Sometimes when an individual is released on bail, on probation, or given a conditional sentence, they are told not to communicate or be in the presence of certain people. However, in the current COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, how do these orders apply in the virtual world? Think of tools like Zoom, Google Meet, or FaceTime. Can there be exceptions?
For starters, a condition that forbids someone from communicating with a specific individual or group of individual is called a “no-contact order.” While restrictions vary, on most occasions a person under an order will be forbidden from talking with certain people, even by speaking to a third-party and having them deliver a message, or by physically going to their homes. As such, no-contact orders can extend to both direct and indirect forms of communication.
The no-contact order would be granted by the Court based on their own discretion, meaning that they will take into account arguments from the Crown attorney and defence counsel before reaching a decision. Certain factors include whether the offence involved “violence or threats against the victim” to begin with, or whether there is a risk posed to the victim if it so happens that the accused comes in contact with them. The Court may also assess whether to give a no-contact order based on the seriousness of the criminal offence.
Does this apply to virtual meetings then? It is already known that even phone calls are often off-limits for those with no-contact orders. As Steps to Justice points out, text messages or other forms of digital contact could be seen as a breach. Admittedly, Zoom and other virtual tools have clearly helped us all in this pandemic to complete tasks, run meetings, and attend classes in ways that seem to eliminate the need to meet in-person. However, while you might not share the same physical space as someone else, it doesn’t mean that it does not qualify as a form of “communication.”
It may follow that virtual tools like Zoom or other virtual technologies would also be prohibited under circumstances where the person you are forbidden to contact with is also involved. However, in instances where an online class does not involve that specific person or persons, a breach may not occur. Caution should be taken if you do not know whether or not an act of communication would be considered a breach of your no-contact order.
Nonetheless, breaking a no-contact order in any situation (virtual or otherwise) can result in several consequences. In Ontario alone, once a breach has been found you can face a summary conviction of a fine up to $5 thousand, or you may be found guilty of an indictable offence and have to pay $5 thousand with a maximum of two years imprisonment. This will also further complicate future conversations between the Crown and your defence counsel in terms of negotiating an outcome that is in your favour. Moreover, if you are on bail, it may be revoked. You would also have an additional charge slapped onto your criminal record.
In the end, despite the numerous benefits of Zoom and other virtual tools like Google Meet and FaceTime, those who are subjected to a no-contact order should avoid implicating themselves in situations where the other person they are banned from contacting are involved. The consequences of breaking your no-contact order should be taken seriously and are not worth the risks involved.