Is someone harassing you? Does this person regularly contact you despite your warnings to stop? Are you scared? Here are your rights and practical advice on how to deal with harassment.
You are not alone. In a recent study, 9% of Canadians over 15 years old have reported that they had been harassed in the five years preceding the survey [i]. This corresponds to 2.3 million Canadians.
What is harassment according to the Law?
Two conditions are often needed for harassment to occur (in the legal sense):
The acts of a person should put at stake one’s own safety or that of one’s acquaintance;
The person posing such acts must know that these acts can make the other person feel harassed.
Here is a short list of prohibited acts. Note: an act that does not appear in this list could still be considered harassment.
To follow a person or his/her acquaintance repeatedly;
To communicate repeatedly, even indirectly, with this person or acquaintance;
To surround or monitor the house or place of residence of the person or the acquaintance or the workplace of that person or acquaintance;
To behave in a threatening manner with respect to that person or a member of his family.
What is the maximum sentence?
The maximum sentence for criminal harassment is 10 years in prison. However, keep in mind that there can be mitigating circumstances. These can reduce the overall sentence.
Who oversees prosecution in a case of criminal harassment?
In all cases of criminal prosecution, the Prosecutor is the Crown (Crown Attorney), even if you personally are the victim. This does not mean that you cannot assist the Prosecutor by providing him or her with information and evidence.
Tip # 1: If your safety is threatened or if you think you are a victim of harassment, contact the police immediately.
Tip # 2: Keep all your communications with the person harassing you. The latter could be evidence against this person. Writing down events, times and dates can be very helpful.
Tip # 3: A judge will determine whether there has been harassment. Every situation is different and you cannot take justice into your own hands.
Tip # 4: Send a demand letter. This procedure is simple and it allows to fix in time the moment the harassment was identified. This might also be useful if you decide later to sue (in a civil trial) the opposing party.
TAKE NOTE: If the harassment occurs at your workplace, special rules apply. For example, your employer or union may (and should) intervene. In this case, it is recommended to report to the human resources department, or to your union representative, as soon as the incident occurs. Being decisive is better for you and also better for your case in court.
Take a civil legal action against the person
Regardless of whether the person has been found guilty in the criminal trial or not, it is always possible to continue with more legal proceedings at the civil level. To win a civil trial, you must prove that the person caused you damages, and the probability must be greater than 50%.
You also must prove the amount of damages. You must keep records of all the medical and psychological help you had to pay for. You will most likely need them in court. The first step to claim compensation will be to send a demand letter. If you need a lawyer, you can also contact us.
Always ask for the total amount of the damages, wether they are direct or indirect. This amount may ultimately be reduced but claiming a large amount (as long as it is reasonable and not overly exaggerated) may push the other party to settle in order to avoid the uncertainty of a court decision.
You may also want to seek punitive damages. They could be awarded to you depending on the circumstances.
Important: Sending a convincing demand letter may push the other party to settle for many reasons. The main reason being that a settlement will remain confidential and prevent the individual that harassed you from going to court. This individual will not want everything regarding the case made public so this will give you leverage during your negotiations.
[i] The Department of Justice Canada, A Handbook for Police and Crown Prosecutors on Criminal Harassment, see Canadian Government web site.