and,
  • Their actions or words caused a peace officer to start or continue an investigation.

EXAMPLES OF SITUATIONS RESULTING IN PUBLIC MISCHIEF

There are several situations that commonly result in public mischief charges.

False 911 Calls

Most public mischief charges arise from false or misleading 911 calls requiring police, fire and/or ambulance assistance and those giving false statements to the police in an attempt to criminalize a third party. In these circumstances, the police and other emergency responders must proceed with an investigation, resulting in an enormous waste of public resources. The time and resources used to investigate these types of situations could otherwise have been used to assist those in actual need.

False Accusations of Assault

False allegations also commonly arise at a nightclubs/bars and are alcohol related. These false allegations take the form of assault, threats or stolen property.

Domestic Abuse

Another common circumstance where false allegations arise involves partner/spouse reports in the matter of domestic disputes.

Recent Examples in the News

A recent example of a public mischief charge comes from Saskatchewan where a woman and her husband tried to fake the husband’s death. The couple believed that if the police thought that the husband was dead, he would avoid prosecution of outstanding sex charges. A massive search took place involving a plane and underwater divers. In March 2017, Michelle Ross was sentenced and ordered to pay restitution after pleading guilty to public mischief in a fake missing persons case last year. She was handed a six month conditional sentence, which includes four months of 24-hour curfew and she was ordered to pay $10,000.00 to the Search and Rescue Association of Volunteers for the cost of the search. The husband also pleaded guilty to public mischief and obstructing a peace officer and was sentenced to three months in jail.

In July 2017, Ottawa police charged a 20-year-old man with one count of public mischief after he filed a false robbery report. The man was working as a security guard and reported having been robbed by a group of males, one of whom was reported to be carrying a handgun. The investigation determined that no robbery occurred.

CONSEQUENCES FOR PUBLIC MISCHIEF CHARGES

The Crown will almost always prosecute an offence of public mischief. Potential punishments are found in Section 140(2) of the CCC which reads:

140(2)           Every one who commits public mischief

(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or

(b)  is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

If the Crown chooses to proceed by summary conviction, the maximum punishment is 6 months in a provincial jail and/or a $5,000.00 fine. If the Crown chooses to proceed by indictable conviction, the maximum punishment is five years imprisonment.

Additional fines and probation may also be imposed. Restitution is also a possibility to compensate taxpayers. These amounts can range from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you are facing a public mischief charge or have any questions regarding your legal rights, contact Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We have a 24-hour phone service for your convenience.