Criminal Law in Canada: Important Facts to Know


A crime in Canada, similar to other countries that uphold the rule of law is considered an offence against whole society. Accordingly, it is the State that usually starts the criminal prosecution. An accused person has a right to a criminal lawyer for their defense.Criminal offences in Canada are outlined in the Criminal Code. The Code codifies most offences and procedures to be followed in Canada.

Types of Criminal Charges in Canada

As a criminal trial is deemed to be an extremely serious matter where the accused person has a lot at stake such as loss of personal liberty and conviction stigma, both the Criminal Code Charter and common law protect the rights of any accused person. It is the right of the accused to assemble a criminal defence team.

An accused person in Canada can get criminally charged in 3 different ways:

  • Indictable offences – usually the most serious of offences like murder. The way these are handled is normally more formal and lengthy. The case may involve a trial by a judge and a jury together, or by a judge alone.
  • Summary conviction offences – typically these are less serious matters that come with smaller penalties, such as mischief and a good criminal lawyer may be all you need.
  • Hybrid offences – these cover the largest part of criminal offences. They could be handled as either summary or indictable offences, largely based on the individual case circumstances. It is the crown prosecutor who decides on the procedure to be used.

Getting Legal Help

When charged with a criminal offense in Canada, you obviously will want to hire a criminal lawyer immediately. You will want a lawyer who is experienced in criminal law as this is a highly specialized law segment. If you are unable to hire a Canadian lawyer, you are allowed to apply for a free legal aid lawyer.

Appealing Against a Decision

An important safeguard in the Canadian legal system allows for the right to appeal in a higher court against the decision of the lower court because an error could have occurred in a trial. The accused, for example, through their criminal defence team may seek to have a higher court reduce a sentence. Similarly, the prosecution team may ask for your sentence to be increased. The higher court has power to deny the appeal, reverse the original decision or in some cases order a re-trial.


In Canada, criminal offenses are federal crimes and the law that governs them is enacted by the Canadian Parliament sitting in Ottawa. These laws define the offences covered and they include among others, murder, robbery, assault, and newer offences that involve organized crime, computers, and terrorism. Criminal laws in Canada are constantly being amended while others are being adapted to fit into a society that is ever-evolving. They are particularly subject to change whenever a new government gets elected to power.