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April 29, 2013Toronto Police Service Board – Public ConsultationCity Hall, Council ChambersMy name is Steph Guthrie and I’m speaking on behalf of Women in Toronto Politics. I’mhere today to share some concerns and ideas regarding the way the Toronto PoliceService currently deals with harassment. Section 264 of the Canadian Criminal Code,which deals with criminal harassment, was introduced in the early 1990s after severalwomen were murdered by their stalkers.Section 264 prohibits repeated and unwanted communication or any kind of threateningconduct that induces the target to fear for their safety. However, it is not being treated assuch by all Toronto Police officers. In the last week I have been connected with threedifferent women who took a case of harassment to the police here in Toronto and weretold that the police were hamstrung unless the harasser “did something” (i.e. assaultedthem), which is simply not true.Section 264 does not require the harasser to have laid a hand on the victim – in fact, latelast year the Ontario Court of Appeal reinforced this byupholdinga 5
year sentence for convicted harasser Patrick James Doherty. Justice Margaret Woolcott, who initiallyconvicted Doherty, wrote in her judgment, “the primary impact of harassment is veryoften psychological … there is no requirement that there be physical harm to make out avery serious case of criminal harassment.”Telling complainants that in order to lay charges they must wait until the person assaultsthem is evidence of clear misunderstanding of section 264.
So my first suggestion isthat you re-educate your frontline officers on the threshold required to layharassment charges. No officer of this force should tell a complainant that assault isa necessary precondition for harassment charges
. Section 264 was introducedspecifically so that assault need
precede criminal charges.In two of the three instances I learned about where Toronto Police turned away acomplainant, the harassment was happening in the woman’s workplace. In the third case,the harassment took place on the woman’s public transit route to work. You must go towork, so how do you escape? Imagine how much less safe you would feel if you were“trapped” with little control over whether or not you experienced the harassment. Now, consider one of the key litmus tests for section 264: the behaviour would make a“reasonable person fear for their safety.” The “reasonable person” qualifier is wherethings get tricky, because people have different thresholds for feeling safe or unsafe. A