It may sound like a relatively minor offence but causing a disturbance is still a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada. Accordingly, if you are convicted of it, you will be saddled with a lifelong criminal record.

That’s a big price to pay for a drunken night out with friends.


But who can be charged with causing a disturbance, what are the possible penalties you could face, and which defences can be applied in these cases?

What is causing a disturbance?

Causing a disturbance is sometimes referred to as “disorderly conduct”. It is a crime that is outlined in Section 175 of the Criminal Code of Canada and is fairly self-explanatory:

175 (1) Every one who

(a) not being in a dwelling-house, causes a disturbance in or near a public place,

(i) by fighting, screaming, shouting, swearing, singing or using insulting or obscene language,

(ii) by being drunk, or

(iii) by impeding or molesting other persons,

(b) openly exposes or exhibits an indecent exhibition in a public place,

(c) loiters in a public place and in any way obstructs persons who are in that place, or

(d) disturbs the peace and quiet of the occupants of a dwelling-house by discharging firearms or by other disorderly conduct in a public place or who, not being an occupant of a dwelling-house comprised in a particular building or structure, disturbs the peace and quiet of the occupants of a dwelling-house comprised in the building or structure by discharging firearms or by other disorderly conduct in any part of a building or structure to which, at the time of such conduct, the occupants of two or more dwelling-houses comprised in the building or structure have access as of right or by invitation, express or implied, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Causing a disturbance is recognized as one of the least serious crimes dealt with by the Criminal Code but, nonetheless, it is a criminal offence.

Sometimes, the police have insufficient evidence to charge a person with mischief (which is a more serious crime) so they settle for causing a disturbance. In the rare circumstances when the police want to give someone a “break”, they may also elect to press this charge ahead of a more serious one.

Most discussions on the matter of causing a disturbance centre on what constitutes a disturbance.  The Criminal Code is specific about which acts qualify for the charge (swearing, drunkenness, fighting, etc.) but whether the specific actions of the accused amount to a disturbance is usually left up to the courts to decide.

To convict a person, there must be evidence of an “externally manifested disturbance” in or near a public place i.e., one that interferes with the customary conduct in that place.

The prosecution will need to show that someone in the public place was affected or disturbed by the actions of the accused and that it actually interfered with the ordinary use of the place where the act occurred. Someone who merely observes the behaviour of the accused or claims an “annoyance” occurred is not sufficient to secure a conviction.

The rather vague nature of the crime should not be a reason to treat a charge of causing a disturbance lightly. You should seek legal advice as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected and you can build a valid defence against the charges.

The judges in these cases can exert considerable discretion, so the more persuasive your defence is the more likely you will be to escape with the lightest possible sentence.

As your criminal defence lawyer, Cory Wilson will study the facts of the case and start gathering evidence in the form of witness statements, video footage, etc., as he builds a viable defence of the charge.

What are the penalties for causing a disturbance?

Causing a disturbance is one of the few offences in the Criminal Code that is always prosecuted as a summary offence in Canada (as opposed to an indictable offence).

While the penalties associated with it are among the lightest available under Canadian law, an offender could face a maximum punishment of six months in jail and/or a fine of $5,000 (in addition to the criminal record).

In reality, for a first offence and with strong legal representation from Cory Wilson, it is unlikely that you would face any time in jail even if you are convicted of causing a disturbance.

What are the main defences against causing a disturbance?

Because of the subjective nature of causing a disturbance, many people are wrongly accused of causing a disturbance and the police often get it wrong. They may apply many types of behaviour to the offence and charge a person only to find that the charges don’t hold up.

Defences for these cases usually fall into one of four categories:

  • “I didn’t do it”
  • “I did it, but I had to” (as in self-defence or defending others)
  • “My conduct didn’t disturb anyone”
  • Charter rights were violated by law enforcement

A charge of causing a disturbance is sometimes used in plea bargaining to resolve other low-level criminal offences. For instance, someone accused of a minor assault offence may be asked to plead guilty or “no contest” to causing a disturbance in return for a lighter sentence.

Call us to arrange a confidential consultation

To speak with Cory Wilson or arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with Wilson Criminal Defence, call 403-978-6052 or email us here.

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