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One especially confusing portion of Canadian federal criminal law are the different classifications of assault charges. Under Canadian law, assault can mean many different things in many different contexts. If you have been charged with criminal assault, it is important to understand what you are being charged with and why. This knowledge will be important to help inform your decisions regarding whether to hire an attorney or plead guilty to the charge.

What Is Assault Generally?

An assault is the most generic category of violent crimes in Canada. Four types of criminal acts can be considered “assault” in under the federal criminal law:

  1. The direct or indirect application of force to another person without that person’s consent (e.g.: a punch or a stabbing);
  2. Attempting to apply force to another person and causing the other person to believe he/she was being attacked (e.g.: throwing a punch but missing);
  3. Threatening to apply force to another person and causing the other person to believe that he/she was about to be attacked (e.g.: threatening to punch someone); or
  4. Accosting or impeding another person while openly carrying a weapon (e.g.: a mugging).

Technically, an assault can be anything from a threat to a very serious injury. Rather than think of assault as its own type of crime, it is easier to think of other categories of crimes as types of assault. For example, a murder is an assault where someone died, a rape is a sexual type of assault, and uttering threats are an assault without physical violence.

Understanding the Legal Distinctions Between Different Assault Categories

The Canadian criminal law separates assault crimes into several different categories. The most prominent examples of this separation are the separation of normal assault crimes, sexual assault crimes, and threats.

There are several different kinds of assault crimes that we would consider to be normal types of assault. Confusingly, each of these types of assault carries different criminal penalties. For example, assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm, and assault of a peace officer are all separate crimes carrying different meanings. Domestic violence assaults similarly are distinguished from normal forms of assault.

Beyond normal forms of assault crimes, sexual assault crimes are subdivided into several different categories including aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, and sexual assault of a child victim.

Finally, other types of assault can be charged where no one was actually injured or harmed in any way. The most common examples of these types of incidents would include a non-violent mugging or an attempted assault. In certain cases, the crimes of uttering threats and causing criminal mischief will also be charged, both those crimes are generally only charged in more serious cases.

Criminal Sentencing for Assault Crimes

Like all other crimes, assault crimes will result in a criminal sentence if the accused is found guilty by the court or a jury. In many cases, simple assaults and charges for making threats will be brought as summary conviction offenses. In those cases, the maximum sentence for a charge will be six months or less, but the court may also impose a fine.

In more serious assault cases where someone was injured, assault charges are considered an indictable offense. A conviction for a simple assault charge can carry a maximum sentence of five years. Other more serious assault charges such as assault causing bodily injury and sexual assault can result in much harsher sentences. For example, an aggravated sexual assault can result in up to twenty-five years or life in prison.

How to Defend Against an Assault Charge

There are many different possible legal defenses to an assault charge that could either reduce the severity of the charge (and thus the criminal sentence) or excuse the charge entirely. The most common of these legal defenses is the argument of “self-defense.” For example, if two people engage in a fist fight in a bar, either of them could likely argue that they were defending themselves from the other brawler. When meeting with your criminal defense attorney, you should be sure to discuss any defenses or excuses that you may have to determine if any of them might constitute a valid legal defense to the crime.


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