Legal Terms


Terms Commonly Used by Law Enforcement and Legal Personnel



Occurs when a police officer takes physical control of a person who is believed to have committed a criminal offence and with the intent to detain said person. Arrest does not mean an individual has been charged with a criminal offence in all instances. If police are continuing an investigation following arrest, a person may or may not be charged in accordance with the outcome of the investigation.


Arrest: Contravention of a Restraining Order

In the event that a police officer has reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an individual has contravened a restraining order, the officer may arrest the individual without warrant.



A person commits an assault when:

  • without the consent of another person, applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly – or –
  • attempts or threatens, by an act or a gesture, to apply force to another person, if s/he has, or causes the other person to believe that s/he has the ability to effect his/her purpose.


Assault with a Weapon – or – Assault Causing Bodily Harm

Everyone commits the above offence who, in committing an assault:

  • carries, uses, or threatens to use a weapon or an imitation thereof – or –
  • causes bodily harm to the complainant.

Bodily harm refers to any hurt or injury to the complainant that interferes with the health or comfort of the complainant and that is more than merely transient or trifling in nature.


Aggravated Assault

Everyone commits an aggravated assault who wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant.


Breach of Probation

Everyone who is subject to a Probation Order and being bound with conditions of that Order can be charged with failure to comply with any of the conditions contained therein.


Breach of Undertaking/Recognizance

Everyone who, being at large on an undertaking or recognizance given to or entered into before a justice or judge and being bound to comply with a condition of that undertaking or recognizance directed by a justice or judge, fails without lawful excuse, the proof of which lies on them to comply with that condition, is guilty of an offence.


Charges – Laying of Information

A formal accusation of a crime presented under oath. A person is charged when a police officer has sworn an information that alleges that the accused person has committed an offence. The information is a written document summarizing what the accused person is alleged to have done (i.e., what offence was committed); this document is filed with the court and is present in court at all future appearances.



A person is convicted when a court of law finds him guilty of an offence and imposes a sentence other than discharge.


Detention Order

In those instances when bail is denied, an accused in detained in custody on a detention order pending his trial.



An offender receives a discharge in those instances when s/he is found guilty in relation to a specific offence in a court of law but no conviction is registered. In these instances, there is no “criminal record”; however, a record of the finding of guilt is maintained by the police.


Domestic Incident

Any conflict between two or more persons who are in an intimate relationship, whether living together or not, where, even though no criminal or provincial offence has occurred, the police have been called to the scene. This includes conflicts in (opposite-sex and) same-sex relationships but not parent/child or sibling/sibling conflicts.


Domestic Violence

This generic term is frequently used by law enforcement personnel in General Orders and/or any internal procedures relating to partner abuse. Within the anti-violence sector, this term is generally used to describe all forms of violence and abuse that may occur within domestic environments and/or relationships including: child abuse; elder abuse or violence against seniors within the home; parental abuse; partner abuse; and violence between siblings.


Dominant-Aggressor Theory

Exploration of historical patterns and dynamics within an intimate relationship. Used by police officers to determine appropriate charging when faced with allegations of violence by both partners (as opposed to automatically proceeding with dual charging).


Hybrid Offences

Also known as “Crown option” or “dual procedures” or “dual offences”.
Includes offences which may be prosecuted either by summary conviction or indictment. The Crown chooses the mode of prosecution; hybrid offences are considered indictable until the Crown makes its decision. Examples: Assault; Impaired Driving; Theft Under $5,000.


Indictable Offence

Includes the more serious offences in the Criminal Code, such as Aggravated Assault. Police officers have greater powers of arrest in relation to indictable offences; the accused has the option to be tried by a provincial court judge, or by a general division judge after having a preliminary hearing, or by a general division judge with a jury after having a preliminary hearing; conviction for an indictable offence exposes the offender to greater penalties – i.e., longer sentences (as compared to summary conviction offences as defined below).



Everyone who, wrongfully and without lawful authority, for the purpose of compelling another person to abstain from doing anything that s/he has a lawful right to do, or to do anything that s/he has a lawful right to abstain from doing:

  • uses violence or threats of violence to that person or his/her spouse or children;
  • intimidates or attempts to intimidate that person or a relative of that person by threatening injury or property damage;
  • persistently follows that person from place to place;
  • hides any tools, clothes, or other property owned by or used by that person, or deprives him/her of them or hinders him/her in the use of them;
  • with one or more other persons, follows that person, in a disorderly manner, on a highway;
  • besets or watches the dwelling house or place where that person resides, works, carries on business or happens to be – or –
  • blocks or obstructs a highway
  • …is guilty of an offence.



Everyone commits mischief who willfully:

  • destroys or damages property;
  • renders property dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective;
  • obstructs, interrupts or interferes with any person in the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property
  • …is guilty of an offence.



Permission granted by the Ontario Board of Parole in those instances when an individual’s sentence is under two years, or by the National Parole Board in those instances when an individual’s sentence is two years or more, for a person subject to a prison sentence to serve a portion of that sentence in the community.


Peace Bond

Sureties to Keep the Peace; Restraining Order

Any person who fears that another person will cause personal injury to her/him or her/his spouse or child or will damage her/his property may lay an information before a justice of the peace. A justice of the peace who receives an information shall cause the parties to appear before her/him or before a summary conviction court having jurisdiction in the same territorial division. The justice of the summary conviction court before which the parties appear may, if satisfied by the evidence given that the informant has reasonable grounds for her/his fears, may:

  • order that the defendant enter into a recognizance, with or without sureties, to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for any period that does not exceed twelve (12) months, and comply with such other reasonable conditions prescribed in the recognizance as the court considers desirable for securing the good conduct of the defendant- or –
  • commit the defendant to prison for a term not exceeding twelve (12) months if s/he fails or refuses to enter into a recognizance.


Pre-Disposition Report

A report prepared by a probation officer to assist a judge in a Young Offenders Court in sentencing a person found guilty and convicted of an offence.


Pre-Parole Investigation

A report prepared by a probation officer to assist the Parole Board in their decision re: granting or denying an application for parole.


Pre-Sentencing Report

A report prepared by a probation officer to assist a judge in Adult Court in sentencing a person found guilty and convicted of an offence.



A disposition of the Court that requires a person found guilty and convicted of an offence to comply with certain conditions for a specified period of time.


Promise to Appear/Release from Custody by Officer in Charge

A process, given to an officer in charge, who releases an accused person on a promise to appear to come to court at a specified date, time and place. An officer in charge may set the terms the released person must follow prior to appearing in court.


Reasonable Grounds

A set of facts or circumstances that would satisfy an ordinary, cautious, and prudent person that there is reason to believe an offence has been committed and which goes beyond mere suspicion. A police officer, in deciding whether or not there are reasonable grounds for any action contemplated, must review all the facts, including verbal evidence, and then decide if these facts satisfy the interpretation.



An obligation entered into before a court whereby the individual entering the recognizance acknowledges that he will abide by the terms set out within said recognizance.


Sexual Assault

An assault, within any one of the definitions of assault, which is committed in circumstances of a sexual nature such that the sexual integrity of the victim is violated. A husband or wife, as defined and recognized by current law, may be charged with sexual assault with respect to his or her spouse, regardless of whether the individuals involved were living together at the time of the assault.


Show Cause Hearing

Judicial proceeding to decide the necessity for the continued detention of an accused. The question of detention or release is decided upon proof of facts established at a judicial hearing.



A document that legally requires the recipient to appear in court at a specified date, time, and place to testify as a witness. Failure to abide by a subpoena may result in a material witness warrant being ordered by the court. A material witness warrant directs the police to arrest a witness in order to bring them to court.


Summary Conviction Offence

Includes the most minor offences in the Criminal Code, such as “cause disturbance” and “harassing telephone calls”. The accused will not have a preliminary hearing; and unless otherwise specified, summary conviction offences are punishable by a fine up to $2,000 or six (6) months in jail or both.



A legal document ordering the appearance in court of an accused person.



A process given to a justice or judge releasing an accused person to attend court at a later date. Specific terms and conditions may be ordered for the time period between court appearances, such as a requirement that the accused abstain from alcohol and/or not associate with the victim or the victim’s family.


Uttering Threats

Everyone commits an offence who, in any manner, knowingly utters, conveys or causes any person to receive a threat:

  • to cause death or serious bodily harm to any person;
  • to burn, destroy or damage real or personal property – or –
  • to kill, poison or injure an animal or bird that is the property of any person.


Victim Impact Statement

A statement prepared by a victim, in her/his own words, which describes physical or psychological injury to themselves or family, and expenses or lost income resulting from the crime. Preparation of such a statement may be facilitated by a police officer or other service provider, such as shelter staff, when necessary and appropriate.