Uttering Threats

In R. v. O’Brien, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled one can be convicted of uttering threats if the Crown proves the accused intended a threat.

While the accused was incarcerated, he had a telephone conversation with his ex‑girlfriend during which he repeatedly told her that he would kill her upon his release if she proceeded with her planned abortion of their child. The accused was charged with uttering threats. At trial, the ex‑girlfriend testified that the words uttered by the accused had not intimidated her or caused her fear as the accused frequently talked in that manner. The accused was acquitted, the trial judge having a reasonable doubt whether the accused intended his words to intimidate or be taken seriously. The Court of Appeal dismissed the Crown’s appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the appeal. The Court said:

“In her brief reasons for judgment, delivered orally, the trial judge held―correctly, in my view―that the [physical element] of the offence created by s. 264.1(1)(a) is “the actual speaking or uttering of the threats of death or serious bodily harm.” And, again correctly, the trial judge held that the [mental element] “is that the words are meant [to convey] a threat. In other words they are meant to intimidate. . . . [I]t is not an essential element of the offence under s. 264.1(1)(a) that the recipient of the threats uttered by the accused feel intimidated by them or be shown to have taken them seriously. All that needs to be proven is that they were intended by the accused to have that effect.”

Note: This summary is drawn from Eugene Meehan’s SupremeAdvocacy Weekly Updates for the Law Community.