Public mischief charges commonly arise out of false 9-1-1 calls requesting the assistance of the police, paramedics, or firefighters, or false allegations against an innocent person. While the Toronto police do not keep records on charges of public mischief, instances of ‘swatting’ have made the news, displaying how even a few cases can impact emergency services.
When a 9-1-1 call is made, emergency response units are obligated to attend to the purported need. If a false call or allegation is made, it wastes significant public resources. Because of this, the Crown takes public mischief charges very seriously.
Investigation of Public Mischief Charges in Toronto
An investigation of a public mischief charge in Toronto is typically initiated by the peace officer alleged to have been misled, the alleged victim (or relative or witness) of false accusations or they are ordered by the Court. Because peace officers and public officers are often vested with powers authorizing arrest, a charge can flow directly from the alleged public mischief and may rely solely on the statement of the officer. The police will request a written or videotaped statement from the complainant and any witnesses, and will then initiate an investigation.
Toronto Police take public mischief crimes very seriously, as they impede law enforcement. The police will typically engage in a thorough investigation to find sufficient evidence to charge. After the police have gathered their evidence, they will arrest you if they believe you are the perpetrator. Police will track you down or issue a warrant for your arrest.
After you have been charged, police will provide a package with all the evidence they collected, known as the “disclosure package,” to the Crown Prosecutor. You will have the right to access this disclosure package to see the evidence against you. Once you retain one of our lawyers, we will assist you in obtaining the disclosure package, and we will review it with you to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Crown’s case, as well as any legal defences that may be available to you.
Bail Process and Conditions for Public Mischief Charges in Toronto
How do I get myself or a loved one out on bail for public mischief charges in Toronto?
If you have been charged with public mischief, it is not uncommon for police to release you at the scene on a release order. Police will provide you with a Promise to Appear document outlining your charges, and any required appearances you must make. This document may also include conditions that you are required to follow while on release.
However, a formal bail hearing may be required to secure your release, particularly if you have a criminal record, or if the allegations are more serious.
In order to conduct a bail hearing, you will be taken to the Toronto Police Service Division that is responsible for the alleged crime. The bail hearing must be held within 24 hours, a period that starts from the moment of arrest or detention rather than the time when you are brought into the Division.
The phone number for each division is 416-808-[Division Number – 00], so for example, the number for 52 Division is 416-808-5200. The addresses for each Division of the Toronto Police Service can be found here.
Alternatively, you may be held at the Toronto South Detention Centre:
160 Horner Ave
Toronto, ON M8Z 0C2
Loved ones are not able to contact you while you are detained. The police will not release any information to friends or family due to privacy laws. Your lawyer is the only person allowed to contact you. Once the police have verified your lawyer’s details, they will pass on information about your whereabouts, if requested.
Because of these difficulties, while you are held in custody, it is best to appoint a competent defence lawyer as soon as possible to manage the legal processes and communicate with loved ones. After an arrest, the police must provide you with the opportunity to call a lawyer in private and, if that happens, stop questioning you.
Once you retain one of our experienced criminal defence lawyers, we will begin working to secure your release on bail.
We will immediately do the following:
- Call in to the Division where you are being held in Toronto and speak to you.
- Contact the Prosecutor assigned to the bail hearing to start negotiating your release.
- Order and secure a copy of the police information package that details the allegations against you in advance of the bail hearing. This allows the lawyer to make meaningful representations to the Court about why you should be released on bail.
- Conduct either an in-person or teleconference bail hearing to secure your release.
At the time of your bail hearing, you will be transported to the courthouse associated with the particular police division, except for on weekends when Old City Hall holds weekend bail court.
Old City Hall is located at:
60 Queen St W
Toronto, ON M5H 2M3
When you attend your bail hearing, the Judge will consider:
- Is detention necessary to secure your attendance in court?
- Is detention necessary to protect the public from a substantial risk of re-offence?
- Is detention necessary in all the circumstances to maintain confidence in the administration of justice?
Although it is unlikely that you will be denied bail for this type of charge, tight restrictions may nevertheless be applied to your release.
Rest assured, we will work to not only secure your release but also to ensure the least restrictive set of bail conditions (including the minimum cash deposit).
In order for our lawyers to secure less stringent conditions, the Judge will need to be satisfied that you will attend court as required and that you pose no significant risk of harm to the public. This may sometimes be difficult in a public mischief case, but not impossible.
Our lawyers are often successful at persuading the Prosecutor in charge of bail to let our clients out. If we can’t convince the Crown, we can conduct a formal bail hearing and work to convince the Court. Even if you are ultimately detained, we can appeal that decision on very short notice through a bail review, which is conducted at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
Where can I pay for bail for public mischief charges in Toronto?
If you or a loved one are charged with public mischief in Toronto and granted bail, you may be required to provide a cash deposit to secure release. The cash deposit can be paid at any bail hearing office (courthouse) in Toronto. If you live in Ottawa, you can pay bail there for someone detained in Toronto.
Bail hearing offices in Toronto are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The simplest way to pay bail is usually to pay it at the courthouse where the bail hearing was held. For instance, at Old City Hall, you can pay the cash deposit at Room 7 on the ground floor. If you are held at the Toronto South Detention Centre, bail can also be paid there.
In Ontario, because of the prevalence of Justices of the Peace and Judges requiring a surety, various bail programs provide an alternative to a surety. The contact number for the Toronto Bail Program is 416-314-3765.
To pay your own bail, you can make a payment after your hearing, assuming you have sufficient funds with you to do so.
How do I change my release conditions for public mischief charges in Toronto?
Release on bail with public mischief charges may include restrictions that impact your day-to-day life.
This could include conditions to refrain from:
- Staying out beyond a certain time (i.e. curfew),
- Breaking any laws,
- Using drugs or alcohol,
- Possessing weapons,
- Leaving your house (i.e. house arrest),
- Visiting certain places, and/or
The Judge may also impose some additional conditions such as:
- Residing where approved,
- Reporting to probation,
- Attending counselling, and/or
- Maintaining or seeking employment.
A variety of factors will be considered when determining your precise restrictions, including:
- Your criminal history,
- Your physical and mental condition,
- The nature of the alleged public mischief,
- The likelihood that you will flee,
- Your history of drug/alcohol usage,
- Whether you have stable employment,
- Whether you have stable living arrangements, and
- Whether you have ties to the community.
If you have already been released, at least for the short term, it is critical that you make arrangements to abide by your conditions until they can be changed. Breaching the terms of your release can result in further charges or a revocation of your bail, as well as a forfeiture of any cash paid to secure your release. It is important to take these conditions seriously.
Once the matter is in court, we can work with the Crown Prosecutor to alter your conditions. This includes either adding exceptions to some of the conditions or eliminating them altogether.
If your court date is far away and you cannot wait until then, we can arrange to have the matter dealt with sooner. Our first priority is always to stabilize your release conditions. That way, you will not feel pressured to plead guilty because of the restrictive terms of your release. Once the conditions are manageable and minimally intrusive to your daily routine, we can focus 100% of our attention on defending the case.
Penalties for Public Mischief Charges in Toronto
Public mischief is treated as a hybrid offence in Canada. This means that the Crown can choose to prosecute you summarily or by way of indictment. Your punishment will vary depending on how the Crown chooses to proceed. The potential penalties can range anywhere from a discharge (i.e. a finding of guilt, but no criminal conviction), to a fine and/or probation, to a period of jail time.
Where the offence is more serious, including a more significant cost of wasted resources or a more harmful impact on the complainant, the Crown will often seek jail time to deter future behaviour.
The Criminal Code of Canada outlines the punishment for public mischief:
- Indictable offence: Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years; or
- Summary offence.
Some aggravating factors that increase the likelihood of jail time are:
- The offence was committed while out on bail;
- The offence was committed for the benefit of, in association with, or at the direction of a criminal organization;
- The offence involved the use of a prohibited firearm; and
- You are not a resident of Canada.
The potential sentences available to you will depend on a variety of factors, including the extent of public resources wasted, the nature of any false allegations, the relationship between you and any alleged victim, your criminal history, and other applicable personal factors.
In addition to the immediate penalties resulting from a conviction for public mischief, it can have wide-ranging negative consequences on your future. You may have trouble securing employment, especially in roles that require working with children, the elderly, or other vulnerable sectors of society. The lifelong criminal record that results from a conviction can also hinder immigration and travel.
Therefore, even if you intend on accepting responsibility for this type of offence, it is worthwhile to explore your options and consider all the possible penalties. Often, good representation can result in no criminal record. Furthermore, a community-based sentence may be obtained even where the Crown is seeking jail time.
Rest assured, our lawyers will work hard to defend you so that you are not saddled with the consequences that stem from a criminal conviction for public mischief. In fact, we can canvass a range of sentencing options with the Prosecutors that will either leave you with no criminal record or impose minimal restrictions on your liberty after sentencing. To learn more about potential non-criminal resolutions, please visit our Resolutions page, or read our FAQ on resolutions and other sentencing options.
Defending Public Mischief Charges in Toronto
What are the best defences to public mischief charges in Toronto?
In public mischief cases, the defences that may be available to you depend on the facts of your case.
In general, the best defences are:
- Factual Innocence: This is usually the strongest defence because the facts and the evidence do not support you misleading the peace officer or other basic elements of the offence. This could include:
- No mental intent: A common defence available in public mischief cases is that you did not intend to mislead the peace officer. A basic example would be if you reported an offence that you mistakenly believed occurred, which did not.
- “Mistake of Fact”: A conviction for public mischief must rest on the fact that you knew it was a peace or public officer that you were misleading. If the officer was not in uniform or did not identify themselves as an officer, the requisite knowledge would be absent. For example, you could not be convicted of misleading an officer working undercover if they did not identify themselves as such.
- Identity: In some circumstances where the offence was not recorded by surveillance footage, or the footage is poor quality, you may be able to raise an identity defence. For example, authorities could have made a mistake in identifying you as the perpetrator based on the poor quality of the footage. In order to effectively raise this defence, you may need corroborative evidence, such as an alibi to where you were at the time of the offence.
- Violation of constitutional rights: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out your rights before and after your arrest. If the police fail to abide by these rights, it could aid in your defence.
The Crown is required to prove that you not only misled a peace officer to engage in or continue an investigation, but that you intended to do so. While the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the offence, you may bear some responsibility in raising certain defences at trial.
The availability and strength of any defence depend entirely on the specific facts of your case. Our lawyers have significant experience assessing the availability and strengths of various potential defences in public mischief cases, as well as presenting any and all available defences to the Court at trial. Even if you believe that you will be found guilty, it is important that you obtain a legal opinion about defences that may be available to you.
How can I help defend public mischief charges in Toronto?
If you have been charged with public mischief in Toronto, the following can help your lawyer build a strong defence:
- Provide your lawyer with a statement about what happened;
- Collect and maintain all documents and records about the event;
- Gather a list of witnesses that may support your version of events; and
- Log any relevant texts, emails, phone calls or photographic evidence.
As soon as you are released on bail, you should start to gather any information that may be of use to your lawyer. If you are uncertain what information may be relevant, you should contact one of our lawyers immediately to create a plan of action.
If you are truly proactive about the matter, consider doing the following:
- Secure proof of employment;
- Secure reference letters;
- Enroll in counselling (anger management/substance abuse/parenting);
- Secure a record of prescriptions; and
- Secure a record of any mental health conditions you suffer from.
These steps can be very helpful for building an effective defence (or convincing the Prosecutor to drop the charges altogether).
What can a lawyer do to help me defend against public mischief charges in Toronto?
As we start preparing your defence by examining police actions and the evidence against you, there are certain defence strategies that can be used to aid your cause, including:
- Assembling documents, photographs, texts, etc. that contradict the allegation and support your defence;
- Gathering evidence from witnesses that support your version of events;
- Identifying mistakes in the actions of the police, such as Charter breaches;
- Uncovering administrative/systemic errors, such as “Jordan delay,” non-disclosure, lost or destroyed evidence, etc.; and
- Finding weaknesses or “holes” in the Crown’s case that may make it difficult or impossible for them to establish the elements of the offence.
Most of the information above relates to simple public mischief cases, which can still be complex and fact-specific. The circumstances of your case will likely further complicate the matter.
We have tried our best to provide a general outline of what you can expect if you find yourself in this situation, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
To learn more about how we can help, please contact our team of Public Mischief Lawyers. We will conduct a thorough review of your situation and tailor a precise strategy that targets your successful defence.