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FAQ Assault Charges

FAQ Assault Charges in Ottawa area and all Ontario

People from all backgrounds get charged with assault in Ottawa.  If you have an assault charge in Ottawa you will likely have many questions, including:

  • Any intentional touching may constitute an assault.  There is no requirement of “force” in the sense of violent or forceful contact.  A grab, shove, or pinch may be an assault in some cases.

    A threat to apply force, where the accused has the present ability to carry out the threat, can also be an assault.

  • To get a conviction for simple assault, there is no requirement that any actual harm be sustained.  When the victim suffers harm, the charge may be upgraded to “assault causing bodily harm”, “aggravated assault”, or “attempted murder”.
  • The penalties for being found guilty of assault in Ontario can range from an absolute discharge to serious jail time.  A conviction, or even a discharge, may negatively affect your employment prospects, family law rights, security clearance, immigration status, and ability to travel abroad.

    To a large degree your potential jeopardy depends on the severity of the harm suffered by the complainant, as explained below.

    Assault is a hybrid offence, meaning that the prosecutor can elect to proceed summarily or by indictment. If the crown elects summarily, the maximum sentence for a simple assault is 6 months in jail. If the Crown proceeds by indictment, the maximum sentence is 5 years in jail. The Crown’s decision will depend on the seriousness of the allegations and the accused’s criminal history.

    Assault with a Weapon or Assault Bodily Harm charges are more serious.  The maximum sentences upon conviction are 18 months in jail if the Crown proceeds summarily, and 10 years in jail if the Crown proceeds by indictment.

    Aggravated Assault is an indictable offence punishable by 14 years in jail.

  • The Criminal Code defines “bodily harm” as any hurt or injury to a person that interferes with the health or comfort of the person and that is more than merely transient or trifling in nature. A black-eye or minor cut, for example, would not constitute bodily harm.  On the other hand, a broken tooth or nose would likely be bodily harm.
  • An “aggravated assault” is an assault that causes injuries that are significantly more substantial than “bodily harm”. Anyone commits an aggravated assault who wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of another person.
  • A “weapon” is any object used or intended to be used for the purpose of causing death or injury to any person or for the purpose of threatening or intimidating any person.

    A knife or baseball bat are obvious examples of weapons.  Throwing an object with an intent to hit someone is an assault with a weapon.  A pillow which is used to smother a victim is a less obvious example of a weapon.

  • There are many valid defences to assault and other violent offences in Ontario.  Remember that the Crown must disprove these defences beyond a reasonable doubt to get a conviction.


    The Crown must prove that the person who was allegedly assaulted did not consent to the application of force. An honest but mistaken belief in consent by an accused is a defence to an assault charge. No one can consent, however, to non-trivial bodily harm.  As a result, consent will not provide a defence to assault causing bodily harm or aggravated assault charges.

    Can you consent to a fight in Ontario?

    Two people can consent to fight so long as no one gets hurt.  Consent does is not a defence, however, to assault charges stemming from a fist fight or brawl where serious hurt or non-trivial bodily harm occurs.

    Self Defence

    The Crown must prove that you were not acting in self-defence to convict you of assault.

    You are justified in using reasonable force to defend yourself against an unlawful assault provided you did not provoke the assault and you did not intend to cause death or grievous bodily harm.  What constitutes “reasonable force” will depend on the circumstances of the assault against you.  For example, the severity of the threat you were facing or the violent history of your assailant are relevant considerations.  You are not required to measure the force you use with exactitude when you are under attack.

    If a judge decides that you meant to cause death or grievous bodily harm, the force you used to defend yourself will only be justified in situations where you reasonably apprehended that death or grievous bodily harm to yourself would otherwise result.

    There are many self-defence provisions in the Criminal Code which are complex and overlap with each other.  Click here to read the self-defence provisions in the Criminal Code.  You will see why legal advice from an experienced criminal defence lawyer is required in self-defence cases.

    Defence of Property or Defence of Others

    Reasonable force can be used to protect your property or to defend anyone under your protection (such as a close family member) from an assault.


    It is not an assault if you did not intend to apply force.  A reflexive action may not be an assault.

    Hitting someone by accident is not an assault.   However accidentally hitting one person in an attempt to hit another is not a defence to assault. It does not matter who the intended victim is, as long the accused meant to apply force to any individual, it is still an assault.

    Mistaken Identity

    The Crown must prove that you are the person who committed the assault.  When a complainant does not know the person who assaulted them, it can be hard for the prosecution to prove who the guilty party is.  Similarly, if a complainant was assaulted by a group of people it may be difficult to identify a particular assailant.

    Eyewitness and photo-lineup identification can be effectively challenged by cross-examination of the identification witness and challenging the police procedures.  The easiest way for the prosecution to prove identity is for you to admit you were involved in the assault to the police, other people, or on social media.

    Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

    A complainant who is exposed as being unreliable and not credible under cross-examination will usually lead to an acquittal in assault cases.  A complainant may, for example, fabricate an assault allegation to further a civil lawsuit, a family law dispute, or out of a desire for revenge.

Brett McGarry Criminal Law
200 Elgin Street, Suite 800 Ottawa, Ontario , Canada K2P 1L5
Phone: 613-884-8576 URL of Map