Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer (I am a law student). The text below contains only my understanding of the applicable law. It has nothing whatsoever to do with your particular situation. Do not assume you can make any decisions based on this text. I do not intend this text to apply to anyone’s situation. This text is not legal advice. I am not qualified to give legal advice anyway. The purpose of this text is to encourage debate and create awareness of certain criminal offences. Please consult a lawyer if you need legal advice or help with your particular situation.
Watch your mouth. Your mom or buddy told you this in high school when you blurted out something stupid or offensive. But it’s what the law tells now with all its authority and with all its might. Freedom of speech is not absolute, and for some speech, the law will put you in jail. It is a crime, for example, to make death threats or to promise to injure someone or to burn someone’s house. In 2009, at least two high-profile stories of prosecution for uttering threats hit the papers. The father of baby Kaylee was charged with threatening death and causing damage in September, and the sister of Toronto’s deputy mayor was charged with threatening death in April. The potential punishment is up to five years in prison. And if you are not a Canadian citizen, they can kick you out of the country. The law may come crushing down on you if you “utter threats,” so how does it work, exactly?
Section 264.1 of the Criminal Code defines the crime and the punishment for uttering threats. If you threaten anyone with death or “bodily harm,” you can get up to five years in prison. If you threaten to harm anyone’s property or animal, you can get up to two years in prison. The courts have said that you don’t need to be violent, to slap anybody on the face, to step on a dog’s tail, or to punch anybody’s car to commit this crime. Words are enough. Of course, if you jokingly yell “I’ll kill you!” and chase after your best friend who kicked you during a ball game, the law is not interested. You must intend to intimidate when you make your threats. You must want the other person to take your words seriously. But the victim does not need to understand or even know about the threat. All the Crown must prove when they haul you to court is that you “uttered the threat.” Even if you threatened not a specific person but a member of a race or a religion or some other group of people, you can be convicted.
A special warning to those who are not Canadian citizens. The government can deport you for certain crimes, and the law may ignore how long you lived in this country. They can kick you out even if you are a permanent resident and you lived here for 50 years. Uttering threats is one such crime. Under section 36(2) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the government can tell you to leave Canada, if you are a permanent resident and you were sentenced for any crime to more than six months of imprisonment. Uttering threats fits the bill because you can go to prison for up to five years. If you are not a permanent resident but just a visitor, a foreign student or worker, etc., it’s even easier for the government to expel you. Even if you don’t go to jail for uttering threats, the conviction alone is enough for deportation. Words can cost you dearly.
Most people are not criminals, and you can even say that it’s not that easy to commit most crimes. But some crimes are crimes of mere words with severe punishment in prison. There is no freedom of speech for these words. If you tell someone that you’ll kill them, or that you’ll cut their balls off, or that you’ll burn their house, or that you’ll kill their parrot, or that you’ll stab their tires, you can go to prison. If you are not a Canadian citizen, they can also throw you out of Canada. So know the law and watch your mouth.