Stalking, Criminal Harassment, and Cyberbullying (No. 206)
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Maurizio Datitlo, Crown Counsel in August 2017.|
It is criminal harassment for someone to repeatedly follow or contact you or engage in threatening behaviour, so as to make you afraid. Also capable of being criminal harassment: cyberbullying.
- 1 Understand your legal rights
- 2 Deal with the problem
- 3 Get help
Understand your legal rights
Stalking can amount to criminal harassment
Stalking may start with conduct that seems more annoying than dangerous. Receiving flowers or a letter from “an admirer” (for example) can be off-putting but innocuous. But when it’s repeated, it can be frightening. In some cases, it can amount to criminal harassment. This is a crime under section 264 of the Criminal Code.
For stalking to be criminal harassment, here’s what’s required:
- The person engages in harassing behaviour. This can include repeatedly following someone, repeatedly communicating with them, watching their home or workplace, or engaging in threatening conduct directed at someone or their family.
- The person knows (or is “reckless”) that the victim is harassed by their conduct. The person knows their conduct is harassing the victim, or is reckless about whether their conduct is harassing the victim. “Reckless” means they know their conduct may harass the victim, but they don’t care.
- The conduct scares the victim. The person’s conduct causes the victim to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of someone they know. The victim’s fear has to be reasonable.
The person does not have to realize their conduct is scaring the victim for it to be criminal harassment. Stalking can be criminal harassment even if the person doesn’t physically hurt anyone or damage any property. The law is designed to protect psychological, emotional, and physical safety.
Cyberbullying can involve multiple crimes
Cyberbullying is a type of harassment using new technology. Cyberbullies use social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube), blogs, texting, instant messaging, and other communication platforms to engage in conduct intended to harm or embarrass someone. Although their work is public, cyberbullies are often anonymous and it is often harder to identify and stop them.
In some cases, cyberbullying can amount to criminal harassment. This is a crime under section 264 of the Criminal Code. See above (under stalking) for a description of the elements required.
Another Criminal Code provision outlaws a specific type of cyberbullying. Under section 162.1, it’s a crime to share an intimate image of someone without their consent. Someone who is reckless about whether the person gave their consent can be charged with this crime. “Reckless” means they knew the person may not have consented, but they didn’t care.
Cyberbullying may also be defamation. Under section 300 of the Criminal Code, it’s a crime to publish a “defamatory libel”. This is something published, without lawful justification or excuse, that is likely to injure a person’s reputation by exposing them to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or that is designed to insult the person.
But the reality is that criminal defamation is rare. More common is civil defamation — communication about a person that tends to hurt their reputation. See our information on defamation (no. 240) for more.
If a person is charged with a crime
If a person is charged with criminal harassment or sharing an intimate image without consent, the prosecutor (called Crown counsel) makes the case against them.
The first stage is generally an application by the accused person to be released (on bail) pending the trial. If the court grants bail, it would usually attach conditions such as that the person not contact the victim or go near the victim’s home or place of work. It could also ban the person from using the internet, depending on the details of the crime they’re charged with.
If the person disobeys those terms, the court may cancel their bail and charge them with a separate offence of breaching their bail conditions.
If a court finds the person guilty of the crime, it will give a sentence. The sentence is based on the severity of the crime and the person’s criminal record. If the person is not sent to jail, they will usually be ordered to obey conditions similar to those imposed at the bail stage. For example, a court will typically order a person convicted of criminal harassment to have no contact with the victim directly or indirectly, to stay away from their 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 counselling, if it might help.
Deal with the problem
Step 1. Call the police
If someone is stalking, harassing or cyberbullying you, 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.
Never reply to harassing messages — except to tell the person to stop. Telling the person to stop gives them no excuse to say they didn’t realize they were harassing you.
If the harassment happens at work, report it to your boss (as well as to the police). If your boss is the one harassing you, report it to a co-worker.
If the harassment happens at school, report it to the school authorities (in addition to the police).
Step 3. Report cyberbullying to your internet or phone provider
Report cyberbullying or other harassing communication to your internet or cellphone provider. 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.
If you get a harassing phone call, 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. (This technique doesn’t work on all phones. For how call tracking works for your phone, contact your phone provider.)
Step 4. Seek a court order to protect you
You can seek a court order to protect you from a person who is harassing or stalking you. Depending on the circumstances, you could seek a peace bond under the Criminal Code or a protection order under the Family Law Act.
These kinds of orders include conditions set by a judge that a person must follow — such as having no contact with you or not going near your home or workplace.
Support for victims
For support and services for victims of crime, call the 24-hour helpline at Victim Link BC.
- Toll-free: 1-800-563-0808
- Web: victimlinkbc.ca
The BC government’s Victim Services and Violence Against Women Program Directory provides contact information for service providers across the province that assist women impacted by violence.
The website of MediaSmarts, a non-profit organization for digital and media literacy, features information on cyberbullying and the law.
- Web: mediasmarts.ca
The BC government website includes information on stalking and criminal harassment.
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