What you need to know about mischief and the protests in Ottawa

VANCOUVER — Some of the most high-profile organizers of anti-government protests and COVID-19 mandates in Ottawa are being accused of mischief and counseling to commit mischief. What does that actually mean? Here’s a look at the meaning of mischief and the consequences that the people indicted could face:

What is a misdemeanor charge?

A criminal charge for mischief under the Criminal Code is extremely flexible and covers a wide range of possible crimes, from disrupting computer data to mischief that endangers life or causes death.

The most common use of mischief in the context of protests involves interfering with someone’s rights to work or access property or tools, said Martin Peters, a Vancouver criminal defense attorney.

What is counseling to commit mischief?

Counseling involves guiding or telling someone to do mischief.

What are the consequences of a conviction?

Kicking a wall could result in a fine, while mischief on a war memorial or blocking important parts of the downtown area could lead to 10 years in prison, said Toronto criminal defense attorney Karen McArthur.

In the most severe cases, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment, according to Peters.

While Peters said counseling to commit mischief should have similar consequences to mischief itself, McArthur said prosecutors could push for tougher sentences in this case.

The mentoring job could be taken more seriously, as it puts organizers such as Tamara Lich and Chris Barber in a leadership role of “an organization with many tentacles,” she said.

How do people usually argue for or against a misdemeanor charge?

The case is typically a four-step process, according to McArthur. First, the accused is charged, then the accused asserts his or her charter rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. Then the Crown would argue why those rights don’t trump all others and then a judge would rule.

How big are these charges?

The mere fact that he’s being charged kicks off a process where a judge can set conditions that individuals must meet, as has been seen in other protests, Peters said.

“The charges are not that important. Mischief to property is a fairly low-level crime and involves fairly low-level sanctions. But once the police are able to press charges, they can arrest and detain,” he said. During a bail hearing, a judge may add further stipulations, such as “get out of town,” Peters said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 20, 2022.

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