Your Behaviours Online Could Result in Being Charged with Criminal Harassment

In today’s society, with the use of social media, many people do not realize their online behaviours could actually find themselves being charged with the criminal offence called criminal harassment. This type of offence was added to the Criminal Code of Canada in 1993.

Initially, it was developed to address the growing awareness of stalking behaviours and stalkers. Prior to the rise of the Internet and social media, stalking involved one or more of these types of behaviours:

  • Contacting a person repeatedly, even after being asked to stop, either in person or by telephone or mail.
  • Following a person everywhere they go including their job, shopping, etc.
  • Watching a person’s home or place of employment and monitoring their movements.
  • Watching a person’s family or friends.
  • Engaging and attempting to earn the trust of family members and friends with or without the knowledge of the person being stalked.
  • Making a person and their family and friends feel threatened or fearful.

After Internet and social media use become more prevalent, the Courts recognized certain online behaviours which could infer criminal harassment, such as:

  • Repeatedly sending the person emails.
  • Constantly texting the other person.
  • Sending unwanted pictures via email, through social media posts or text messages to the person.
  • Following a person’s online social media posts and/or responding to posts in a manner the person feels fearful or threatened.

According to the Department of Justice, in Canada 88% of criminal harassment victims are from people they already know and the other 12% are by people they do not know.1While there are certainly people, who become obsessed with another person, you do not want to find yourself in the situation of being considered a stalker yourself by using these tips:

Reread your posts, emails or text messages before actually posting or sending them. Take a moment to put yourself in the place of the recipient. Would you find the email or post threatening or make you feel uncomfortable? If so, don’t send or post it.
Ask yourself if your online behaviours could be misconstrued as stalking Do you text a friend and ask why they are at a certain place or just show up uninvited? Do you constantly text or post comments on their social media pages that may not be appropriate? Are you mad at them and post or text something that could be viewed as a threat?
If someone asks that you stop doing something online, stop. If a friend asks you stop texting them or posting on their social media pages, then do it. There is a reason they are asking and most likely you made them feel uncomfortable or fearful by your previous behaviours.

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