What is Extortion?
Extortion, commonly referred to as blackmail, is a criminal offence under section 346 of the Criminal Code of Canada. While extortion is a serious criminal offence, it is not one of the more common offences that you will see in our criminal courts. This may help to explain why there is not as much information about extortion available online as there is with respect to other criminal offences such as impaired driving, assault, sexual assault, and drug related offences.
To understand exactly what an act of extortion involves, it is easier to break it down into all the elements of the offence. Extortion occurs when
- One person induces or attempts to induce another person to do anything or cause anything to be done.
- The person intended to obtain anything or cause anything to be done.
- The person uses threats, accusations, menaces or violence to induce the other person to do anything or cause anything to be done.
- The person had no reasonable justification or excuse for inducing another person to do anything or cause anything to be done.
Our courts have held that the term “anything” should have a wide and unrestrictive application, and has interpreted anything to include extorting sexual favours, R. v. Davis  3 S.C.R. 759.
The threat itself does not need to be anything illegal. A threat can include disclosing information to a third party or, as discussed below, can include threatening to commence criminal proceedings against someone.
The person who is threatened does not need to be same person who is expected to do anything. A person can threaten another person to cause a third person do anything or cause anything to be done.
The person committing the extortion does not need to carry out the threat to be guilty of extortion. Similarly, the person who is threatened does need not to carry out the perpetrator’s demands for the perpetrator to be guilty of extortion.
Section 346 of the Criminal Code does not define what is a reasonable justification or excuse. However, our courts have previously held that a reasonable justification or excuse is determined based upon the entire course of conduct by the person making the demand for money, property or anything else.
Threatening Criminal Charges is Extortion
In most circumstances criminal charges for extortion arise from a situation where one person is knowingly trying to blackmail another person. The goal is usually to receive money that he or she would not otherwise be entitled to. However, this does not mean that you cannot be charged with extortion if you demand for money, property or anything else that you are legally entitled to and that another person is required to provide you.
It is the nature of the threat that will often determine whether charges of extortion are laid by the police. For example, section 346(2) excludes threats to begin civil proceedings, and therefore you are perfectly entitled to threaten to sue someone if they do not repay a debt they owe you.
Conversely, you are not entitled to threaten to commence criminal proceedings against another person. There are some people who may think that threatening to call the police on another person who will not repay a debt or return personal property can be a quick way to get their money or property back. Even in circumstances where the threat is innocent enough and the person never intends to follow through with it, threatening criminal proceedings still meets all the elements required for extortion. By threatening criminal proceedings you are (1) inducing or attempting to induce a person to do anything, (2) you are intending something to be done, (3) it is a threat, and (4) you have no reasonable justification or excuse. Again, it does not matter whether you are legally entitled to the money, property or anything else owed to you, you cannot threaten to commence criminal proceedings as a way to obtain what you want.
Extortion is a very serious criminal offence. Contact me today if you have been charged with extortion.