What is considered assault in Alberta?
By Caitlin Taylor
Assault is one of the most common crimes in Alberta. According to information from Statistics Canada, there were 47,797 victims of violent crime and criminal traffic offences causing death or bodily harm reported by police in the province in 2016. This represented 1,121 victims per 100,000 population in Alberta, above the overall national rate of 951.
The charge of assault can be laid for various actions, ranging from asking for money in a threatening manner to attacking someone. Even if there is no physical contact between the two parties, the aggressor may still face assault charges. The mere threat of force still constitutes an assault. Emotional, stress-filled situations that lead to physical contact may result in an arrest. Those caught in this situation need to see legal counsel so they can defend their actions and attempt to avoid penalties that could include a criminal record and potentially imprisonment.
The Criminal Code states that you can be charged with assault if you:
applied force intentionally to another person, directly or indirectly, without their permission;
attempted or threatened to apply force to another person; or
openly wore or carried a weapon or an imitation weapon.
The different types of assault in Alberta
There are various types of assault and degrees of assault. The penalty upon conviction increases with the seriousness of the crime. Here are the most common charges.
Simple (or sometimes, common) assault: This charge can be laid after incidents that do not involve a weapon or any physical harm to the complainant. This charge often arises in situations where there are allegations of domestic violence.
Assault causing bodily harm: If someone is physically harmed after an alleged assault the police may lay this charge. The Code defines bodily harm 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 (lésions corporelles).”
Assault with a weapon: Weapons are often guns or knives, but can include much more, such as hot coffee or a pair of scissors, even a plate that has been thrown across the room at someone. According to the Code, a person can be charged with assault with a weapon if he “carries, uses or threatens to use a weapon or an imitation thereof.”
Aggravated assault: If someone is wounded, maimed, disfigured or their life is endangered, this charge will be laid. The maximum penalty upon conviction is 14 years in prison.
Sexual Assault: This charge is laid if an assault is sexual in nature, violating the sexual dignity of another person. To determine if this crime has been committed, the court looks at various factors, such as the body part that was touched and the circumstances involved in the contact,
Aggravated Sexual Assault: Similar to aggravated assault, this charge is laid if there were serious consequences and/or injuries to a person.
The seriousness of an assault really determines if it will be prosecuted as a summary conviction or an indictable offence, the latter carrying more serious consequences. Unless your lawyer is able to successfully argue for an absolute or conditional discharge, you will have a criminal record upon conviction, so take these charges seriously and seek the advice of experienced defence counsel.
Spitting or coughing can be an assault
Intentionally spitting or coughing on someone can be considered a type of assault, especially in a pandemic. In Edmonton in 2020, a man was charged with two counts of assault after he repeatedly coughing on a bus driver and transit peace officers before disclosing he had tested positive for COVID-19. He was charged under the Public Health Act for allegedly attempting to infect another individual.
During the same year in Calgary, a video showed a man on a bike spitting on an Asian woman on a skateboard before shouting a racial slur against her. He was charged with three counts of assault.
A 2020 news report notes that at least six Canadians faced assault charges after incidents involving spitting, coughing or licking during the pandemic. Those include a man from Wetaskiwin, who was charged after he allegedly coughed on an officer as he was being escorted to the police car. Three days earlier, a man from Lethbridge was charged with assaulting a peace officer after he allegedly coughed in a police officer’s face during an arrest. And in Taber, a man was charged after he allegedly participated in a social-media prank that involved licking products inside a store as part of the “COVID Challenge.”
Experienced counsel makes the difference
Allegations of assault must be taken seriously, as the penalty upon conviction may include fines and incarceration. Let the experienced lawyers at Dunn & Associates work to help you build your best defence and avoid potentially serious consequences. If you have any questions or would like to speak to a lawyer, call us at 403-233-0443.