A Review of Section 264 (Criminal Harassment) of the Criminal Code of Canada

1. Introduction

The criminal harassment provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada came into force on August 1, 1993 on the heels of a number of highly publicized fatal attacks against women by their former partners, following periods of systematic stalking and other forms of harassment. The main intention of the new section 264 was to help protect women in Canada from physical attacks and harassment [3] . The hope was that perpetrators would either be deterred by the threat of criminal prosecution, or be incarcerated or otherwise prevented from harassing or attacking their victims. The legislation is also available as a potential tool against harassment such as the stalking of children, harassment practised by some members of politically motivated groups, or harassment related to business or personal matters not linked to violence against women.

This review of the implementation of section 264 of the Criminal Code is a first step in the Department of Justice's efforts to assess whether the new section is functioning as it was intended, to identify any limitations to its effectiveness, and to identify and build on its strengths.

In considering whether the Criminal Code amendment has been effective, it is necessary to look both at the direct results, changes in the way the justice system deals with stalkers, and the broader picture of the extent to which the legislation has resulted in significantly safer circumstances for women who are being harassed. The focus of this study is a review of criminal harassment case files. As such, it centres on the response of the criminal justice system to reports of harassment, and is limited to the examination of cases in which police files were opened as a result of a preliminary investigation of reported harassment, and primarily cases in which charges of criminal harassment were laid. However, the study includes some interviews with police, Crown and defence attorneys, victim service workers and advocates and federal and provincial justice policy makers, as well as a small number of victims of harassment. These interviews by no means constitute a representative survey of perspectives on the effectiveness of section 264, but they do assist in providing a broader context for understanding the case file data, and they raise important questions that will need to be addressed in the future.

The report is organized into seven sections including this introduction. The next section presents a review of recent literature on criminal harassment. The third section describes the methods used to collect case file data and conduct interviews. Section four reports the findings of the case file data, and section five presents a small number of case studies, more detailed accounts of some individual cases that include the assessment of the victim and other major participants about the effectiveness of the justice response. Section six reports the findings of the interviews not related to the case studies. Section seven draws the case file data, case study and interview findings together into a set of conclusions, and provides recommendations to the Department of Justice for future approaches to criminal harassment.

[3] Department of Justice Canada, News Release, "Amendments to the Criminal Code Respecting Family Violence, Child Abuse and Violence Against Women" (27 April, 1993).

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