Understanding Offence Classifications Under the Criminal Code of Canada

Written on behalf of Barrison Law
Laptop representing offence classifications under the criminal code

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, there are three different categories of offences: indictable, summary, and hybrid. The category that a specific offence falls under will impact various things, such as which level of court will hear the matter, whether a jury hearing is an available option, and the range of sentences that may be ordered if an offender is convicted.

This blog will provide a high-level overview of the different types of offence classifications under the Criminal Code and the impact such classification can have on offenders. It is important to understand the distinctions between these types of offences as the classification of an offence can have substantial impacts on the outcome of your case.

Indictable Offences

Indictable offences carry serious punishments if an accused is convicted, including a maximum imprisonment for life. Some of these offences also carry mandatory minimum sentences. Indictable offences allow the accused to choose their method of trial and decide whether they wish to proceed with a judge-alone trial in provincial court or superior court, or a jury trial with or without a preliminary hearing. Additionally, some offences require the prosecution to agree to the chosen method of trial. Further, offences listed under section 469 of the Criminal Code must be heard by a judge alone at the Superior Court of Justice.

The provincial Court of Appeal hears appeals for indictable offences in the province where the case was heard. There is no time limit for indictable offences. In other words, a person can be charged, tried, convicted or acquitted at any time as long as there is a sufficient basis for the related charges.

Common examples of indictable offences include:

Summary Offences

Pure summary offences, although rare under the Criminal Code, are generally less severe offences and are accompanied by lesser punishments on conviction. Summary offences are sometimes referred to as “petty crimes” or “minor” crimes. They typically carry maximum penalties of shorter prison sentences up to two years less a day, and smaller fines up to $5,000, unless otherwise indicated. Summary offences are heard by a judge in a Provincial Court. In Ontario, summary conviction appeals are heard by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

Summary offences, whether a straight summary offence of Crown elected, have a one-year limitation period meaning that charges must be laid against the accused within twelve months from the date of the alleged offence. Individuals who have been charged with a pure summary conviction offence are also not required to submit their fingerprints to the police upon or after arrest or conviction. An accused may also not be required to personally appear in court if they have a lawyer appearing on their behalf.

Common examples of summary offences include:

  • Disorderly conduct
  • Causing a disturbance in public
  • Trespassing at night
  • Solicitation of prostitution

Hybrid Offences

Hybrid offences are the most common under the Criminal Code and they allow the Crown to elect to proceed either summarily or by indictment. This decision is discretionary and is typically based on various factors, including the nature of the offence and the accused’s prior criminal record. Absolute jurisdiction offences are hybrid offences that must be heard by a judge alone at the Ontario Court of Justice. Section 553 of the Criminal Code outlines various types of hybrid offence that a judge must hear alone at the Ontario Court of Justice alone.

Common examples of hybrid offences include:

Being Tried Within a Reasonable Amount of Time

Once you have been accused of any crime in Canada, you have a right to be tried within a reasonable amount of time as guaranteed under section 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada has established that a “reasonable amount of time” is 18 months for cases tried in provincial court, 30 months for cases tried in a Provincial Court following a preliminary inquiry. This also applies to cases that are tried in a Superior Court.

It is, however, important to note that there are certain exceptions for extraordinary circumstances, such as delays caused by the Defence. If there is an unreasonable delay or your Charter rights are breached, seeking a stay of such charges may be possible.

Final Thoughts of Offence Classifications

Regardless of whether the offence(s) you have been charged with is an indictable, summary or hybrid offence, it is critical to get in touch with an experienced criminal lawyer who can help you understand the nature of your charges and work with you to help you obtain the best possible result. If you are convicted of a criminal offence, you may have difficulty with personal relationships, finding employment, or travelling. As such, a skilled criminal defence lawyer can help you develop a tailored defence strategy and help you make informed decisions in relation to your case.

In some cases, if you have been convicted of a summary offence, or a certain indictable offence, alternative sentences may be available to you if certain conditions are met, such as probation, restitution, or a conditional or absolute discharge. Working with trusted legal counsel can help ensure that your rights are protected, while also providing you with advice on alternative legal avenues available to you, such as having your charges withdrawn, stayed or dismissed.

Contact the Lawyers at Barrison Law for Trusted Advice and Superior Representation in Criminal Matters

At Barrison Law, our experienced criminal defence lawyers help clients defend against indictable, summary and hybrid offences. Whether you are facing charges for murder, assault, treason or trespassing, we can help you understand your options and help you develop a strategic defence strategy. We are located across from the Durham Consolidated Courthouse and represent clients across the Durham Region and surrounding areas. Call our office at 905-404-1947 or reach out to us online to learn how we can assist you.