Commissioner's Directive

Assessing Serious Harm



  • To establish standards and procedures for the assessment of serious harm in the context of risk assessment


Applies to staff responsible for the assessment of serious harm in the context of risk assessment


  1. The Parole Officer will determine if the offence has caused serious harm at applicable points during the sentence.


Serious Harm

  1. The Parole Officer will determine serious harm to victims as a critical component of risk assessment. It is mandatory that serious harm resulting from offences be reviewed and analyzed for all offenders serving sentences for Schedule I and Schedule II offences.
  2. Parole Officers may also determine serious harm to victims as a component of risk assessment for offenders serving sentences for non-Schedule offences.
  3. In any situations where death has resulted from the offence, the serious harm criterion is deemed to have been met.
  4. It is not necessary for an offence to involve each of the elements outlined below; rather, all of the dimensions must be individually assessed to determine whether, when taken together, all the elements of the offence lead to the conclusion that serious harm was caused:
    1. the extent of injury to the victim, as indicated by medical care sought or required
    2. the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding it, including elements such as:
      1. excessive force
      2. brutality
      3. prolonged/repeated abuse or terror
      4. gratuitous violence, or
      5. deviant sexual behaviour
    3. the use of a weapon to harm or threaten the victim, and
    4. particular vulnerability of the victim.
  5. The Parole Officer will consider information provided in victim impact statements to determine the severity of harm.
  6. If harm to the victim is not clearly identified, the Parole Officer will use professional judgement and consult with professionals/research as required (see guidelines in Annex D).
  7. When it is determined that a victim suffered serious harm during the commission of the offence, the Parole Officer will consider whether the level of intervention based on static factors will be rated as “HIGH”.

Assessing Severe Physical Injury

  1. The Parole Officer will consider the following in determining if the offence has caused severe physical injury:
    1. the level of medical intervention involved
    2. physical disability/incapacitation
    3. disfigurement, and
    4. long term reduction in quality of life.

Assessing Severe Psychological Damage

  1. The Parole Officer will use the guidelines in Annex C to determine whether the victim exhibits signs of psychological damage.
  2. The Parole Officer will use the guidelines in Annex B to determine whether the victim exhibits signs of serious psychological disorder.


  1. Strategic Policy Division
    National Headquarters
    Email: Gen-NHQPolicy-Politi@CSC-SCC.GC.CA


Original Signed by:

Don Head





Gratuitous violence: excessive violence beyond that which is "required" to meet an end; or evidence of sadistic behaviour, torture.

Serious harm: severe physical injury or severe psychological damage, as defined in section 99 of the CCRA.



Serious psychological disorders that can result from victimization include depression, conduct disorder (in children), various anxiety disorders, and the exacerbation of pre-existing psychological or psychiatric problems. A frequent symptom in children of sexual victimization is inappropriate sexual behaviour.



  • has suicidal ideation
  • unable to keep a job
  • unable to leave home
  • has no friends
  • frequently shoplifts
  • neglects family
  • has delusions (believes things that could not be true)
  • has frequent panic attacks
  • refuses to go to school (child)
  • has persistent insomnia
  • compulsively drinks
  • addicted to drugs


  • has depressed mood
  • has conflicts with co-workers
  • avoids some places usually considered safe (e.g. shopping malls)
  • has few friends
  • steals from others within the household
  • provides inconsistent parenting
  • is overly suspicious
  • has occasional panic attacks
  • occasionally truant
  • has some nightmares

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the serious psychological disorders resulting from criminal victimization. The diagnostic criteria for PTSD are as follows:

Diagnostic criteria for PTSD

  • reliving of event (intrusive memories, dreams, feeling like event is recurring)
  • feeling numb, persistent avoidance of possible reminders of event, loss of interest in future
  • increased psychological arousal (sleep problems, cannot concentrate, startles easily)
  • duration of disturbance of at least one month



The following lists describe offence and victim characteristics identified in the mental health literature as being commonly associated with psychological disorders resulting from sexual and non-sexual victimization. The presence of each of these characteristics increased the probability that a victim of a criminal offence suffered severe psychological damage. It should be noted that the research literature indicates that sexual offences are more likely to cause severe psychological damage than non-sexual offences.

Offence characteristics

  • sexual offence
  • if a sexual offence, penetration was involved
  • brutality (e.g., serious physical injury, torture)
  • victim held captive
  • repeated offences against victim
  • long duration

Victim characteristics

  • prior mental health or adjustment problems
  • prior criminal victimization
  • female
  • 50 years old or older

Other factors

  • prior positive relationship or relationship of trust with offender (e.g., parent abuses child, assault by marriage partner)
  • no social support for victim provided (e.g., family disbelieves child sexual abuse victim; victim isolated from friends, family, services)



The foregoing are guidelines only. Victims may be seriously harmed although few (or none) of the factors are present. As well, victims may not be seriously harmed even though many of the factors are present. The severity and duration of the factors need to be considered in making judgements about the impact of the crime. To assist in making this judgement, the following table presents various combinations of cases that have been identified in research literature as being associated with severe psychological damage. The cases are presented in descending order of their likelihood of being associated with severe psychological damage (e.g., the ones at the top of the table are representative of cases most often associated with incidents of severe psychological damage and the ones at the bottom depict cases that are unlikely to be associated with severe psychological damage).


Most likely

  • child victim, sexual intercourse with parental figure
  • adult female victim, forced sexual intercourse with significant physical injury
  • adult victim, held hostage for 10 hours, physical injury, plausible death threats
  • child victim, sexual offence without penetration by parental figure or person in position of trust, duration greater than 12 months

Not as likely

  • child victim, sexual offence without penetration by parental figure or person in position of trust, duration of six months or less
  • adult female victim, sexual assault without penetration by male known to victim, threats of injury, single incident
  • adult female victim, physical assaults by intimate male, greater than 12 months duration
  • child victim, sexual assault by stranger, no overt force, three months duration
  • adult female victim, prior mental health problems, armed robbery

Less likely

  • child victim, single incident of sexual assault by stranger, no overt force, low degree of sexual contact
  • adult female victim, single incident of physical assault (bruising) by male acquaintance
  • adult female victim, sexual assault (touching over clothes) by male in position of authority (landlord, boss) no overt force, duration of three months
  • elderly woman living alone, arson in apartment building, not direct target

Least likely

  • exhibitionism, obscene telephone calls (adult or child victims)
  • property offence, family household, no special vulnerabilities
  • adult male victim, assault by male acquaintance

For more information

To learn about upcoming or ongoing consultations on proposed federal regulations, visit the Canada Gazette and Consulting with Canadians websites.