Referred to as criminal harassment by Canadian Criminal Law, this type of behavior is more commonly known as stalking. Shockingly enough, there were no criminal measures or definition of this type of behavior until California implemented a statute in 1990. The Canadian version did not come into existence until 1993 and classifies stalking as can be defined as harassing behavior which includes repeatedly following, communication with or watching over one’s residence, place of employment or simply where the victim may be. To be convicted of stalking in Canada a person must harass someone without lawful authority or engage in the conduct referred to in the subsection (2) that creates a situation where a person under all reasonable circumstances fears for their safety or the safety of someone known to them.
Canadian law outlines what it refers to as “prohibited conduct” which is composed of several specified behaviors. The first item is repeatedly following a person from place to or anyone known to them. It also entails communicating with someone directly or indirectly with a person or another person someone knows. Besetting or watching a house or other building where the person is for any reason and participating in threatening behavior that is directly intended for a person or a member of their family. Criminal harassment is punishable by indictment or a summary conviction and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
As far as how criminal harassment or stalking is covered in Canadian law, it is not entirely comprehensive and would have to be considered as more on the vague side. If certain types of stalking were directly included within the law, it could make that document unwieldy or not easily changed as the nature of the crime changes. The punishments should certainly be more clearly outlined, as what crimes offer a 10 year prison sentence after a conviction? What burden of proof must a victim supply to have someone convicted of stalking them? And are there different degrees of sentencing based upon the crime? Also, is there any time limitations or a statute of limitations that applies to this type of crime? If one wanted to get very picky what qualifies as threatening behavior? Granted there could be numerous types of behaviors that could be considered criminally harassing.
Conducts are not very clearly outlined in Canadian law as was discussed above, but clearly that leaves the door open for many types of actions to be considered criminally harassing because the guidelines are so open-ended. What is also interesting is there is no mention of activity on the Internet. In the United States the Supreme Court just came into session this week and decided to review the case Elonsio v United States. In this case, the plaintiff wrote threatening posts of Facebook in regards to his soon to be ex wife. He continued his activity by posting fantasies about what he would do to co-workers, relatives, etc. and as an aspiring rapper often posted threatening lyrics from songs. He was investigated by the Federal government, convicted of stalking and sentenced to four years in prison.
With the way our world is today, it is essential to nail down some determination of stalking on the Internet and what it consists of. With the rise of social media, chat rooms, etc. there are now more ways than ever to communicate with others. With the United States clearly attempting to tackle this issue over the coming months, Canada should follow suit and implement online stalking or criminal harassments in their statutes or in case law. This is especially important for the coming years and is a very real, very valid concern the Canadian legal address should address. With more and more activity taking place online and with the advantage to a stalker of being anonymous or saying they are someone they are not, this is an area of grave concern for Canadian citizens and should be addressed in short order.