UTTERING THREATS – Think before you speak or act

Have you ever been at a party where everything is going great? The music is good, the venue is fantastic and then suddenly without warning, someone who is a little too “happy” spills their drink on you?  I confess not only have I been doused but I have witnessed many such events.

I recall some time ago my wife and I were on an island vacation and we were at an outdoor event with live music.  Much to our chagrin, a gentleman who was well past intoxicated and carrying two drinks came and stood close by.  As fate would have it, he spilled his drink on my wife’s top.  The bumbling spiller’s wife/girlfriend was quick to apologise but ten minutes later, he did the same thing again.  In retrospect, that man must have nine lives because I am not sure how my wife did not do a matrix manoeuver on him.  Believe me she is not the type of woman to hold back when annoyed.  The typical response when this type of spillage occurs is to tell the bumbling spiller off.  It is more likely you would want to look him in his glazed eyes and say “Man, I could cuff you down right now”; or perhaps “I could ring you blasted neck right here”.

However, before you vocalize, it is better to internalize and think before you speak.  The reason I would admonish you to take this guarded approach is that in the heat of passion, we may often say things we would not normally say.  We may allow our tempers and emotions to get the better of us and that could spell trouble.

Why?  That is because it is a criminal offence to utter threats.  Section 264.1 of the Criminal Code:

264.1(1) every one commits an offence, who, in any manner, knowingly utters, conveys or causes any person to receive a threat;

(a) to cause death or bodily harm to any person;
(b) to burn, destroy or damage real or personal property; or
(c) to kill, poison or injure an animal or bird that is the property of any person

In terms of the elements of the offence, you should know that what you say will be viewed objectively to determine whether under the circumstances your words or gestures constitute a threat.  In effect, would a reasonable person under the same circumstances interpret your words or gestures as a threat?

In the scenario above, you would want to say that you were just frustrated and upset but the important aspect or question is, would a reasonable person interpret your words to be a threat to them?

The law is well established that it is irrelevant whether or not you had the means to carry out the threat.  For instance, if you say to someone “I am going to shoot you”, it does not matter if you did not own or possess a gun at the material time.  Furthermore, it is not necessary that the threat be conveyed to the intended victim for the offence to be committed.  Again, assume you call up Bob and leave him a voice message stating that you are going to break his friend John’s legs.  In this case a conviction can be secured if the Crown can establish that the words were meant to intimidate or be taken seriously.  The fact that the threatening voice message was left for Bob and not John is irrelevant.

Note: A threat can also be non-verbal.  A common example is running your finger across your throat as if cutting or slicing or holding your palm out with the finger pointing as if it were the nozzle of a gun.

So, the next time you are at a fete and someone spills an alcoholic concoction that is sure to stain your outfit, think before your speak or act.  Choose your words carefully and refrain from any threatening words or gestures.  Remember, it is always easier to get rid of your stained clothes than it is to get rid of a criminal conviction.

The foregoing is intended for information purposes only and you should consult a lawyer if you need legal representation or a legal opinion.

Selwyn R. Baboolal is a partner at Oumarally Baboolal practicing in the area of litigation for the past 20 years.

Lawyer / Lawyers in Mississauga.

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