What is assault with a weapon?
The charge of assault with a weapon may seem self-explanatory but there are many factors that have to be considered before it is laid, the first one being what actions comprise assault.
Canada’s Criminal Code states a person commits an assault when:
- “without the consent of another person, he applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly;
- he attempts or threatens, by an act or a gesture, to apply force to another person, if he has, or causes that other person to believe on reasonable grounds that he has, present ability to effect his purpose; or
- while openly wearing or carrying a weapon or an imitation thereof, he accosts or impedes another person or begs.”
Drawing on that last point, someone could be charged with assault with a weapon if they were asking for money with some sort of weapon visible. The Code states a person can be charged with assault with a weapon if he “carries, uses or threatens to use a weapon or an imitation thereof.”
This would include waving a knife or displaying a firearm, or striking someone with almost any object. There doesn’t have to be contact, as the threat of using a weapon is an offence potentially punishable by imprisonment. Even if the weapon is not used to cause harm to the victim, the Crown only has to prove it was used to threaten or intimidate.
Weapons can be almost anything
Guns, knives and clubs may be the most common types of weapons used in assaults but the list certainly does not stop there. Objects that can be thrown – snowballs, silverware, fluids, even an animal – or brandished in a threatening manner may be considered a weapon.
Section 2 of the Code defines weapons as “anything used, designed to be used or intended for use (a) in causing death or injury to any person, or (b) for the purpose of threatening or intimidating any person, and … anything used, designed to be used or intended for use in binding or tying up a person against their will.”
Weapons used in domestic cases
There are many cases where household items were used in assaults in domestic situations. Here are a three examples.
In Alberta in 2008, a 14-year-old arrived home from a date with a boy she had been seeing for four months. According to court documents, she acknowledged to her parents that they had been sexually active before she was told to break off her relationship and not see him again. The following day she admitted she had been with the boy again. The father took her to her room and held her down so that the mother could hit her with a belt. Both parents were convicted of assault with a weapon.
In Ontario in 2016, a woman was regularly whipped if she didn’t live up to her male partner’s standards relating to the cleaning business they ran together, or if she did not complete domestic chores. According to court documents, these beatings would occur as often as several times a week, with belts, electrical cords and the jagged point of a broken broomstick used.
During a broomstick beating, the judgment reads, “the severity of the violence rose to a level that caused the complainant to fear that he wouldn’t stop until she was dead.” After this attack she called police, resulting in his arrest and eventual conviction of three charges of assault with a weapon.
The third case involved a 14-year-old who was charged with assaulting his 12-year-old sister with a weapon during an argument in Alberta. The weapon used was a cordless telephone, which he threw at her during an argument. The Court of Queen’s Bench judgment, which dealt with the question about whether the boy should have to submit a DNA sample to the national DNA databank, notes the boy earlier pled guilty to assault with a weapon at Provincial Court.
Athletes and their weapons
Something as Canadian as a hockey stick can be considered a weapon, even in the hands of a professional player. In 2000, a Boston Bruins’ defenceman was found guilty of assault with a weapon for slashing a Vancouver Canuck player in the head with a hockey stick. According to court documents, the judge cited a 1991 Supreme Court decision where a majority held that professional athletes give implied consent to intentional applications of force that are within the customary norms and rules of the game. But they cannot consent to serious violence that clearly extends beyond the ordinary norms of conduct. Implied consent covers only applications of force that may cause minor bodily harm.
The judgment also cited a 1975 decision, which states, “Were the kind of body contact that routinely occurs in a hockey game to occur outside the playing area or on the street, it would, in most cases, constitute an assault to which the sanctions of the criminal law would apply. Patently, when one engages in a hockey game, one accepts that some assaults, which would otherwise be criminal, will occur and consents to such assaults. It is equally patent, however, that to engage in a game of hockey is not to enter a forum to which the criminal law does not extend. To hold otherwise would be to create the hockey arena a sanctuary for unbridled violence to which the law of Parliament and the Queen's justice could not apply.”
Before reaching his decision, the judge made this observation about the Boston Bruins player. “There is another issue … I must consider. That is whether [his] hockey stick was a weapon at the time of the incident. A hockey stick is not designed as a weapon, but is often used as such to slash and cross-check other players … every time a player uses a stick to apply force to another player, the stick is being used as a weapon and not to direct the puck as it was designed to do.”
Unusual cases of assault with a weapon
These news stories illustrate the wide range of objects used in cases where charges of assault with a weapon have been laid.
In 2017, a Toronto-area woman attacked workers at a Canadian Tire store with a golf club and butcher knife in a symbolic gesture in support of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. According to a news report, she waved the club at employees in the paint department while chanting “This is for ISIL,” but staff were able to take the club away from her, as well as a butcher knife hidden under her clothing. She was convicted of assault with a weapon.
In Dartmouth, N.S., a 27-year-old woman was charged with assault with a weapon after a video surfaced of two females in one vehicle confronting two females in a second car in a dispute about which vehicle had the right-of-way at a drive-thru. According to a news report, one of the women grabbed a dog from the other’s car and swung it at its owner. The woman holding the pet was charged with causing unnecessary suffering to an animal and assault with a weapon. The dog was not injured in the attack.
Best defences when charged
If someone is attacked, they are justified in using reasonable force to defend themselves or others, as long as they do not intend to cause death or serious bodily harm.
When I am representing a client facing an assault with a weapon charge I first look to see if there was an application of force and if so, was it intentional. The circumstances of that interaction are always important, especially if it can be argued my client was defending himself or his property, or another person and their property.
I look for inconsistencies in the Crown’s case and in the evidence given to police by the victim. The ability to find these gaps, and to show the court how they affect the credibility of the evidence being presented, is one of the benefits experienced defence counsel can bring to a case.
The penalty upon conviction
Those convicted of assault with a weapon will face harsher penalties than those found guilty of basic assault. A prison sentence can be up to 10 years, plus you may be asked to give a DNA sample to the national DNA databank. A judge could also levy a fine and impose a lifetime ban on owning any weapons. In any case, such a conviction could seriously affect your employment prospects, not to mention the strain it will cause between you and your family and friends.
Don’t face this charge alone
The courts take assault with weapon charges very seriously. If you or a family member is in this situation you need to have a criminal defence lawyer with experience at your side. When someone contacts my firm they speak only to me, so you will never have to repeat yourself to other lawyers or members of her firm to discuss the important details of your case. Contact me for a free consultation so we can start planning your best defence.