Canada’s justice system handles various criminal offences differently, depending on the seriousness of the crime. The type of offence has a bearing on custody issues, bail requirements, trial procedures, and sentencing.
Levels of Offences
A summary conviction offence, as defined by the Criminal Code, is a minor offence that carries a relatively light penalty. Generally speaking, a person convicted of such a crime will be fined up to $2000 and/or imprisoned for up to six months. The Criminal Code establishes maximum and sometimes minimum penalties for indictable offences, which are more serious crimes. A hybrid or dual procedure offence is one that the Crown can decide to try either as a summary conviction or indictable offence.
Offences Against the Person
Part VIII of the Criminal Code, Offences Against the Person and Reputation, includes violent crimes in which the victim is threatened, injured, or killed. A person commits homicide when directly or indirectly, by any means, he or she causes the death of a human being. A culpable homicide is a killing for which the accused can be held legally responsible. That is, someone intentionally or recklessly causes the death of another person. A non-culpable homicide is a killing for which the accused cannot be held legally responsible, such as death caused by an unforeseeable accident.
Murder, the intentional killing of another human being, is a form of culpable homicide. A killing qualifies as first-degree murder if it is planned and deliberate, if someone is hired to commit murder, if the victim is a police officer or other person employed for the preservation of public peace, or if the murder is caused while committing or attempting to commit another serious offence. Second-degree murder is any murder that does not fit into one of these situations. The mandatory minimum sentence for both first- and second-degree murder is life imprisonment. The only difference is the date at which the offender can apply for parole.
Infanticide occurs when a mother kills her newborn child while she is suffering from a mental disturbance caused by the infant’s birth. Manslaughter is any culpable homicide that is not murder or infanticide. The actus reus of manslaughter consists of killing someone through a wrongful act, even if the killing was not intentional. A charge of murder can be reduced to manslaughter if the accused can show that there was provocation on the victim’s part.
In Canada, the most common form of violent crime is assault. Level one assault means intentionally applying force to another person without their consent, attempting or threatening by an act or gesture to apply force, or accosting or impeding another person while openly wearing or carrying a weapon. Level two is assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm. Level three is aggravated assault, which is defined as wounding, maiming, disfiguring, or endangering the life of the victim. Sexual assault, that is, touching of a sexual nature that is not invited or consensual, also has three levels of severity, depending on the amount of violence involved.
Anyone who counsels a person to commit suicide or aids or abets a person to commit suicide is guilty of an indictable offence. Dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, failure to stop at the scene of an accident, and impaired driving are all motor vehicle offences serious enough to be punishable by prison sentences.
Offences Against Property
Theft, robbery, and breaking and entering are common examples of offences against property. Theft, the taking of property, permanently or temporarily, without the owner’s permission, is the most commonly reported criminal offence in Canada. Sentencing for theft depends on the value of the goods stolen. Theft over (goods worth $5000) is an indictable offence and theft under ($5000) is a hybrid offence with a maximum punishment of 2 years in prison.
Robbery may be defined as theft involving violence or the threat of violence. The seriousness of this offence is reflected in its maximum sentence, which is life imprisonment. Committing the crime of breaking and entering involves breaking into a place such as a house or commercial building with the intent to commit an indictable offence once inside.
Other Criminal Code Offences
According to the Criminal Code, mischief is committed by wilfully destroying property or data, rendering property or data useless, interfering with the lawful use of property or data, or interfering with any person in the lawful use of property or data. Mischief that endangers a person’s life is punishable by life in prison. Fraud is defined as intentionally deceiving someone in order to cause a loss of property, money, or service. In the case of prostitution, either the prostitute or the client can be charged with soliciting. Keeping a disorderly house such as a common bawdy house for the purpose of prostitution or a common betting or gaming house where the keeper of the house keeps a portion of the winnings is an indictable offence.
The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is the federal statute that deals with narcotics and other controlled substances such as heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. A person can be charged with possession of drugs if the person knows what the item is and has some measure of control over it. A person may be found in possession even if he or she gave the item in question to another person or consented to its possession by someone else. Trafficking means to sell, give, administer, transport, send, deliver, or distribute a controlled substance; to sell an authorization for a controlled substance (e.g., a doctor’s prescription); or to offer to do any of the above. To obtain a conviction for possession for the purpose of trafficking, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused possessed the controlled substance with the intention of trafficking. Money laundering is the practice of transferring cash or other property to conceal its illegal origin. To prevent criminals from being able to transfer and conceal the source of money they earn from criminal activity, money laundering has been made a criminal offence.