What is assault?
In its most common form, assault is when one person applies or threatens to apply force directly to another person. Think a punch or a slap, or telling someone you’re going to beat them up. In the case of threatening someone, the person threatened has to believe that the aggressor has the ability to act on their threat immediately. For instance, threatening someone with a cocked fist while standing right in front of them is different than doing it from the other side of a crowd.
What are the different degrees of assault?
- Simple (or sometimes, common) assault
Simple assault is the most common form of assault in Canada, and covers incidences that do not involve a weapon or any harm to the victim
- Assault with a weapon
As it sounds, assault with a weapon is an instance of assault that involves a weapon–if a weapon or an imitation of a weapon is used, carried, or used to threaten during an assault, the charge will probably be assault with a weapon
- Assault causing bodily harm
Again, the nature of this charge is in the title–assault causing bodily harm involves assaults in which another person sustains a serious injury
- Aggravated assault
Aggravated assault is the most serious charge on the list–if the victim is wounded, maimed, disfigured, or has their life endangered the charge will likely be aggravated assault
Remember, while simple assault may be the least serious form of assault, police still take it very seriously, especially in the domestic context.
As we’ve seen, there are many different types of assault. There are also commonly used defences.
- Consensual fight
You cannot assault someone who consents to a fight. For instance, two angry people who punch each other could be considered to consent to the fight they are in. Therefore, neither is the victim of an assault. This remains the case even if one “wins” the fight.
In Canada, you cannot consent to bodily harm, so consent can only be used as a defence where there is no bodily harm.
To claim self-defence, a defendant must be able to demonstrate they acted in a reasonable way to protect themselves or another person.
Reasonable self-defence: the victim hits the defendant in the face. The defendant blocks the blow, strikes back, and accidentally knocks the defendant down a flight of stairs.
Unreasonable self-defence: The victim punches the defendant in the face. The defendant blocks the blow, walks away, pulls out a gun and shoots the victim.
- Defence of property
To be able to use defence of property, the defendant must be able to prove that they have legal control over the property they claim to have been protecting. As in self-defense, the defendant must have used reasonable force against the defendant.
- De minimis
This defence argues that the nature of the assault was so minor that it doesn’t count as a criminal offence. This can be something like grabbing a person’s arm and guiding them (not dragging them) away. In Canada, even minor assaults are often considered criminal behaviour, meaning that this defence is rarely successful.
- It never happened
This is not really a defence. Essentially, the argument is the assault never happened. Because it never happened, the Crown cannot prove the assault and the defendant should be acquitted. There are two common arguments used to try to prove the assault did not happen:
- “It wasn’t me”
The Crown has to prove that the defendant committed the assault in question. If there is a reasonable doubt, the defendant is found not guilty. In some cases, proving the identity of the person that committed the assault can be very easy. But in some cases, such as a fight between two strangers outside a bar in the early hours of the morning, it can be much more difficult.
- “S/he is lying”
This argument is used to cast doubt on the testimony of the victim. It is most often used when the identities of the parties involved in the assault is undeniable. Usually, the defendant and victim have two completely different versions of events.
- “It wasn’t me”
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