By now we have all been subjected to the tragic details of television star Jussie Smollett's alleged attack in Chicago earlier this year. When the news broke initially, it seemed as though Smollett was a survivor of what appeared to be a hate crime and his colleagues within the entertainment business did not hesitate to express their support and vocalise the need for change. It was and still is a media frenzy.

However, as the evidence unfolded, it quickly became apparent that the crime itself could have been fabricated and orchestrated by Smollett himself. Subsequently, the actor now faces charges for filing a false police report and the story has raised an all important question about the repercussions for such actions.

What are the offences someone can be charged with under the Criminal Code of Canada for filing a false police report or lying to the police?

The offence under the Criminal Code which would be most applicable is committing public mischief under section 140. That section states:

  • 140 (1) Every one commits public mischief who, with intent to mislead, causes a peace officer to enter on or continue an investigation by
  1. making a false statement that accuses some other person of having committed an offence;
  2. doing anything intended to cause some other person to be suspected of having committed an offence that the other person has not committed, or to divert suspicion from himself;
  3. reporting that an offence has been committed when it has not been committed; or
  4. reporting or in any other way making it known or causing it to be made known that he or some other person has died when he or that other person has not died.

The purpose of the law is to discourage and punish false reporting and of course to prohibit people from falsely accusing others. Making a false statement transpires when the person makes the statement with the intention of misleading justice. One cannot be convicted if it is determined that they genuinely believed the statement to be true at the time it was made.

The penalties for committing public mischief are outlined at section 140(2) of the Criminal Code. If the Crown Attorney perceives the case as serious and elects to proceed by indictment, then an accused who is found guilty is potentially liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years. If the Crown decides to proceed summarily (less serious case) and an accused is found guilty then they are liable to a fine of not more than five thousand dollars or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months or to both. The actual punishment imposed for those convicted will vary according to the facts of each case and the circumstances of each offender.

In addition to public mischief, there are several other offences under the Criminal Code that a person could find themselves charged with if they file a false police report or lie to the police. These include the following:

  • Perjury under section 131 of the Code if the person, with intent to mislead, knowingly gives a false statement under oath, affirmation, by affidavit, solemn declaration or deposition;
  • Fabricating Evidence under section 137 of the Code if the person, with intent to mislead, fabricates anything (such as a police report) with the intent that it shall be used as evidence in a judicial proceeding; and
  • Obstructing Justice under section 139 (2) of the Code if the person wilfully attempts to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice.

These offences involving the misleading of justice and which include lying to the authorities are taken very seriously. This is clear when looking at the potential and maximum penalties under the Code. Perjury and fabricating evidence are indictable offences with potential prison terms of up to 14 years, while obstruct justice under 139 (2) of the Criminal Code is an indictable offence with a maximum sentence of imprisonment for 10 years.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.