Causing a Disturbance
Kenneth W. Golish, Criminal Defence

Causing a Disturbance

Please note the disclaimer that nothing in this site constitutes legal advice.  If you would like to have a consultation, please contact me.

Even though it is classified as a minor crime, a person charged with causing a disturbance will most often end up spending at least a few hours in police custody.  Usually, but not always, such an offence is committed in the presence of a police officer.  Although it is a charge for which an individual may be released without arrest, an officer will typically arrest the offender in order to avoid continuation of the offence.

A disturbance might happen in a variety of ways, but usually the person who causes the disturbance or allegedly causes the disturbance is angry about something.  Frequently, alcohol is a contributing factor.

Elements:    Under s. 175(1)(a) of the Criminal Code, a person is guilty of an offence if he or she is not in a dwelling-house and causes a disturbance in or near a public place

By fighting, screaming, shouting, swearing, singing or using insulting or obscene language,

By being drunk, or

By impeding or molesting other persons

Although the essence of the offence is causing a disturbance, not simply participating in one or more of the activities referred to, evidence from a police officer witnessing one of those activities is enough to infer that a disturbance occurred:

Evidence of peace officer

(2) In the absence of other evidence, or by way of corroboration of other evidence, a summary conviction court may infer from the evidence of a peace officer relating to the conduct of a person or persons, whether ascertained or not, that a disturbance described in paragraph (1)(a) or (d) or an obstruction described in paragraph (1)(c) was caused or occurred.

Disturbances occur when people are around.  The crowd does not have to be large.  Arguably attracting the attention of or the presence of one other person is sufficient.  In the course of a trial on such a charge, a police officer testifying will usually say that a crowd started to gather when the defendant starting raising a raucous or that people in the area turned their heads or were drawn to the scene.  However, if there are no people around other than the police, there is probably not an offence committed:  the police are not the ones who need protection from disturbances.

Defences:    The two most typical disturbances are the ones caused by fighting or verbal disturbances of shouting, swearing or both.

Of course, merely being involved in fight is not enough.  While it appears that it is not necessary to have the intent to cause a disturbance, it is necessary to intend to do one of the prohibited acts such as fighting, shouting or swearing.  Thus, where a person does not intend to get into a fight, but is only acting in self-defence or rightfully defending others or property, he or she cannot be guilty of causing a disturbance.

The offence of causing a disturbance by shouting is played out in different ways.  Obviously, if there is some justification for the shouting, this will be a valid defence.  Frequently, people are charged with this offence when they protest the treatment or arrest of someone else.  Is it wrong for them to draw attention to police misconduct?  The answer to this is not clear.  However, the person seeking to argue such justification is going to have a difficult time establishing the misconduct to begin with.

Technically, if a person is extremely drunk or under the influence of drugs, that is probably not a defence to this charge.  If however the disturbing behaviour is not too extreme, such an individual is more likely to face a regulatory liquor control offence of being intoxicated in a public place and not the criminal charge of causing a disturbance.

Bail Conditions and Local Practice (Windsor):    Because it is a minor offence, first time offenders should be released immediately unless they are still intoxicated or still visibly upset and liable to do the same thing.  The usual practice in most places is to detain such persons for several hours and then have them released by a senior police officer (officer in charge).  Such releases should normally be without conditions, but it is common to impose a restriction on consuming alcohol where alcohol is a factor.  In Windsor, where such charges are common due to a large influx of persons from neighbouring Detroit and suburbs, a condition to stay out of the downtown area is often imposed as well.  Such a condition is probably not authorized or appropriate.  Nonetheless, it is commonly done.  For non-residents, cash bail of $500 is standard.  It is not however unusual for the final disposition to require an amount less than the bail deposit.  Thus paying the $500 and considering the matter at end would be a serious mistake, resulting in the loss of the bail money and a warrant for the defendant’s arrest.  See "Non-Citizens Being Charged in Canada".

Convictions and Penalties:    The classification of this charge is a simple summary conviction matter or misdemeanor.  See "Classification of Offences" .  First-time offenders will rarely be jailed.  In fact most should be eligible for alternative measures, or perhaps, a form of discharge, a fine or probation.  Repeat offenders often do not go to jail either.  However, persons with significant criminal records for these and other offences, will not be so lucky.

Other Like Occurrences or Events:    As already mentioned, the police sometimes simply charge an individual only with being intoxicated in a public place.  Such an individual will spend some time in custody, for policy reasons, for his or her own safety and then be released with a provincial offence summons.  Otherwise, the police are always entitled to simply arrest an individual for breach of the peace, detain the person long enough to cool off and release him or her without charge.  Depending on local practice, police officers may have a discretion to simply deal with offenders in this manner.

It should be noted that persons charged with this offence often find themselves charged with other offences as well, either because the alleged disturbance precedes or follows the other allegation or allegations.  Typically the charges include assault, mischief to property, assaulting or resisting a peace officer.  Other offences or charges may also arise.

The Right to a Lawyer:    Like any other criminal charge, a defendant has a right to be defended by a lawyer.  Although the offence is minor, a conviction may attract some unwanted consequences.  Therefore, it is wise to consult with a lawyer in all such cases.  See "Do I Need a Lawyer and What is it Going to Cost?"

Please note the disclaimer that nothing in this site constitutes legal advice.  If you would like to have a consultation, please contact me.