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Canada Criminal Code

Almost every potential criminal law in Canada, from acts of terrorism to tax evasion, is governed by the Canadian Criminal Code. The Constitution Act of 1867 established “An Act Respecting the Criminal Law (RSC 1985),” which is commonly known simply as the Criminal Code. The act in Canada provides a useful distinction between what counts as a criminal violation which will stay on a convicted person’s record indefinitely and what does not. Whether you are a resident of Canada or a traveller to the area, the Canada criminal code sets the legal guidelines that everybody must follow. This information here is accurate as of 2019 and should provide a good reference index for the coming year.

A Brief History of the Criminal Code

Canada criminal law received a major overhaul by Parliament in 1867, which saw the introduction of the Constitution Act and the genesis of Canada’s criminal code. The Constitution Act outlined the majority of crimes which would become seen as Canadian criminal offences. The Criminal Code itself, a federal statute enacted by the passage of the Constitution Act, was based on a proposed codification of the English Criminal Law. While England never officially enacted the inspiration for the Canadian Criminal Code, Canada saw the official enactment of this code in 1892. The Canadian Criminal Code has never been fundamentally revised, but it has been modified as the government made consolidations and clarifications over the years. Additionally, some Canadian criminal law, such as narcotics offences, are now a part of other federal statutes.

Despite the age of the Criminal Code, it is not an unchanging document. Canadian law’s always moving, and the code receives amendments almost every year to reflect the changing definition of a crime act in Canada. While a typical criminal might not be expected to know all details regarding what constitutes a criminal act, most parts of the criminal code cover crimes that would violate the law in virtually any civilized country. As society has become more knowledgeable and enlightened on certain topics such as sexual abuse and domestic crimes, criminal codes and their enforcement have adapted to reflect the changing times. As it stands, the criminal code allows lawyers to stay abreast of any change in criminal law, which better allows them to defend their clients.

How the Criminal Code Has Changed

Criminal laws in 1867 focused mainly around what are now the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Canada has grown since then, and both criminals and laws have changed with that growth. Some of the most sweeping changes in Canadian criminal law, the consideration of what a criminal source is, and how the main criminal justice system works include the following historical events:

  • Separation of Juvenile Offenders: July 1894 saw the passage of a statute under the title of “An Act Respecting Arrest, Trial and Imprisonment of Youthful Offenders,” which separated young offenders from adults.Therefore, a young offender doesn’t necessarily carry the same long-term consequences or loss of privacy that adult criminals often have to deal with. Prior to the date of 1894, children faced the same consequences as their adult counterparts.
  • The Statute of Westminster: Passed in 1931, this law removed the right of jurisdiction which British Parliament held over many criminal areas. This caused Canada to assert its independence in legal areas, forcing the country to search within for proper law enforcement.
  • The Supreme Court Act: If there was any doubt as to Canada’s separation from the British Parliament, This 1949 act dispelled them. The act abolished appeals to the Judiciary Committee in London for indictable offences, making the Supreme Court the highest court in the land.
  • The Constitution Act, 1982: Signed into law in the presence of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II, this act not only severed remaining legal ties between the royal rule of England and Canada but also established the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This gave Canada its strongest degree of authority ever in terms of defining its own criminal law and determining the punishment for those who violate the law.

Specific Violations of the Criminal Code

The Canadian Criminal Code is a sizeable document that outlines a variety of crimes and the way in which the government delivers justice to guilty parties for their offences. Different cases that come before the courts form precedent which helps shape the way the law changes in the future. The full Criminal Code is available online through the Canadian government, but it takes a lawyer to truly understand the many statutes and guidelines therein. What follows is a breakdown of legal procedure for a layperson who wishes to know more about criminal law but who does not have the legal expertise granted by a lifetime of study and examination of criminal procedures.


Terrorism is one of the largest-scale threats to any country in the civilized world, Canada included. Sources of terrorism can come in the form of terrorist organizations that use a social contract or propaganda in order to enforces their ethos or individual people who act alone. The Criminal Code makes reference to several other laws and legal proceedings, such as the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, and also adds some stipulations in addition. Notably from a legal standpoint, it counts both acts and omissions in its definition of terrorism. Somebody at a restaurant who sees a potential terrorist activity but chooses to look back at the menu and say nothing could still be legally culpable for damages under the Canadian constitution.

Illegal Firearms

Despite what many foreigners think, Canada does not have an outright ban on firearms. Handgun registration did become mandatory in 1934, and automatic firearms required registration beginning in 1951. Each gun in Canada falls into one of three different categories: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited. Non-restricted firearms are often used for hunting and other sport activities, while prohibited firearms include the use of suppressors, large handgun barrels, and armour-piercing ammunition. Non-restricted firearms used to be part of a registry, but 2012 saw every province but Quebec drop this restriction and destroy both the English and Français records. In 2015, the Supreme Court ordered Quebec to comply with this law. As of December 2018, all provincial regions in Canada now conform to the same standards.


Whether a person swindles Canadian dollars or some other currency out of somebody, they may be guilty of violating laws against fraud. In cases of fraud, the amount of money taken from an individual or organization matters a great deal when the judge makes the final statement and determines the length of a potential jail sentence. A person convicted of fraud in excess of $5,000 could wind up in jail for up to 14 years, while somebody who took under that amount faces a maximum sentence of two years and a fine. Fraud doesn’t have to involve currency directly; it could involve physical goods (possibly even illegal goods, such as drugs) or could be a matter of somebody changing a record book, misrepresenting a bank account, or altering tax forms to lower financial liability. Both scenarios are crimes, with punishments often including jail time based on the severity of the crime.

Destruction of Property

The Criminal Code defines property as “real or personal corporeal property.” Whether a judge might someday be capable of sentencing a criminal for an offence involving digital property might be a matter of precedent or could require clarification through an act of legislation in the future. Regardless, corporeal property could mean virtually anything, from a home or vehicle to a set of personal heirlooms. The law may force somebody who destroys the property to provide reimbursement for the damaged property. Notably, the person who commits the damage is still liable even if they have some claim to the property. For example, if an author who collaborated on a manuscript destroys it before publication, that individual might still be liable for those acts even if they hold part of the relevant copyright and might have earned a commission for the manuscript.

Drugs and Alcohol

Many of the finer details about possession of illegal controlled substances do not appear in the Criminal Code itself but rather in related legal articles as well as the legal documents of individual provinces. Suffice to say that, despite Canada’s recent legalization of marijuana, abuse of drugs and alcohol carry potentially severe penalties even beyond preliminary matters such as fines or licence suspension. In fact, impaired driving laws and on-road conduct in many provinces, including Ontario and British Columbia, have become much stricter in reaction to the new cannabis legislation. They now include a collection of potential distractions that can endanger people on the road, such as the use of text messages or mobile applications while driving.

Murder and Violent Crime

The contents of murder statutes in Canada provide guidelines that apply to all provinces within the country. As the law is listed, murder not only involves violent action against somebody that causes the victim to die but can also include criminal negligence or inaction which leads to another person’s death. This can also cover threatening actions that cause a person to take their own life, especially if the culprit had access to the victim and could have left that person at peace. Any murder often involves a police investigation, during which time officers gather reports and collect evidence that may play a role in the length of sentence that the culprit receives.

A person can be charged with murder as the sole culprit, or police may determine that the murderer acted with assistance. In the latter case, an inquiry will likely examine the evidence available and determine that all associated parties are guilty, provided that a plea deal is not reached. The body of the person or persons are usually necessary to form a murder case. The Canadian legal system breaks murder into two categories and two related crimes with links to murder, which include the following:

  • In general, first degree murder covers cases where the crime was premeditated. Common exceptions to this include a murder committed when assaulting a police officer, killing a young person during a kidnapping, or killing somebody as part of a sexual assault. These provisions allow for a person who did not plan the murder ahead of time to be tried for first degree murder, even if they would normally face a less severe charge.
  • Second degree murder covers all murders which do not fall under the above category. In general, a defence lawyer whose client list likely to be found guilty of murder by a jury will use all the tools available to convince those involved in the trial that the murder falls into this category.
  • Manslaughter covers culpable homicide where the judicial review of the matter determines that the crime does not fall into one of the above murder categories.
  • Infanticide is a special category which covers a mother killing her child when she is not mentally sound post childbirth. This crime often results in the mother facing treatment, either in or out of prison, and requires written information and statements made by a mental health professional.

Murder is one of the most severe examples of a criminal offence. Somebody who has served a murder sentence can only get the crime removed from their permanent record via a pardon issued by the Crown Authority. Such services are rare and usually accompanied by very special circumstances.

Domestic Violence

Those who are in the most need of help often find themselves put at risk by situations of domestic violence. A domestic violence arrest can happen to anybody who is abusing somebody in their family or that they live with, whether they are related to that individual or not. This can include common law spouses and relatives who live with the accused. The key issue in domestic abuse cases comes down to a matter of contact, power, and safety. Anybody who abuses that power for a nefarious purpose could be guilty of domestic violence.

Relating to domestic violence is domestic abuse, which includes nonviolence behaviour that still leaves a person being unsafe. The exact relation between the accused and the victim doesn’t necessarily matter, as long as they live in the same house. Threats, verbal abuse, and psychological attacks all fall into the same department and count as domestic abuse and get prosecuted by an attorney in the same way.

The full Criminal Code is accessible to the public for free and in more than one language via the Canadian government website, which features useful links to aid in navigation to applicable areas. This site includes the current laws and regulations that pertain to this material, although it has a section that covers additional revisions as required. While the Criminal Code does not represent every law in Canada and is far from the last word on justice, the pages do provide a useful index for the community. This important site provides a useful breakdown of the law for anybody who wants to see something on one convenient table, if they want to see how the news connects to the law, or if somebody has concerns about the content of Canadian law or its development.

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