I am trying to understand, in general, how laws apply to the use of violence between two individuals, when the circumstances of the use of violence was one of continuous escalation. I invite and welcome any corrections to my terminology or to any of my possibly incorrect base assumptions. I am not considering a specific jurisdiction, rather, I am very interested in how different jurisdictions handle this matter. I do believe that is on topic for Law.SE.

Consider two people having a verbal argument. I would like to assume for purposes of discussion that the option of just walking away is not available - perhaps the setting is a train. Two people yelling at each other have yet to transgress any laws in most jurisdictions, correct? Now A makes a gesture. Now B makes a defensive gesture, that could be interpreted as a threatening gesture. Now A yells in B's ear. Now B pushes A further away from his ear. Now A pushes B. Now B punches.

Clearly B has clearly transgressed. At what point did either A or B perform an initial transgression, that the law would see fit to deal with? Where is the line drawn? Let us call this event N.

Now, the point of contention that I would like to understand is would event N still be considered an aggression, if event N-1 was repeated many times. That is, do any jurisdictions consider an event that is not in itself a transgression, to be a transgression if performed multiple times? Is there a legal term for such actions?

2 Answers 2


Several steps prior to the punch would constitute assault. Criminal assault is defined at s. 265 of the Criminal Code:

265 (1) A person commits an assault when

(a) without the consent of another person, he applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly;

(b) he attempts or threatens, by an act or a gesture, to apply force to another person, if he has, or causes that other person to believe on reasonable grounds that he has, present ability to effect his purpose; or ...

If event N is an assault, it is an assault no matter how many times event N-1 occurred.

But the acts of one person in event N-1 (and repetitions thereof) might give rise to self-defence as a defence to the offence committed by another person in event N. See Criminal Code, s. 34.

  • I would assume that an argument between two people that slowly escalates into a physical fight would when going from clearly legal to clearly illegal pass through various in-between grey zones but the legal understanding is that there is a clear cut off from legal to illegal?
    – quarague
    Sep 29, 2023 at 8:49
  • I see, thank you. Yes, it makes sense (not that law is necessarily dependent upon making sense) that an action, when repeated, may constitute grounds for feeling threatened and thus employing self-defense measures. Do you know if this distinction is unique to Canada or widespread?
    – dotancohen
    Sep 29, 2023 at 10:18

Two people yelling at each other have yet to transgress any laws in most jurisdictions, correct?

No. This already can breach laws, e.g. the two can be a noise nuisance to anyone else, they can break their transportation contract with the train company, they might even violate laws where it comes to insulting someone else.

For example, in this would violate JPC 231:

  1. (Insults) A person who insults another in public, even if it does not allege facts, shall be punished by misdemeanor imprisonment without work or a petty fine.

And in general, unruly behavior like arguing in a train and making rude gestures already violates the 軽犯罪法 - Kenhai Zeiho or Minor Offences law:

A person who falls under any of the items on the left shall be detained or sentenced to a fine.

  1. Be extremely rude or rude to visitors in public halls, theaters, restaurants, dance halls, and other public entertainment venues, or to passengers in trains, trains, passenger cars, ships, airplanes, and other public vehicles. A person who causes trouble through violent behavior


  1. Causing a large number of people in a public place with extremely rude or violent speech or behavior, or using force to prevent trains, trains, passenger cars, ships or other public vehicles, plays or other events, or allocated supplies. Any person who cuts or disrupts the line of members of the public waiting for distribution, or to purchase tickets for such vehicles or events, or to obtain vouchers for the distribution of allocated supplies;
  2. A person who disturbs the tranquility and causes a nuisance to the neighborhood by making abnormally loud noises such as human voices, musical instruments, radios, etc. without being restrained by public servants.

The moment one pushes the other, the instigator commits JPC 208:

  1. (Assault) When a person assaults another without injuring the other person, the person shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not more than 2 years, a fine of not more than 300,000 yen, misdemeanor imprisonment without work or a petty fine.

But you also might be seen as violating the dueling ban by fighting back. Duelling is banned since 1889!.

  • Thank you! This is very different than what I was expecting - which is often the case in law, especially the law of cultures with which I am unfamiliar. Even though it seems that A and B are already transgressing laws in the situation that I described, does Japan have the concept of an event being of itself not a transgression, but repeated incidents themselves being a transgression? That is the real issue that I was trying to address with the example.
    – dotancohen
    Sep 28, 2023 at 21:37
  • 1
    @dotancohen That all falls under the minor offences law, art.1 (5) and (14) - it is rude and causes nusance to the neighborhood
    – Trish
    Sep 28, 2023 at 22:27
  • ‎‎‎‎‎T‎‎‎‎h‎‎‎a‎‎‎n‎‎k‎‎ ‎‎y‎‎ou.‏‏‏‏‏‏
    – dotancohen
    Sep 29, 2023 at 9:14

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