Criminal law


Criminal law comprises the laws that proscribe conduct and establish sanctions. In Canada, most of these texts are compiled in several statutes including the Criminal Code, the Firearms Act, the Young Offenders Act, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Food and Drugs Act.


  1. Property crimes (e.g. theft, arson, enticement)
  2. Predatory crimes (e.g. murder, assault, kidnapping)
  3. Crimes against justice (e.g. misprision of felony, obstruction, corruption)
  4. Crimes against public order (e.g. terrorism, sexual offence, possession and   trafficking of firearms or drugs)
  5. Crimes against the State (treason, spying, tax evasion)
  6. Inchoate crime (attempt, inducement, conspiracy)

The texts comprising criminal law are amended to reflect the changing attitudes of Canadian society. Until 1988, abortion was considered a criminal act.

Although the provinces have the power to adopt “quasi-criminal” legislation, federal law enjoys implicit primacy. In serious cases, the accused has the choice of which court will hear his case. This means the accused can choose Provincial court or Supreme Court. Each province has a Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada, which sits in Ottawa, is the highest court in Canada. It is the final court of appeal, making decisions of national importance and enforcing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Regulatory infractions concern the violation of municipal by-laws, provincial laws and some federal laws. While they are not considered crimes, these acts are judged according to the same procedure.


Criminal defence lawyers advise and defend people accused of crimes and various regulatory offences. They strive to ensure that their client’s rights are protected and that the trial process is fair.

Crown Counsel are lawyers who prosecute the accused on behalf of the state. They have a duty to act fairly and to urge the court to enforce the criminal law.

Legal secretary, paralegal, Justice of the Peace, Court Registrar, Court Clerk, and Sheriff are all related occupations.

Interview with a criminal law attorney

“You have to keep in mind that no situation is black or white,”
Michael Mines, criminal defence lawyer, Vancouver, British Columbia

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