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Uttering Threats Lawyer and Defence Information, Toronto

Uttering threats to a cause death or bodily harm to a person, or to damage property, is one of the most common criminal charges in Canada. Criminal lawyers in Toronto routinely deal with cases involving the uttering of threatening statements (which are often also bundled with other charges).

It is extremely easy to be charged with threats offences because all it requires is one person telling the police that you made the statements that constitute a threat. Many times individuals who are charged with assault are also charged with uttering threats. Threats charges are a common result of domestic incidents.

PLEASE NOTE: Defending Charges of Uttering Threats are a focused area of practise for Mark Zinck, for more information on our services for this specific charge, please see:

What is a criminal threat?

Defined in section 264.1 of the Criminal Code, a threat is any communication (written, spoken, or other) that threatens to:

1) kill or cause physical harm to a person;
2) damage real or person property;
3) kill or injure an animal owned by a person.

This means all it takes is for someone to report to the police that you said "I'm going to kill you" for you to be charged with the criminal offense of uttering threats.

The statements do not even need to be made directly to the person being threatened for you to be charged. They can be made to a third party, or stated publicly.

For example, if you make a post on an internet message board that you were going to kill or cause bodily harm to a specific person, you can be charged with uttering threats. It is incredibly easy to be charged with making threats in Canada and everyday courts are filled with people dealing with threats charges.

How to defend threats charges

Lawyers defend threats charges by either trying to prove the defendant did not make the threat, or that the threat was never meant to be taken seriously.

Arguing the threatening statement was never made

If you can persuade the court that you never uttered or wrote the threatening statement, you will be found not guilty of the threats charge resulting from it.

For cases where the evidence is a witness statement that you orally made a threat, challenging the credibility of that witness' testimony is critical. Relevant issues to consider include whether the witness was of sound mind at the time the alleged statement was made. If drugs or alcohol was involved, it could be argued that the witness' judgment was impaired.

Unreliable Witness

Sometimes a witness will testify at trial that they no longer specifically remember the threat being made. Given the length of time it takes for matters to be tried, forgetting is reasonable. Another possibility is that they may not remember the exact words, which can bring reasonable doubt upon the case. Sometimes it is possible for a lawyer to get the crown to agree to drop the charges (usually on the day of trial itself) if the witness says in advance of trial that she does not remember.

If the defendant is adamant that they did not make the threatening statement, they may wish to take the stand and testify to their innocence. Testimony of the accused may also help the court understand the circumstances surrounding the allegation and thus be more inclined to believe the accused to be innocent.

Witness Credibility

Perhaps the charges arise from a domestic situation where an ongoing custody matter is before the courts. The accused may be able to convince the court the witness (the mother) is lying about the threat in hopes that it will help her gain custody.

Remember, the defendant only needs to raise reasonable doubt as to the legitimacy of the charge to be acquitted. Of course, the viability of this defence is going to depend on whether the accused admitted to the police that he made the threatening statement. An admission is the first thing police will try to extract from the accused at the crime scene, which is why it is so important not to talk to the police at all.

Arguing the threat wasn't serious

Statements that are stated in a joking, or non serious way are not sufficient to gain a conviction for a threats charge. The threat needs to be made in a way that is intended to be taken seriously by the victim.

The state of mind of the accused is thus extremely important to the conviction. The context in which the statement was made thus becomes critical to the defendant's case. If the threat is made along with an assault, or during a fight or domestic incident, it can be a difficult burden to prove the statement was not intended to be taken seriously.

As statements made to third parties can be legal threats, sometimes a successful defence can result from proving the third party merely misinterpreted the intent of the statement. Again, the presence of drugs and alcohol are critical as they are generally accepted to cloud a person's judgment.

Uttering Threats Online

Threats are sometimes made over the internet using social media or other forms of online communication. If the police become aware of these statements made online, it is possible that the alleged poster of the threats will be charged.

Defending online threats charges can include denying the accused made the statement, or arguing it wasn't intended to be taken seriously. Many times, the police will try very hard to get the accused to admit to making the statement online because they have only circumstantial evidence that they did it (ie. the accuser saying it was them).

It is a long, expensive, and sometimes impossible task to link an online posting back to a particular computer. Even if this connection is made, there may still be an issue as to whether it was the accused who made the statement, or someone else with access to the computer. There are circumstances that can raise reasonable doubt on the prosecution's case.

Many people charged deny themselves the availability of such defences, however, because they choose to talk to the police and admit to typing the statement. Remember, the burden is on the Crown to prove you made the statement, not the other way around. You have nothing to gain by giving them this major piece of the puzzle.

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