Home » What is a Criminal Act Under Canadian Law?

In Canada, you may face charges for a wide range of criminal offences. The legal document or “Act” that defines and classifies the crimes regulated under Canadian law is called the Criminal Code of Canada. Drug offences are governed by the Controlled Drug and Substances Act as well as the Cannabis Act. These are federal laws, meaning their contents apply to all of Canada, whether in Alberta or another province. As our society is constantly progressing and evolving, the Parliament of Canada updates the various Acts frequently in order to accommodate and improve the justice system continuously.

Regardless of the offence in question, anyone charged with a crime in Canada has the right to defend themselves and is entitled to legal representation. Consult with an experienced lawyer from Chadi & Company if you face criminal charges in Edmonton or elsewhere in Alberta.

canadian criminal acts

Types of offences under the Canadian Criminal Code

The Canadian criminal justice system is based on three classifications of offences which occur under different circumstances, carry different penalties and are tried differently: indictable offences, summary offences, and hybrid offences.

Indictable offences

An indictable offence is the most serious type of crime described under the Criminal Code. Typically, offences are indictable when they involve the intentional infliction of violence, large sums of theft, or other aggravating conditions.

If you are charged with an indictable offence in Alberta, you are most often given the choice of a trial in front of a Provincial Court judge, an Alberta Court of King’s Bench judge sitting alone or an Alberta Court of King’s Bench judge along with a jury. However, certain indictable crimes are tried only in one court or the other. For example, first-degree murder must be tried in the Alberta Court of King’s Bench.

Penalties for conviction of an indictable offence vary greatly depending on the severity of the crime. Some crimes carry minimum penalties, while others are up to the discretion of the court; the maximum penalty for an indictable offence may be as much as life in prison.

Summary offences

A summary conviction offence is generally less serious than an indictable offence. Despite being considered relatively minor, though, summary matters can still carry penalties that you want to avoid, such as jail terms, fines and other negative consequences.

Summary conviction offences are always prosecuted in Provincial Court, and maximum penalties are typically no more than two years in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines. However, alternative measures may be available for certain less severe crimes—particularly if it is a first offence and if you admit responsibility for committing the crime. Accused persons may also have to meet other conditions in order to receive alternative measures.

Once 5 years have passed after completing a summary offence sentence, you may be eligible for a record suspension or pardon. Alternatively, for an indictable offence, you must wait 10 years after the expiration of the sentence you receive in order to apply for a record suspension.

Hybrid offences

Being charged with a hybrid offence means that Crown counsel will consider different factors, such as the nature of the crime, your previous criminal history and the severity of the harm caused, before deciding whether to classify it as a summary conviction offence or an indictable offence and prosecute it as such.

What are examples of criminal acts?

The Criminal Code identifies and categorizes most crimes that can be prosecuted under Canadian law. Consider some of the most common examples (by no means an exhaustive list):

  • Offences against the person – Murder, attempted murder, assault, kidnapping or abduction, causing or attempting to cause bodily harm, extortion, criminal harassment
  • Offences against property – Theft, breaking and entering, arson, counterfeiting, accepting or possessing stolen property, mischief causing damage to property
  • Offences against the administration of law and justice – Failure to appear in court, breaching probation terms, escaping custody/prison
  • Sexual offences
  • Terrorism
  • Hate propaganda offences
  • Driving offences – Impaired driving, hit and run, dangerous operation, criminal flight
  • Weapons offences – Illegal possession or import of restricted or prohibited firearms, careless usage/storage, illegal sale of firearms.

Mounting a defence against a criminal charge

The details of your case should help your lawyer determine your best defence strategy.

Legal precedents have established a number of justifications—sometimes known as true or positive defences that would excuse conduct otherwise considered criminal:

  • You were under duress or committed the crime in self-defence
  • You were mentally incapacitated or in a state of automatism
  • You were intoxicated by a substance and not in control of your actions
  • Committing the crime was otherwise necessary under the circumstances
  • You were provoked (this is considered a partial positive defence, meaning that it can result in reduced charges, such as from murder to the less serious manslaughter)

In addition to defences that justify or excuse criminal behaviour, legal strategies that question the legitimacy of the charges, of the evidence or of other details may be successful in Canadian criminal court:

  • You deny the allegations either entirely or partially—you did not commit the act or your actions did not meet the standards for criminal conduct (you need only establish a reasonable doubt)
  • You were entrapped, or there was an unreasonable delay in bringing your case to trial, in which case your charges should stay
  • The state infringed on your Charter-protected interests – therefore, any evidence gathered during these infringements should be excluded from trial
  • Exonerating evidence was suppressed or excluded, in which case you should be acquitted

Being charged with any crime can have serious consequences—especially if you don’t secure representation from a skilled and trustworthy lawyer. To learn more about how the team at Chadi & Company can help you mount a defence and avoid criminal penalties, call (780) 429-2300 or contact us online to book a free consultation today.

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