Differences between the Canadian and American Legal Systems, Part 2

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

As criminal lawyers, our clients often have an understanding of the law that is based on watching American television shows and movies. A few weeks ago, we wrote a blog post about how the Canadian legal system differs from the American legal system, despite the fact that both legal systems are based on British common law. This post is a continuation of that list.

Here are some more things you may not have known about the Canadian legal system, as it relates to criminal law:

  • Robes – In most Canadian courts, lawyers, judges and some court personnel wear long formal black robes with white collars. However, unlike in the United Kingdom, lawyers in Canada do not wear wigs.
  • Court formality – Conduct in the courtroom is generally more formal in Canada than in the U.S. Lawyers refer to opposing counsel as ‘my friend’. In Ontario, judges are called “Your Honour,” but in some other provinces, such as Manitoba and Saskatchewan, judges in the Court of Queen’s Bench are referred to as “My Lord” or “My Lady” or alternatively, “Madam Justice” or “Mr Justice”.
  • Bowing to the court – It is common practice for lawyers to bow to the court when entering or leaving the court, and when the judge enters or exits the courtroom.
  • Standing to address the court – When the judge is speaking to you, or you are speaking to the judge, you must stand. You must also stand when the judge is entering or leaving the room.
  • There is no gavel on the judge’s bench – Because Canadian courts are more formal than American ones, we consider gavels to be unnecessary. If the situation inside the courtroom does get out of hand, a judge will usually cast a disapproving look and only rarely raise his or her voice.
  • There are no motions to “strike from the record” – In Canadian courts, if something happens in the courtroom it is on the record no matter what.

This list is far from complete. There exist many superficial and deeply ingrained historical differences that are unique to each of our countries, and make our legal systems quite different than most people would imagine.

If you have questions about a criminal defence matter, please contact the lawyers at Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.