Stalking your ex-girlfriend?

If you’re reading this column, you’ve probably been in a romantic relationship. And, if you’ve been in a relationship, you’ve likely had your heart broken. Maybe you were “dumped” or maybe you “did the dumping”…

Whatever happened, hopefully you were able to move on – and you were able to realize that there are other fish in the sea. But, not everyone realizes this and some people actually stalk their ex-partners after the relationship ends.

Now, there seems to be some confusion over whether or not stalking is illegal. Well, for those of you who don’t know, it is.

I recently watched a television show on Netflix (“Stalked: Somebody’s Watching”), detailing some American stories of stalking. In a few of the stories, the victims reported the incidents to police, but police “couldn’t do anything” because “no harm” occurred.  That explanation was ridiculous - rest assured, stalking is ILLEGAL in Canada.

In 1993, Canada criminalized “stalking-type” behaviour. In criminal law, the technical term for “stalking” is “criminal harassment”.

The law was made in recognition that women are often stalked prior to being injured or killed. In a 1991 FBI study, it was found that 90% of women who were killed by their former husbands were stalked prior to their murders. Similar results were found in an Ontario study, looking at murdered women between 1974 and 1990.

Although you may have never experienced stalking first-hand, we’ve all seen stalking in Hollywood. David Letterman and Madonna, for instance, were both victims of obsessed fans. You may also recall that, in 1989, Rebecca Schaeffer, a television actress, was murdered at her Los Angeles apartment by an obsessed fan who had stalked her for two years.

So, what type of (stalking) behaviour is actually criminal in Canada? Well, it is against the law to harass someone to the point where it causes that person to fear for his/her safety. It can occur when someone is repeatedly followed or contacted, either directly or indirectly (i.e. through a 3rd party). It can also occur when someone sits outside of or repeatedly drives by the person’s home or workplace. Creepy stuff…

A lot of harm can result from stalking, even if someone is never physically injured. Victims of stalking often have DEEP emotional and psychological scars. They may resign from their job, change their name, or move cities. Victims may only wear shoes that they can run in or they may have unlisted telephone numbers for the rest of their lives. Some victims “jump” every time their home telephone rings.

After convicting a stalker, sentencing is very important: as, said above, stalking is sometimes a pre-curser to more violent crimes. Stalkers can be subject to jail. They can also be ordered to attend treatment programs, which are intended to help the stalker deal with loss and sadness. Not surprisingly, stalkers can also be ordered to “stay away” from their victims.

As you might have guessed, this topic is huge. I wish I could dig deeper into the law surrounding criminal harassment. But, I can’t.

So, in closing, if someone is following you or is causing you to be afraid, then do the smart thing: report it to police.

And now you know.

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

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About the Author

Jeff Zilkowsky is a lawyer practicing at MacLean Law in the Lower Mainland and in Kelowna, and focuses his practice on family law and litigation.  

In his column, Jeff provides information about current legal events or points of interest or concern relating to the law. 

The information contained in Jeff’s column should not be used or relied upon as legal advice.

Comments are always appreciated and encouraged, so don’t hesitate to email Jeff at [email protected]

Visit Jeff’s website at www.jeffzilkowsky.com or visit the website of MacLean Law.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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