Jared, a grade ten student, is walking home from a friend’s house one night when he sees three grade twelve boys who go to his school. He remembers that these boys are tough and have been in several physical fights. Jared attempts to pass by the boys without any confrontation, but the boys stop him in his path and start asking him questions.

“Where are you going so fast?” says one.

“Can’t say hi?” says another of the boys.

Jared begins to feel intimidated. He attempts to walk around the boys but they push him back in front of them. Jared retaliates in reaction, punching one of the boys and breaks the boys’ nose. The response stuns the boys and Jared quickly runs away, escaping the boys. When he gets home he tells his parents what has happened, and they encourage him to call the police and let them know what has happened.

Legal questions:

When the three boys surrounded Jared and shoved him, was this considered assault?

If yes, does this qualify Jared’s reaction (a punch) as self-defense?

Legal answers:

Many youth feel that if someone else throws the first punch (for example) then anything that follows is legally acceptable since they are acting in ‘self defence’. This is not always the case. It is important to understand what self-defence really is.

  1. Yes, this is an assault. An assault involves any application of force, or touching, to another person without their consent. This includes shoving them, or hitting them with something, or using your fists. It would also be an assault if the boys threatened Jared or attempted to hit him and missed, as long as Jared reasonably believed they could do so if they wanted. Swinging a punch at someone and not hitting is still an assault.

  2. Yes, this does qualify Jared’s reaction as self-defence. Every person who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling that force, using his or her own force, so long as that force is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm, and is no more than necessary to defend him or herself.

  3. As mentioned above, self-defence must not be intended to cause death or serious bodily harm, and it must be no more than necessary to defend yourself. If someone punches you, you don’t have the right to punch them until they are seriously hurt or killed. Self-defence must be both reasonable and necessary in the circumstances.

Blog post by PLE Team Volunteer Marsha Rampersaud and JFCY summer law student Jeremy Ozier.