The criminal law in Canada has been developed to protect society from the conduct of wrongdoers, and to punish those who do wrong to society. The criminal justice system is effective, but not perfect, and at times may be complex and difficult to navigate. If you’re concerned about the possibility of facing criminal charges, Right Legal can help you connect to an experienced criminal lawyer to help guide you through this difficult time.
Criminal cases are heard in either the provincial court or superior court in each province, depending on the severity of the crime in question. A province’s “superior” court can have many names: The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice are all examples of superior courts (even though only one is actually called “superior”!). Appeals from the Provincial Court are also heard in the superior court.
A case can be appealed from the province’s superior court, and will always go to the Court of Appeal in that province (which is always called the Court of Appeal). Appeals hearings are different from trials in the lower courts, and there are no witnesses or juries. A panel of three judges will hear arguments from lawyers on both sides of the case, and then will either overturn or uphold the decision of the lower court. In criminal cases, appeals often relate to the severity of the sentence decided by the lower court.
Decisions of the Court of Appeal can be appealed, in certain circumstances, to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court hears between 50 and 75 appeals per year, and only on matters of legal significance to the country as a whole. As a result of this, almost all cases have a final decision at the Court of Appeal.
What laws govern the criminal law in Canada?
The primary source of criminal law in Canada is the federal Criminal Code of Canada. The Criminal Code establishes the vast majority of crimes in Canada, as well as the applicable sentences and sentencing procedures. Additionally, statutes at the federal and provincial level can create additional crimes, as long as those statutes are capable of operating alongside the Criminal Code. Pollution and other environmental offences, highway and traffic offences, and immigration offences (such as attempting to enter Canada illegally), for example, have all been created as crimes outside the Criminal Code. Specifically, the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act deals with drug crimes.
What sort of work would a criminal lawyer do?
Lawyers acting in the criminal justice system will act for either the Crown (the government, meaning the federal or provincial Department of Justice) or as criminal defence lawyers. Agents of the Crown are charged by Her Majesty the Queen to carry out the objectives of the criminal justice system. The Crown is required to prove its case against any accused person beyond a reasonable doubt, or the accused will be found not guilty. Lawyers defending criminally accused persons will build defences for their clients and try to argue that the Crown has not made its case for conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. The defence lawyer might include arguments relating to the admissibility of evidence, arguing that the accused’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms have been violated, or that the Crown’s case is not strong enough on the evidence to support a conviction.
Points of Interest
- The Criminal Code contains a number of “zombie” provisions that are no longer valid law, but just haven’t been amended out yet.
- While often considered crimes, and treated in a similar way to actual criminal cases, many traffic offences (ie speeding and parking tickets) are not true “crimes”, and are more properly considered “regulatory offences”. However, this doesn’t mean they are any less valid as charges!