What is public mischief?

What is public mischief?

By Vince Semenuk

If you give false information to police that causes them to launch an investigation, you could be charged with public mischief. This is a serious offence since your actions can potentially waste police resources and time they otherwise would have spent looking into real crimes.

Examples of public mischief include:

  • making false 911 calls;
  • filing a false missing person report;
  • staging a crime scene; and
  • faking a kidnapping or death.

Common examples of public mischief include making false domestic or sexual assault allegations. This sometimes happens when couples are going through a contested divorce and one  attempts to malign the character of the other.

According to the Criminal Code, people can be charged with public mischief if they cause a peace officer to start or continue an investigation after they:

  • make a false statement accusing some other person of having committed an offence;
  • do anything that causes another person to be suspected of having committed an offence, possibly to divert suspicion from themselves;
  • report that an offence has been committed when it has not; or
  • reporting that a person has died when they have not.

Punishment for public mischief

Public mischief is a hybrid offence, meaning the charge can be prosecuted either as a summary conviction or by indictment.

The maximum penalty for an indictable charge is five years in person. Less-serious offences will be dealt with as summary convictions with offenders often put on probation and/or being ordered to complete community service hours.

The elements that must be proven

Before someone can be convicted of public mischief, the Crown attorney must show:

  • they reported an offence;
  • their actions or words were false;
  • they intended to mislead police; and,
  • their actions or words caused police to start or continue an investigation.

Other related charges

In addition to public mischief, there are other offences that a person could find themselves charged with if they file a false police report or lie in a criminal proceeding. These include:

  • Perjury or giving a false statement under oath, affirmation, by affidavit, solemn declaration or deposition.
  • Fabricating evidence or giving false information about a crime, knowing that information may be used as evidence in a judicial proceeding.
  • Obstructing justice, which means a person wilfully attempted to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice.

These charges are more serious than public mischief. There is a maximum 14-year prison sentence upon conviction for perjury or fabricating evidence if the charges are treated as indictable offences.

Public mischief in Alberta

  • In March 2024, Lethbridge police received a 911 call about a hostage-taking and kidnapping. According to a media report, the caller said a friend had just phoned to say he had been kidnapped and was trapped in the back of a moving vehicle driven by men armed with bear spray, knives and possibly a firearm. Hours later the man was found safe and he told police he had not been the victim of a crime. The caller was charged with public mischief.

  • In 2021, a 19-year-old woman from Langford, Alta., was granted a conditional discharge and ordered to perform 50 hours of community work after making up a story about a sexual assault.  According to a news report, she claimed that a man she knew had jumped into her car in a Home Depot parking lot and demanded sex. When she refused, she said he pulled a knife and forced her to drive to his house where she was sexually assaulted. Camera footage from Home Depot showed that she was alone in her car when she drove off and the man said the sex at his home was consensual. “During a third interview with police … [she] admitted she made the whole thing up,” the story states. The woman was given a conditional discharge and ordered to complete 50 hours of community service.

  • In 2013, a southern Alberta man pleaded guilty to public mischief after staging his own abduction. According to a news report, he had been reported as missing after his car was located with a smashed window. A few days later he was found at a Calgary hotel. The story states that his actions were prompted by a significant financial loss, with the abduction “subsequently staged to make it appear as though he had been extorted to account for that loss," according to a police officer. The report notes that the investigation into his disappearance used a “lot of resources, cost tens of thousands of dollars and took attention away from more serious crimes.” The man received probation for 14 months.

  • In 2004, a Lethbridge alderwoman was convicted of public mischief after she claimed she had been abducted and sexually assaulted during a business meeting in Montana. According to a Provincial Court of Alberta judgment, the mother of three concocted the story after she ran off to Las Vegas with a married man. She received a 20-month conditional sentence, consisting of eight months of house arrest followed by 10 months of curfew and 100 hours of community service and counselling.

Contact us for assistance

Anyone charged with public mischief – or related charges such as perjury or obstructing justice – should speak to a criminal lawyer early in the judicial process. After listening to your account of what led to the changes and examining the evidence police have accumulated, the lawyers at Dunn & Associates can recommend a course of action. Contact us for a free consultation.