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R. v. Steele, 2014 SCC 61 (CanLII)


Present:  McLachlin C.J. and Abella, Rothstein, Cromwell, Moldaver, Karakatsanis and Wagner JJ.


                   Criminal law — Sentencing — Dangerous offender — Application for remand for assessment — Meaning of “serious personal injury offence” — Whether robbery committed by using threats of violence to a person falls within the meaning of a “serious personal injury offence” — Criminal Code R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, ss. 343(a), 752 “serious personal injury offence”, 752.1(1)

                   S robbed a drugstore, telling the cashiers that he had a gun. There is no evidence that he actually had a gun or that physical force was used. No one was injured. One of the cashiers testified that she had been scared during the robbery, while the other described her reaction as one of shock. S was convicted of robbery under s. 343(a) of the Criminal Code on the basis that he had “use[d] . . . threats of violence to a person”. The Crown applied to the court to remand him for assessment pursuant to s. 752.1(1) of the Criminal Code. Both the trial judge and the Court of Appeal found that a threat of violence does not on its own constitute “the use or attempted use of violence” in accordance with subpara. (a)(i) of the definition of “serious personal injury offence” in s. 752 of the Criminal Code.

                   Held:  The appeal should be allowed.

                   This case concerns the scope of the definition of a “serious personal injury offence” (SPIO) and, consequently, the threshold for entry into the dangerous and long-term offender system. A threat of violence that suffices to ground a conviction for robbery under s. 343(a) does indeed constitute the use of violence against another person within the meaning of subpara. (a)(i) of the definition of an SPIO set out in s. 752.


                   Subparagraph (a)(i) of the definition in s. 752 does not invite a court to assess the seriousness of the violence the offender used or attempted to use; any level of violence is sufficient. The words “use or attempted use of violence” must be read in their grammatical and ordinary sense, having regard to their statutory context. Neither the purpose of the SPIO requirement nor that of Part XXIV warrants reading in a qualitative minimum level of violence. This interpretation is consistent with the gatekeeper function of the SPIO requirement.

                   Unless the context or the purpose of the statute suggests a different approach, the prevailing definition of “violence” is a harm-based one that encompasses acts by which a person causes, attempts to cause or threatens to cause harm and not a force-based one. This is not to say that the definition of violence must be a harm-based one in every case. Context will be paramount and there may be situations in which the presumption of consistent expression is clearly rebutted by other principles of interpretation and, as a result, the intended meaning of violence may vary between statutes and even, in some circumstances, within them. The scope of the expression “use or attempted use of violence” must ultimately be determined having regard to the context in which it is used....          

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