Defining “Harassment” Under the Criminal Code

PUBLISHED ON August 7, 2023

Harassment is a term that often appears in legal discussions and everyday conversations, yet its precise definition can be somewhat elusive. The following article is intended to provide information about how it is defined and classified under the Criminal Code of Canada. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. For proper legal advice, you will need to contact Brian Ross to discuss your particular situation. 

What is Harassment?

The Criminal Code of Canada defines and classifies “criminal harassment” as follows:

264 (1) No person shall, without lawful authority and knowing that another person is harassed or recklessly as to whether the other person is harassed, engage in conduct referred to in subsection (2) that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.

Prohibited Conduct

(2) The conduct mentioned in subsection (1) consists of:

(a) repeatedly following from place to place the other person or anyone known to them;

(b) repeatedly communicating with, either directly or indirectly, the other person or anyone known to them;

(c) besetting or watching the dwelling-house, or place where the other person, or anyone known to them, resides, works, carries on business or happens to be; or

(d) engaging in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any family member.


(3) Every person who contravenes this section is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or

(b) an offence punishable by summary conviction.

Factors to be considered

(4) Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court imposing the sentence on the person shall consider as an aggravating factor that, at the time the offence was committed, the person contravened

(a) the terms or conditions of an order made pursuant to section 161 or a recognizance entered into pursuant to section 810, 810.1 or 810.2; or

(b) the terms or conditions of any other order or recognizance, or of an undertaking, made or entered into under the common law, this Act or any other Act of Parliament or of a provincial legislature that is similar in effect to an order or recognizance referred to in paragraph (a).

As you can see, harassment, as defined under the Criminal Code, involves a range of behaviours intended to intimidate, annoy, or alarm another person. It is crucial to emphasize that harassment goes beyond mere annoyances and typically (although not exclusively) consists of a pattern of persistent and unwelcome behaviour. Harassment can manifest in various forms, including but not limited to:

  • Cyberbullying: Using digital communication to send threatening or abusive messages, post harmful content, or engage in online stalking.
  • Verbal Harassment: Repeatedly subjecting an individual to offensive or menacing language, whether in person, over the phone, or through other forms of communication.
  • Stalking: Continuously following or tracking someone without their consent, causing them fear or distress.
  • Sexual Harassment: Unwanted sexual advances, comments, or actions that create a hostile or intimidating environment.

The Importance of Understanding Harassment Laws

Other sections within the Criminal Code relate to harassment situations, including Uttering Threats and Mischief. Understanding the legal definition of harassment and its consequences is vital for several reasons:

  • Protection: Knowledge of the law empowers individuals to protect themselves and seek legal remedies when subjected to harassment or to claims of harassment.
  • Prevention: Awareness of the legal consequences can act as a deterrent, discouraging potential harassers from engaging in harmful behaviour.
  • Reporting: Victims of harassment can confidently report incidents to law enforcement, leading to investigations and possible prosecutions.
  • Support: Recognizing harassment can help friends, family, and colleagues support those affected and encourage them to seek help.

In Conclusion

‘Harassment’ encompasses a range of behaviours that can have significant consequences. If you have been charged with criminal harassment or harassment-related offences, you should contact Brian Ross, a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto, immediately. 


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Brian Ross is a founding partner at Canada’s largest criminal Law firm, Rusonik, O’Connor, Robbins, Ross & Angelini, LLP. Prior to founding this firm, Brian was a partner at Pinkofskys, a leading law firm famous for its vigorous defence of its clients.

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