Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does freedom of peaceful assembly mean?

    Freedom of peaceful assembly means the right to physically gather with others in a peaceful way. It is a right that everyone in Canada has, and is protected by section 2(c) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    The right to peaceful assembly has not been explained by the courts as much as some other Charter rights, but it includes the right to take part in protests, demonstrations, parades, meetings, and picketing in public places such as streets or parks. This right is related to the right to freedom of expression (under section 2(b) of the Charter), because certain types of gatherings, like protests, can be seen as a form of expressing a belief, and are important to democracy. In order to be protected under the Charter, the assembly must not seriously disturb the peace (for example, like a riot would).

  • Are there limits on the right to peaceful assembly?

    Yes. Like all Charter rights, this right is only protected within reasonable limits. This means that the government is allowed to place limits on peaceful assemblies, if the limits are reasonable and can be justified. This may be the case if someone’s right to peaceful assembly affects another protected Charter right for somebody else.

    For example, a peaceful protest on a public street is likely protected, but a peaceful protest on a busy, icy highway may not be, since the high speeds and slippery conditions could put both drivers and protesters in danger. Ongoing blockades or impediments also may not be protected, although this would depend on the circumstances.

  • What does section 1 of the Charter mean?

    Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that the rights and freedoms mentioned in the Charter are only guaranteed within reasonable limits that can be justified in a free and democratic society. This means that no right in the Charter is absolute, and governments are allowed to put laws into place that limit these rights. Every person’s Charter rights and freedoms must be balanced with the rights and freedoms of everyone else, and no right in the Charter is more important than any of the others.

    When someone claims that a law has infringed one of their Charter rights, it is up to the courts to decide if that right was infringed, and if so, whether the infringement is allowable under section 1. When the courts make these decisions, some of the things they must consider include:

    • Is the goal of the law so important that it justifies limiting the right?
    • Does the law have a rational connection to its goal?
    • Does the law limit the right more than it needs to?
  • What is the offence of mischief? What are the penalties if someone is found guilty of mischief?

    Mischief basically means interfering with someone else’s property. This includes:

    • Damaging or destroying property
    • Causing property to become dangerous, useless, unable to operate, or ineffective
    • Obstructing, interrupting, or interfering with the use, enjoyment, or operation of property
    • Obstructing, interrupting, or interfering with a person who is trying to use, enjoy, or operate property
    • Preventing a person who has the right to access computer data from accessing it

    Mischief carries a range of penalties from fines to prison time, depending on the circumstances.

    If the mischief causes danger to life, the penalty could be as high as life in prison.

    If the property has a value of over $5,000, the maximum sentence is 10 years in prison.

    If the property has a value less than or equal to $5,000, the maximum sentence is generally two years in prison. However, there are some specific types of property that result in higher penalties, even if the value is less than $5,000:

    • If the property is a building or structure used for religious, educational, or cultural purposes, and the mischief was motivated by prejudice or hate based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or certain other characteristics, the maximum sentence is ten years.
    • If the property is a war memorial or cemetery, the maximum sentence is ten years, and there is a minimum sentence of a $1,000 fine for a first offence. This minimum sentence increases each time the offence is committed.
    • If the property is of great importance to cultural heritage (for example, works of art, archaeological sites, historical objects, museums or archives), the maximum sentence is ten years.
    • If the property is computer data, the maximum sentence is ten years.

    Failing to perform a duty can also be an offence, if the failure is likely to damage or interfere with property. The maximum sentence for this offence is five years. It is not an offence if a person fails to perform a duty because of work stoppages related to collective bargaining (for example, a strike action), a failure of the employer and employee to agree on any matter related to employment, or safety issues.

  • What is counselling to commit mischief? What are the penalties if someone if found guilty?

    In criminal law, “counselling” means trying to get someone to commit a crime. It can include:

    • telling someone to commit a crime
    • asking someone to commit a crime
    • persuading someone to commit a crime
    • offering to pay someone to commit a crime
    • seeking out someone willing to commit a crime

    Counselling someone to commit mischief is a criminal offence. If convicted, you could receive the same sentence as someone who actually committed mischief. This is true even if you counselled someone to commit mischief, and they did not succeed or go through with it.