Of all Canadian laws, the most serious types of offences in Canada come from the Criminal Code. There are other criminal, quasi-criminal and provincial offences that are made out by acts like the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Customs Act or the Highway Traffic Act. But in this post, you will learn about the most common types of criminal offences in Canada.

Types of Criminal Offences in Canada

Always consult a professional criminal lawyer in Toronto if you’ve been charged with a criminal offence, no matter how minor or serious. Canadian courts operate as an adversarial system, meaning that the Crown and the police have opposing interests to yours. Even if you’re offered a resolution you think is fair, there could be conditions that aren’t explained to you that have severe consequences to your current life or future plans.

There are three types of criminal offences in Canada – indictable, summary and Crown-electable/”hybrid” offences.

Indictable Offences

These are the most serious types of offences under the Criminal Code and include murder, human trafficking and robbery. The penalties upon conviction range in severity and go all the way up to life in prison and/or massive fines.

If you’re charged with an indictable offence, you can elect to have your trial in the following ways:

  • Ontario Court of Justice before a judge
  • Superior Court of Justice before a judge
  • Superior Court of Justice before a judge and jury

The best option can depend on what you’ve been charged with and the facts of your case. For example, if you’re on trial for aggravated sexual assault, and there is likely to be sensitive or emotional evidence against you, or if your defence relies primarily on technical or legal arguments, it might be better to have a trial before a judge only. On the other hand, if you have a compelling legal defence a jury can sympathize with, having your case tried before a judge and jury could be the better option.

You may also choose to have a preliminary inquiry. This is a test of whether or not there is enough evidence against you that a properly instructed jury could potentially convict you. If there isn’t, you will be discharged and the case against you will be over (unless the Crown appeals). There are other benefits of a preliminary hearing, including discovering that evidence hasn’t been disclosed to the defence or that the police violated the accused’s rights Charter rights during the investigation.

Unlike what you hear in movies and TV, there are no “statutes of limitations” on indictable offences in Canada, meaning you can be charged, tried and convicted of an offence years after it took place if you are prosecuted by indictment.

Once charged, however, an accused person in Canada does have the right to be tried within a reasonable amount of time as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under section 11(b). The Supreme Court of Canada recently revisited the issue of how long a “reasonable amount of time” is and put a ceiling of 18 months for cases tried in provincial court, 30 months for cases tried in a provincial court after a preliminary inquiry or cases tried in superior court. There are exceptions for extraordinary circumstances, and delays caused by the Defence are subtracted from the overall amount of time. A stay of the charges because of an unreasonable delay, or any other Charter violations, isn’t automatic. The Defence will have to submit and successfully argue a motion for the stay first.

Aside from the risks that come with not being represented by a lawyer in a trial proceeded by indictment, not having legal counsel protecting your rights means you could very well lose out on possible avenues for getting the charges against you dismissed, withdrawn or stayed.

Indictable Offences Are the Most Serious

Summary Conviction Offences

Summary or “minor” types of offences in Canada include criminal charges like trespassing, causing a disturbance or unlawful assembly. There is a limitation period of 12 months on pure summary conviction offences after which you can’t be charged or prosecuted. Summary conviction offences are tried by a judge only in Provincial Court.

Unless otherwise stated in the offence section of the Criminal Code, the maximum penalty for a summary conviction is imprisonment for two years less a day in a provincial jail and/or a fine of no more than $5,000 (if the accused is an organization, the maximum fine increases to $100,000). However, alternative sentences are available, as long as certain conditions are met, that include restitution, probation, a suspended sentence, and a conditional or absolute discharge. These sentences are also available for convictions of indictable offences.

If the type of criminal offence you’re accused of is minor enough and the circumstances warrant it, you may be eligible for diversion. This means the Crown will offer to stay or withdraw the charge(s) against you if you make a charitable donation, do community service or attend some form of counselling, for example.

Types of criminal offences where the Crown most often offers diversion include:

  • Theft under $5,000
  • Mischief under $5,000
  • Possession of small amounts of drugs
  • Minor assault

This is another reason to consult a lawyer regardless of how minor the offence you face. In an assault case, for example, a Crown prosecutor might not offer diversion, but a Toronto assault lawyer may be able to convince the prosecutor that you should be because the crime didn’t involve serious violence, along with other factors that would make you eligible for diversion.

Hybrid Offences

The third type of criminal offence in Canada are hybrid offences where the Crown elects whether to proceed summarily or by indictment. To make that decision, the Crown will look at the seriousness of the allegations, society’s interest in the case and the accused’s criminal record, among other considerations. The Crown’s decision is not reviewable except in rare and extreme circumstances.

The majority of offences in the Criminal Code are hybrid offences and can include breach of probation, impaired driving and possession of a controlled substance.

Don’t Take Chances, Regardless of the Type of Offence You Face in Canada

You may think that because you’ve been charged with theft under $5,000, for example, that the consequences of a conviction aren’t that serious. But a theft lawyer will tell you that this type of conviction can make it challenging to find work or travel internationally and may even get you deported. Always consult a lawyer to make an informed decision on how best to deal with your charges.