Frequently Asked Questions
What is Sexual Interference?
Sexual interference is a criminal offence set out under s. 151 of the Criminal Code. That provision makes it an offence for anyone to touch a person under the age of 16 directly or indirectly with a part of their body or an object for a sexual purpose. As an example of the offence, consider the following. Person A and Person B are standing next to each other at a Toronto bus stop. Person A is a 32-year-old man and Person B is a 14-year-old girl. Person A makes a sexual advance on Person B, which Person B refuses. Person A then steps closer and lays their hand on Person B’s breast. That action is sexual interference.
A person convicted of an indictable, or serious, sexual interference offence will be sentenced to a minimum of one year imprisonment and a maximum of 14 years. A persons convicted of a summary, or less serious, sexual interference offence will be sentenced to a minimum of 90 days imprisonment. The maximum sentence for summary offence sexual interference is two years less a day of imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine.
What is the Difference Between Sexual Assault and Sexual Interference?
Sexual interference is a criminal offence aimed at prosecuting offenders who engage in sexual contact with children who are under the legal age of consent. Unlike sexual assault, sexual interference is not concerned with the concept of consent. Any sexual touching of a minor, subject to some small exceptions based on the ages of the people involved, is a criminal offence regardless of whether the victim is otherwise consenting to the sexual activity.
Sexual assault is a criminal offence set out under s. 271 of the Code. It is an offence seen in cases where an offender engages in unwanted sexual activity with a victim. Many sexual assault cases occur between adults who are capable of consenting to sexual activity. However, a person charged with sexual interference may also be charged with sexual assault if the victim was effectively not consenting or otherwise resisting the sexual activity.
What are Common Types of Disclosure in Sexual Interference Cases?
Disclosure is the process by which the Crown provides a person accused of a criminal offence all the information and evidence that forms the case against them. Disclosure is a crucial part of the criminal justice process because it allows the accused to fully defend themselves from the charges against them. There are several pieces of information that are common to all types of criminal offences. These are the accused’s criminal background check, the statement of the complainant, or victim, any witness statements, and if applicable, the notes and body cam footage from the arresting officer.
The nature of sexual interference cases leads them to produce very little evidence other than the testimony of the complainant and accused. Therefore, the key part of the disclosure in these cases is the complainant’s statement. Depending on the facts of the case there may be other uncommon pieces of evidence included in the disclosure package such as a record of messages between the accused and the complainant, the testing results for a rape kit, or video or photographic evidence of the offence.
How Long Does It Take to Receive Disclosure?
The process for collecting material for disclosure begins at the police station upon arrest. The police will typically spend around a month gathering up all the available evidence of a sexual interference offence, including but not limited to the kinds of evidence mentioned above, and placing it in a file. Once that stage is complete, the file is sent to the Crown’s office. From there the Crown begins its own two-step process.
The first stage of that process is referred to as vetting. When the Crown vets a file, they are reviewing each piece of information and removing the information that the accused should not get access to. This includes the personal and medical information of the complainant, as well as the personal information of any witnesses. Sexual interference is an intimate crime and because of this, it can take a long time for the Crown to properly deal with all the information available for disclosure. Once vetting is complete, the Crown then conducts screening. Screening is where the Crown takes a position on what sentence they believe the accused should serve if they pled guilty to the offence as soon as possible. Overall, between the police and the Crown, the process of creating disclosure can take several months.
How Does a Person Charged with Sexual Interference in Toronto Get Their Disclosure Package?
The process for acquiring a disclosure package is not automatic. A person in Toronto accused of sexual interference must acquire the package themselves or through a lawyer, such as our counsel, after their first court appearance. There are two different ways to do so. First, the accused may go in-person to the Crown’s office in a Toronto courthouse to acquire a paper version of their disclosure. The procedure for how to accomplish this is specific to each individual courthouse. Physical disclosure packages are often lengthy documents between 50-100 pages long or more.
Disclosure can also be acquired in an electronic format. The accused’s lawyer can make a request for this by sending a message to emails run by the Crown. After the request is received and reviewed, the disclosure package will be made available via upload to the Ontario Disclosure Hub database.