For example, a Toronto man was charged with two counts of the offence last month in conjunction with two sexual assaults.
Sexual interference refers to any physical contact with a person under the age of consent for sexual purposes. The offence is often combined with sexual assault charges when the alleged victim is underage to enhance the Crown’s ability to secure a conviction.
Prevalence of Sexual Interference in Canada and Ontario
According to the latest “Incident-based crime statistics” from Statistics Canada, police in 2022 investigated 8,457 reports of sexual interference and charged 4,368 people with the offence. Police deemed 7.5% of reported incidents—686—unfounded and cleared another 7.5%—688—due to other reasons. Of those charged, 895 were youths under the age of 18.
In Ontario, police investigated 1,922 reports of sexual interference in 2022 and arrested 1,165 persons for the crime. Police only deemed 46—2.34%—of the reported incidents unfounded and cleared another 126 without laying charges. Of those charged, 156 were listed as youths under the age of 18.
Sexual Interference Under the Canadian Criminal Code
Section 151 of Canada’s Criminal Code describes the crime of sexual interference as:
“Every person, who for a sexual purpose, touches, directly or indirectly, with a part of the body or with an object, any part of the body of a person under the age of 16 years.”
If convicted of the charges as an indictable offence, the minimum punishment is a one-year prison sentence, while the maximum is 14 years imprisonment. When charged as a summary conviction offence, the minimum sentence is 90 days in jail, while the maximum is two years less than a day imprisonment.
Similar Offences Under the Code
The Criminal Code’s Section 152, “invitation to sexual touching,” and Section 153, “sexual exploitation,” are related crimes with the same penalties if convicted. The invitation to sexual touching charge involves inviting, counselling, or inciting a person under the age of 16 to touch anyone else for sexual purposes. Meanwhile, the sexual exploitation charge essentially covers potential victims between the ages of 16 and 18 by making the other two offences applicable to anyone in a position of trust, authority, or dependency.
What Happens If You’re Charged with Sexual Interference-Related Charges?
If you are charged with sexual interference or related offence, police have broad discretion on whether or not to directly release you on an undertaking with minimal conditions or keep you in custody until a bail hearing. Because they must advise you of your right to counsel, make sure that you speak to a lawyer as soon as possible to ensure a speedy release from custody.
Should you be released without a bail hearing, you will likely be subject to—at a minimum—conditions that prohibit you from contacting the victim and/or going to specific locations. If you face a bail hearing, your lawyer may be able to help you avoid the many conditions the court may require for your release on bail. These potential conditions include:
- A monetary pledge from a relative or friend who agrees to ensure that you follow bail conditions
- House arrest
- Ankle-bracelet monitoring
- Travel restrictions
- Abstaining from alcohol and drug use
- Mandatory pre-trial counselling
- Any other conditions the court deems
Understanding Pre-Trial Maneuvers
The importance of pre-trial manoeuvres underscores the importance of gaining pre-trial release. While your case progresses toward trial, pre-trial activities can help make or break your case. Before an actual trial is held, the Crown and your defence lawyer conduct the following casework:
- Disclosure: in which the Crown provides the defence with all relevant information related to the charges. Your criminal defence lawyer can determine whether disclosure has been made in full and assess the strength and weakness of the Crown’s evidence. This is crucial in strategizing a robust defence.
- Crown-defence resolution meetings: in which the Crown and defence lawyers discuss the case’s merits based on their specific assessments of the evidence. Both sides strive to secure a resolution that negates the need for a trial. However, Crown prosecutors typically only negotiate these meetings with defence lawyers and do not engage with defendants.
- Judicial pre-trial meetings: similar to resolution meetings, these negotiations are held before a judge who helps narrow the issues and provides clarity on legal issues that may sway either side towards a proposed pre-trial resolution. As with resolution meetings, defendants are typically barred from directly participating (though your lawyer will never come to an agreement without your permission).
- Preliminary hearing: if the Crown decides to seek charges as an indictable offence, you have the right to seek a preliminary hearing to assess whether the Crown has enough evidence to support the charges.
The importance of pre-trial maneuvering is evidenced by the fact that most criminal charges in Canada are resolved before trial. Thus, securing favourable pre-trial release is crucial for helping you secure potential optimal results during this period.
Implications of a Conviction
Your criminal defence lawyer may be able to secure you a favourable outcome pre-trial that negates the numerous onerous conditions that come with a sexual interference-related conviction. Such favourable outcomes include:
- Dismissed charges
- Reduced charges
- Stayed charges
- Absolute or conditional discharge
Absent of these or of an acquittal at trial, if you are convicted of a sexual interference-related offence, you face the penalties above as well as the minimum prison sentences for an indictable or summary judgment conviction:
- Registration on—and compliance with—the National Sex Offender Registry.
- Mandatory submission of a DNA sample to the national DNA databank.
- Firearms/weapons prohibitions.
- Prohibitions on being in locations where those under age 16 may be present.
Defending Against Sexual Interference Charges
A good criminal defence lawyer will offer you the best options for avoiding the severe, life-changing conditions that come with a conviction for this type of serious offence.
In many cases, sexual interference-related charges revolve around the subjective interpretation of the evidence, and this typically provides your defence with various options for disputing the Crown’s evidence. Therefore, the ultimate outcome may depend on which side in the case is more believable.
In disputing or challenging the Crown’s evidence, common defences include:
- There was no actual touching as claimed.
- The touching was accidental or unintentional.
- The touching was non-sexual.
- There was a mistake of age (though Criminal Code provisions limit this defence).
- The police/Crown violated the defendant’s Charter Rights.
The defence strategies your lawyer pursues will depend on the evidence, strength of the Crown’s case, and potential case detail nuances that might challenge the Crown’s narrative. In proving guilt, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you actually committed the offence, and that you committed it with intent.
At Vilkhov Law, our team of experienced lawyers is here for our clients, and is dedicated to defending them against the serious charges of sexual assault and sexual interference.