The Difference Between Assault and Aggravated Assault

PUBLISHED ON January 11, 2023

This article attempts to distinguish between the two charges and illustrate what constitutes an “aggravated assault”. This is intended as information only and not legal advice. To receive legal advice, you will need to contact an experienced criminal lawyer and discuss the particulars of your matter.  

The law classifies crimes as assault include actions that inflict harm through physical or threatening force. These crimes fall into categories depending on type and severity. Assault covers a list of charges, including simple assault, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, and sexual assault. This article only addresses the difference between assault and aggravated assault.

Defining Assault: The Criminal Code of Canada defines an assault (s. 265(1)) as follows:

A person commits an “assault” when

  1. Without the consent of another person, he applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly;
  2. 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
  3. While openly wearing or carrying a weapon or an imitation thereof, he accosts or impedes another person or begs.

This definition applies to all forms of assault. This includes sexual assault, assault with a weapon and aggravated assault, for example.

In practical terms, assault means an intentional act that causes a person physical harm, or fear of physical harm, from another person. This applies to a physical force directed to the body without the person’s consent, both through direct action or indirectly by causing the contact to occur. The definition also covers attempting an assault and threatening assault through intimidation or the presence of weapons.

While the charge of assault specifically originates in harm by physical contact, it recognizes that attempting said harm or contact, and similarly, causing a person to fear that the harm or contact will occur, also meets the standard of accountability as assault. This allows law officers and courts to act before the victim suffers physical harm to prevent injury and provide powerful deterrents to all forms of assault.

What Separates Aggravated Assault Charges From Simple Assault Charges?

Regarding simple assault vs aggravated assault in Canada, the key to escalating from assault to aggravated assault hinges on significant bodily harm. Significant bodily harm leaves serious or lasting damage to the victim’s body. When applying this standard, the law explicitly states that aggravated assault “wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life” of the victim.

To prove an “aggravated assault,” the Crown must prove that there was an “assault” (as defined above) and that the assault was “aggravated.” As stated above, the Criminal Code of Canada defines “aggravated assault” (s. 268(1)) as:

Every one commits an aggravated assault who wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the complainant’s life.

Essentially then, to prove an aggravated assault, the Crown must prove that there was an assault and that that assault wounded, maimed, disfigured or endangered the life of the complainant. While weapons are not required to prove an aggravated assault, it is often the case that a weapon was used in causing the injuries. Using a weapon in an assault that does not result in the injuries described above can often result in a charge of Assault with a Weapon. Section 267 of the Criminal Code of Canada defines an Assault with a Weapon as follows:

Every person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years or is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction who, in committing an assault,

(a) carries, uses or threatens to use a weapon or an imitation thereof,

(b) causes bodily harm to the complainant, or

(c) chokes, suffocates or strangles the complainant

Consent in Assault Cases

As noted above, to constitute an assault, the application of force must be made without the complainant’s consent. That is, two people can lawfully consent to a fight. However, a person cannot consent to bodily harm. Thus, consent has no application where the charge is aggravated assault.

Sentences for Assaults and Aggravated Assaults

Another distinguishing feature of an aggravated assault prosecution is that a person charged with aggravated assault faces greater penalties if found guilty.

Simple assault covers forms of assault that fall below the standard of aggravated assault, including non-consensual physical contact and threats to the victim or another person. A person convicted of a simple assault is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years if the Crown proceeds by indictment.

Aggravated assault sentences, however, reflect the extremity of violence, the life-threatening potential, and the severity of the resulting injury. A person convicted of aggravated assault is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years. Actual sentences, however, vary depending on the circumstances of the case.

What to Do if You’re Facing Aggravated or Simple Assault Charges in Canada

If you need legal advice regarding the difference between assault and aggravated assault or help understand your situation’s legal nuances, contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer.

Contact Brian Ross, Criminal Defence Lawyer, at (416) 658-5855 today for legal advice in Canada or more information about the differences between assault, aggravated assault, and other types of assault-related charges.

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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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