In Canada, there are 2 categories in which criminal offences are divided: Indictable Offences and Summary Offences. It becomes important to classify an offence as either indictable or summary as this classification can affect the following:
- Whether the limitation period to charge you with an offence applies;
- The sentence that may be available for you;
- Which Court will hear your matter;
- Whether a preliminary hearing is available to you; and
- Whether a jury is available to you;
The criminal code provides guidance on whether a crime is considered a summary offence or an indictable offence. You can simply look up the offence in the Criminal Code and it will tell you the classification. For example, the offence of nudity in the Criminal Code identifies it as a summary offence:
- 174(1)Everyone who, without lawful excuse,
- (a) is nude in a public place, or
- (b) is nude and exposed to public view while on private property, whether or not the property is his own,
is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction
Summary offences are tried in the Provincial Court, and there is no jury in these Courts. As per s.787(1) of the Criminal Code unless otherwise indicated, the maximum punishment for a summary conviction offence is 2 years less one-day imprisonment and/or a fine of $5000.00. Additionally, as per s.812 of the Criminal Code, the appeals for summary offences are to the Superior Court. Lastly, per s.786(2) of the Criminal Code, there is a 12-month limitation period from the time of the commission of the offence for a charge to be laid on you.
For indictable offences, these offences can be tried in either the Provincial Court or the Superior Court. For indictable offences, the accused will get to choose his mode of trial. This means that the accused can choose whether he wishes to have a non-jury trial in the Provincial Court or a judge alone or jury alone trial in the Superior Court. Lastly, unlike summary offences, in Canada, indictable offences have no statute of limitation. This means that you can be charged with an indictable offence any time after you have committed the alleged offence.
In addition to the summary and indictable offences, the Criminal Code also classifies hybrid offences. These are offences in which the prosecution can elect to proceed either by indictment or summarily. For example, sexual assault, s.271 of the Criminal Code, is a hybrid offence in which the Crown can choose to proceed by an indictment or summarily. Thus, how the Crown elects to proceed on your criminal matters is important, as this will determine which options are available to you.