Stalking, Criminal Harassment and Cyberbullying

The Dial-A-Law library is prepared by lawyers and gives practical information on many areas of law in British Columbia. Script 206 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call the Lawyer Referral Service at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.

‚ÄčThe script explains stalking, criminal harassment, and cyberbullying and how to stop them. The script does not explain other options to deal with similar behavior. They include:

Related Dial-A-law scripts include:

  • 215, called “Charging someone with a criminal offence”
  • 217, called “Applying for a peace bond and filing assault charges”

What is stalking? What is criminal harassment?
Stalking is conduct that may—in some cases—be criminal harassment under section 264 of the Criminal Code of Canada. For stalking to be criminal harassment, here’s what’s required:
1.  A person does one or more of the following things:

  • repeatedly follow you, or anyone you know.
  • repeatedly communicate with you, or anyone you know, directly or indirectly.
  • repeatedly watch you, or anyone you know, or lurk around your home, workplace, or any other place you happen to be.
  • engage in any threatening conduct directed at you or a member of your family.

2. The person knows that their conduct is harassing you or they are reckless about whether their conduct is harassing you. “Reckless” means they know their conduct may harass you, but they don’t care.

3.  The person’s conduct causes you to reasonably fear for your safety or the safety of someone you know. Your fear has to be reasonable. The person does not have to realize that their conduct is scaring you for it to be criminal harassment.

A person can be stalking even if they don’t physically hurt anyone or damage any property. The law is designed to protect psychological, emotional, and physical safety.

Stalking may start with conduct that seems more annoying than dangerous. Often, the conduct is legal and even socially acceptable, if it’s just an isolated incident. But when it’s repeated, it may scare the victim. Conduct such as following someone, or sending gifts or letters, may become intimidating if done continually and against the person’s wishes.

What is cyberbullying? 
Cyberbullying is a type of harassment using new technology. Whether it is criminal harassment depends on the facts of a case. Cyberbullies use social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube), blogs, texting, instant messaging, and other internet avenues to engage in deliberate, repeated, and hostile conduct intended to harm, embarrass, or slander someone. Although their work is public, cyberbullies are often anonymous and it is often harder to identify and stop them.

Since March 2015, another type of cyberbullying has been outlawed. It’s illegal to distribute intimate images of a person if you know that they did not consent to that image being distributed—or if you are reckless about whether the person gave their consent to that image being distributed. “Reckless” means you know the person may not have consented to the image being distributed, but you don’t care.

Cyberbullying may also be defamation. The Criminal Code (section 300) outlaws publishing a defamatory libel – material published, without lawful justification or excuse, likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing them to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or designed to insult the person. But criminal defamation is rare. More common is civil defamation – communication about a person that tends to hurt their reputation. Script 240, called “Defamation: Libel and Slander”, has more on this.

What can you do if someone is stalking, harassing, or cyberbullying you?

  1. First, if the harassment is attempted communication with you, tell the person to stop. Otherwise, they may not know that they are harassing you. Never reply to harassing messages—except to tell the person to stop.
  2. Call the police to report the problem. Record the details of every incident, including time, date, place, who was involved, and what was said and done. Keep letters, notes, voicemail messages, emails, texts, instant messages, and social media and internet posts. Give them to the police.
  3. If the harassment happens at school, report it to the school authorities, as well as to the police. If it happens at work, report it to your boss (or a co-worker, especially if the boss is the one harassing you), plus the police.
  4. Report cyberbullying or other harassing communication to your internet or cell phone company. Most companies have policies on acceptable use of their services, and can cancel the service of a customer who violates those policies. The company can also help police find a cyberbully who is using their network.
  5. If you get a harassing phone call on a landline, dial *57 immediately when the call ends. The phone company will record the phone number that made the call, so the police can get it. If you receive harassing calls on your cell phone, call the phone company for help in tracking the calls.
  6. You can seek a civil protection order in court. To do this, you need legal help. Links to more information on these orders are listed at the start of this script.

What happens after you report the problem?
If a person is charged with criminal harassment or distributing an intimate image without consent, Crown counsel (the prosecutor) makes the case against (or prosecutes) them. The prosecutor may proceed by indictment for serious cases, and then the maximum penalty is 10 years in jail for harassment and 5 years in jail for distributing an intimate image without consent. Or the prosecutor may proceed by summary conviction for less serious cases, and then the maximum penalty is either a fine or 6 months in jail, or both.

The first stage of any criminal proceeding is generally an application by the accused person for judicial interim release, also known as bail. If the court grants bail to a person, it will usually order them not to contact you directly or through another person, or go anywhere near your home, school, or place of work. It may also ban them from using the internet, depending on the details of the crime they’re charged with.

If the person disobeys those terms, the court may revoke, or cancel, their bail. Then they may be charged with a separate offence of breaching their bail conditions. If the person is denied bail and sent to jail until a trial or a guilty plea, the prosecutor may ask the court to order that the person have no contact with you from jail. Again, if the person charged disobeys this order, they may be charged with a separate offence.

If a court finds a person guilty, of criminal harassment or distributing an intimate image without consent, after a guilty plea or trial, it can impose many different sentences. The court will choose a sentence based on the person's criminal record and the severity of their crime. If the person is not sent to jail, they will usually be ordered to obey certain conditions similar to the conditions imposed at the bail stage. For example, a court will normally order a person convicted of criminal harassment to have no contact with you directly or indirectly, to stay away from your home and workplace, and to not own or carry any weapons. A court may also ban a convicted person from using the internet. And a court may order a convicted person to take counseling, if it might help.

More information

[updated August 2017]

The above was last edited by John Blois.

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