Skurka's Spin: Recent 5.5-year sentence in Ontario harassment case provides protection against bullying
Steven Skurka, CTV legal analyst, appears in this file photo.
Published Tuesday, December 11, 2012 1:27PM EST
The tragic suicide of Amanda Todd, the B.C. teenager who was the victim of extreme bullying, raised awareness in this country about the plight that victims of bullying endure. They suffer emotional scarring that is painful and enduring -- and can lead to desperate measures being taken.
The offence of criminal harassment found in the Criminal Code, which is typically used in stalking cases, also covers extreme bullying.
Recently, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a significant penitentiary sentence in a criminal harassment case.
The decision is important because it conveys a respected appellate court's harsh assessment of criminal-harassing conduct, as well as the court's acceptance of its searing emotional toll on its victims.
In the case before the Ontario Court of Appeal, the appellant, Patrick Doherty, had been verbally abusive, threatening and insulting toward a woman who had refused him a shared rental accommodation in Kitchener, Ont., in November 2011. The abusive conduct -- including harassing phone calls and letters -- persisted despite a warning from the police and an eventual court order.
The sentencing judge took into account Doherty's conduct as well as his lengthy criminal record, which included a number of related offences. She imposed a four-year sentence for the criminal harassment charge, plus an additional 1.5 years for other charges.
In upholding the sentence, the Ontario Court of Appeal noted that the victim's suffering included being terrified, losing weight and sleep and anxiety and concern about what he might do to her.
Taking time already served into account, Doherty will spend another four years behind bars.
It was acknowledged that no physical violence had been inflicted, but the Court of Appeal adopted the sentencing judge's view that the lack of physical assaults wasn't a mitigating factor.
The appeal court ruled that the ''primary impact of harassment is very often psychological ... there is no requirement that there be physical harm to make out a very serious case of criminal harassment.''
The resounding message of the Doherty decision is that any perpetrator of cruel emotional abuse that constitutes criminal harassment will be treated severely by the courts.
It marks a significant step forward.