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Assault vs Aggravated Assault vs Sexual Assault: What’s the Difference?

Once you are accused of assault, you should contact an assault lawyer immediately. In recent years, there has been a rise in assaults of all types in Calgary and throughout Alberta. That means Crown Prosecutors in Calgary take these charges very seriously.

The differences among the types of assault in the Criminal Code of Canada have to do with the severity of the harm done to the victim. There are several levels of assault outlined under the Criminal Code:

  • Uttering threats
  • Assault
  • Assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm
  • Aggravated assault
  • Assaulting a public transit officer
  • Assaulting a peace officer
  • Sexual assault
  • Aggravated sexual assault

Even though “uttering threats” may seem less serious than a typical charge of assault, it’s a very serious matter to even be accused of any of these crimes. In Canada, a conviction for any assault type is likely to incur serious penalties along with a criminal record that can have a permanent, life-altering impact. If you have been charged with assault, it is critical that you remain silent until you speak with a skilled, experienced criminal defence lawyer.

Assault vs Aggravated Assault vs Sexual Assault

What is assault?

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, an assault is defined as the intent to apply force to another person (directly or indirectly) without that person’s consent. No bodily contact is necessary to charge someone with assault. The threat of bodily harm is legally considered an assault. No injury is required. What is required is that the person had intended to harm someone who did not give consent. The key is that there was an intent to do harm, and no consent was given.

These are the types of assault and their penalties according to the Criminal Code of Canada:

  • Uttering threats. Just the threat of doing violence to a person is considered a type of assault. This may include threatening to:
    • Cause death or bodily harm to anyone
    • Destroy or damage property
    • Kill or injure an animal considered personal property

These can be charged as indictable offences or offences punishable by summary conviction. If found guilty of uttering threats, the person making the threat may be liable for up to five years of imprisonment.

  • Assault is committed when someone intentionally (without consent):
    • Applies force to another person, either directly (push, hit, slap, kick, etc.) or indirectly (uses an object to strike, push, etc.)
    • Attempts or threatens to cause harm to another person by action or gesture, creating a reasonable fear in the other person
    • Accosts or impedes someone while carrying a weapon
  • Assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm is when someone:
    • Carries, uses or threatens to use a weapon
    • Causes bodily harm
    • Chokes suffocates or strangles someone else

Assault and assault with a weapon are also hybrid offences. The Crown prosecutor can choose to charge assault as either a summary conviction offence or an indictable offence, depending on the severity of the assault, the injuries caused and the history of the offender.

An assault classified as a summary conviction offence may attract a sentence of anywhere from a discharge to several months in prison. A simple assault classified as an indictable offence could result in up to 5 years in prison, while assaults with a weapon or which cause bodily harm could result in up to 10 years in prison.

What is aggravated assault?

Aggravated assault is a more serious charge because of the extent of injuries. An aggravated assault wounds or maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the victim. This is an indictable offence that can result in imprisonment for up to 14 years. Aggravated assault of a peace officer or public transit operator and disarming a peace officer are just as serious and carry similar penalties.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is a criminal offence involving unwanted sexual contact. This can range from unwanted sexual touching to rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Any sexual contact must have the consent of both parties. This consent must be freely given and ongoing. Sexual contact without consent constitutes sexual assault. Alberta’s approach to dealing with sexual assault centers on the victim. The Supreme Court of Canada declared that sexual assault is not about contact with a specific body part – it assesses if the sexual nature of the contact violates the sexual integrity of the victim. The court takes into consideration the following:

  • Part of the body touched
  • The sexual nature and circumstances of the contract
  • Words and gestures accompanying the act
  • Threats and/or force
  • Use of an actual or imitation weapon

Aggravated sexual assault is when the victim’s life is threatened during a sexual assault or when the victim is wounded, maimed or disfigured during a sexual assault. Aggravated sexual assault can result in a punishment of imprisonment from a few years up to life in prison.

What is consent?

Consent is a critical concept for all assault cases. Consent means there must be a voluntary agreement to engage in the assault. For example:

  • In hockey, a block or check may involve violence, but consent is implied because all parties understand the risk of certain roughness or the risk of injury.
  • If a person is under 16 years old and involved in a sexual act with a person who is 22, there is no consent because they are legally incapable of consenting to the activity. By law, a person who is under 16 cannot consent to sexual activity with someone who is five or more years older. A person under 14 cannot consent to sexual activity with someone two or more years older.

The Supreme Court of Canada defined consent to mean that a person cannot consent to have serious bodily harm done to themselves. As you can see, the rules around consent can be very easily misunderstood and violated. Canadian courts have become very strict about enforcing criminal charges for violations of legal consent in sexual assault and other assault cases.

If you’ve been charged with any type of assault, call Bulwark Law now!

Let Bulwark Law help you get the vigorous defence you need to avoid or minimize criminal charges. Any assault charge can result in a permanent criminal record that can follow you for the rest of your life. Our experienced criminal defence lawyers can create a defence strategy for assault charges. Before you say anything to the police or prosecutor, call Bulwark Law for a free consultation at 403-678-7360 or contact us online.

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