If you’ve been followed by someone, even for a block or two, you know how threatening it can be. Can you make a complaint to the police if someone is repeatedly calling or messaging you, sending you gifts, or showing up at your work? When does this behaviour cross the line into the criminal? We answer your questions about stalking and the law below.
What is Stalking?
Stalking is a pattern of behaviour characterized by unwanted attention, communication, or contact intended to cause the victim fear, distress, or discomfort. This behaviour can include following the victim, repeatedly calling, texting, or emailing them, or showing up at their workplace or home uninvited. Stalking can be carried out by anyone, regardless of their relationship with the victim; it can be perpetrated by former partners, acquaintances, strangers, or even family members.
Is Stalking Illegal in Canada?
Section 264 of the Criminal Code of Canada (the Code) defines stalking as a form of criminal harassment. It usually involves repeated behaviours, but someone could be charged with the crime of criminal harassment based on a single incident if the behaviour is overtly threatening.
Criminal Harassment is a category of interpersonal crimes created in 1993 in response to increasing incidents of violence against women. Prior to that, alleged perpetrators would be charged with crimes such as trespassing or uttering threats. While these crimes are still in the Code, Criminal Harassment better captures the range of behaviours that can be used to intimidate someone and cause them ongoing distress.
What Does Stalking (Criminal Harassment) Include?
Stalking, or Criminal Harassment, includes these key behaviours:
- Repeatedly following the victim or someone the victim knows.
- Repeatedly communicating with the victim or someone known to the victim.
- Watching the home or workplace of the victim or someone known to the victim, or a place where they happen to be.
- Engaging in threatening conduct toward the victim, their family members, or their pets.
It is important to note that there are many forms of these behaviours, not all of them overt. Section 264 of the Code specifically states that the behaviour must cause the victim to fear for their safety, subjectively defined; hence the behaviour does not have to be objectively threatening for the victim to make a criminal complaint. The accused’s intent is immaterial: if the victim feels as though they are in danger, it doesn’t matter if they intended to do harm or not.
Stalking can also take place online, where it can take additional forms, such as:
- Sending repeated messages through email, social media, or other online platforms.
- Creating fake online profiles to interact with the victim.
- Engaging in cyberbullying by posting negative comments or rumours about the victim on social media or other online platforms.
- If they have access to the victim’s phone, using GPS tracking to monitor the victim’s location and movements.
- Impersonating them online using a fake account. This can be particularly damaging if the stalker uses the victim’s identity to post harmful or defamatory content.
Who Does the Stalking?
The vast majority (about 88%) of stalking cases involve people who know one another. In many cases, the stalking is part of a pattern of domestic violence. In these cases, the potential for violence is greater than when the victim and the stalker are strangers1.
What to Do If You’re Being Stalked
If you are being stalked, take it seriously. Even if you don’t think the behaviour will escalate, criminal harassment is a crime in and of itself that can result in considerable harm.
Contact the police to see if you can obtain a restraining order, a peace bond, or a protection order to limit the contact the stalker can have with you. Start maintaining a record of all contact with the alleged stalker, with the times and dates and what happened, in as much detail as you can recall. Save any gifts or letters they send you.
Get in touch with a support organization such as the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime or the victim services unit of your provincial, territorial, or municipal government. Some police departments, including Toronto Police Services and the RCMP, also have their own victim services units that you can access for support.
At Star Quality Private Investigations®, we take all forms of violence very seriously, but as a woman-owned and run business, crimes that disproportionately affect women are particularly troubling to us. If you need help getting evidence that you are being stalked, we can help. We have the experience, equipment, and expertise to covertly monitor your home, workplace, or areas that you frequent and take photographs and video of anyone who has no business being there. We can also conduct background checks on anyone you suspect and delve into their online activity for signs of malfeasance. If needed, we can sweep your home and car for electronic devices that should not be there.
We are known not just for our decades of results-driven success in the Private Investigations industry but for our highly empathetic approach. We never leave a client feeling as though they are alone or that their fears are unfounded. You can trust us to be your partner in protecting your well-being and in helping you move forward with confidence. Contact us today for a confidential consultation and to hear more about how we can support you.