“Mischief” is a widely misunderstood term that we often hear in connection with misbehaving children.
In law, though, criminal mischief is a serious charge that is dealt with comprehensively in the Criminal Code of Canada. It is usually laid after an act of vandalism, destruction, interference with or obstruction relating to property.
A conviction can have grave ramifications for one’s future, impacting your immediate freedom as well as your future employment, travel, immigration status, and more. How serious the charge largely depends on the type and value of the property destroyed and the quality of legal representation you hire.
Regardless, an accusation of criminal mischief in Ottawa must be taken very seriously. Speak to an experienced criminal defence lawyer at Friedman Mansour LLP in Ottawa to start building your case. We will protect your rights and advise you on the recommended next steps.
What is criminal mischief in Ontario?
Section 430 of the Criminal Code addresses criminal mischief. It occurs when a person willfully takes any of the following actions:
(a) destroys or damages property;(b) renders property dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective;
(c) obstructs, interrupts or interferes with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property; or
(d) obstructs, interrupts or interferes with any person in the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property.
This is fairly self-explanatory but there are certain conditions, categorizations, and nuances with criminal mischief that are not so self-evident.
Criminal mischief under $5,000 vs. mischief over $5,000
Under Canadian law, criminal mischief is categorized according to whether the value of the property affected is under or over $5,000 (not the value of the damage but the value of the item).
In this respect, it has some similarities to the crime of theft, where there is a similar value distinction in Canada.
If the value of the damaged item exceeds $5,000, you can be sentenced to up to ten years in jail if the Crown Prosecution decides to play hardball. If the property is valued under $5,000, the sentence is up to two tears in jail.
In reality, even if you are charged and found guilty of criminal mischief as a first offense, you are unlikely to spend time in jail if you have strong legal representation.
What if I damaged my own property?
Under Canadian law, you may damage your own property (property that is owned entirely by you) as long as you don’t intend to defraud another person by doing so.
If, however, you damage property that is owned jointly (such as marital property or property owned jointly between you and an adult interdependent partner), you can still be held liable for the damage under criminal mischief laws even if there was no intention to defraud.
To be convicted, it would have to be property that you knew was jointly owned. If you mistakenly believed that you owned the property, no guilty verdict can be applied.
What if the damage was accidental?
Again, if your criminal defense lawyer proves that the damage done to the property was accidental, you cannot be found guilty of criminal mischief.
You can only be convicted if you acted “willfully” according to the Criminal Code.
Will you get a criminal record for intentionally damaging property?
Technically, if you willfully damage property belonging at least in part to someone else, you can be convicted of criminal mischief.
However, this is not a “back and white” issue. The prosecution will consider the nature and value of the property damaged, the criminal background of the accused, and other circumstances.
In normal circumstances, you would receive a criminal record, but it can often be negotiated by an experienced defence lawyer.
For instance, it may be possible for our lawyer to negotiate with the Crown Prosecutors in Ottawa to withdraw a criminal charge if you agree to reimburse the victim for the damage caused (paying “restitution”).
In most cases, paying restitution is a strong mitigating factor that should help when the judge is deciding on sentencing options after a conviction.
What penalties are associated with criminal mischief in Ottawa?
The punishments you face for a conviction depend greatly on whether your case is prosecuted as a summary or indictable offence. Both are possible in Ottawa.
An indictable offence carries a prison term of up to 10 years whereas a summary conviction can mean up to two years in jail. By the letter of the law, if actual danger to life is caused, you can be charged with an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life.
That said, a prison term for a conviction for criminal mischief is only likely in cases where a poor defence is put forward, the defendant has an extensive criminal history, and/or other aggravating factors are present.
That’s not to say that the consequences of a conviction for criminal mischief are in any way insignificant. They are not.
As well as significant short-term financial costs (fines/fees/restitution payments) and the potential probation period, there can be a long-term impact on your reputation, livelihood, freedom of movement, and future opportunities in life.
A criminal record means you could potentially lose your job and have difficulties finding a new one. Additionally, non-Canadian citizens could face immigration problems, especially with permanent residence or citizenship applications.
You can be denied entry into the U.S. or other countries and your criminal information will be stored and accessible in the national CPIC database.
What are the different types of criminal mischief in Ontario?
As well as general criminal mischief, the Criminal Code outlines four specific types of criminal mischief that may be treated more harshly by the justice system:
If you are charged with criminal mischief in Ottawa, our experience in such cases can help mitigate the consequences.
At Friedman Mansour LLP, our skilled criminal lawyers can protect your rights and freedoms and defend you against the charge. Contact us for a free case evaluation online or call us directly at (613) 223-4089.