Most criminal laws are found in the Criminal Code. Other criminal laws are found in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Customs Act and the Income Tax Act. Provincial offences are set out in a variety of Acts such as The Alcohol and Gaming Regulation Act, 1997, The Traffic Safety Act, or The Wildlife Act, 1998.
Provincial offences are not criminal offences, but in some ways these two types of offences are alike. The Constitution of Canada gives the power to make criminal law only to the federal government. Any law the federal government makes applies across the country. The Constitution gives the provinces the power to make laws too. These laws are called provincial laws. Each province has different laws.
Many provincial offences are punishable by fine or imprisonment just like criminal offences. Usually the law that creates the offence says what the maximum penalty or fine may be. Some provincial laws also say that if you do not pay your fine the judge can send you to jail. A conviction under a provincial law does not form part of a criminal record. However, the province does keep records for its purposes. For example, offences under The Traffic Safety Act result in loss of points under the Safe Driver Recognition Program.
Summary means in a quick and simple manner. Summary conviction procedure means the accused person can get to court relatively quickly. Summary conviction offences are usually less serious offences. Some examples of summary conviction offences are creating a disturbance, joyriding, dining and dashing (not paying the bill in a restaurant) and committing an indecent act in public.
Generally, the maximum punishment is a fine of up to $5,000, a jail term of up to two years, or both. A few summary conviction offences carry higher maximum penalties, such as the offence of sexual assault, which carries a maximum jail sentence of 18 months. There is a six-month limitation period for summary conviction offences. A person cannot be charged more than six months after the incident occurred.
Very few offences in the Criminal Code are only summary conviction offences, though there are many dual offences that end up being prosecuted as summary conviction offences.
Indictable offences are more serious crimes than summary conviction offences. Indictable offences include first and second degree murder, kidnapping with a ransom demand, causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving and aggravated sexual assault.
The penalties for these offences will vary depending on the specific offence with the most severe consequence being life in prison. There is no limitation period for indictable offences. This means that the police can charge a person years after the offence occurred.
Dual offences can be prosecuted as summary conviction or indictable offences. The Criminal Code includes many dual offences; assault, theft under $5,000 and impaired driving are common dual offences. A dual offence is treated as an indictable offence until the Crown Prosecutor gets the case. Then the Crown Prosecutor makes the choice to proceed by summary conviction or indictable procedure.
Usually the Crown Prosecutor prosecutes less serious dual offences as summary conviction offences. The Crown Prosecutor may choose to prosecute a dual offence as an indictable offence if the accused person has a criminal record or there are circumstances that make the crime more serious. The range of penalties depends on whether the Crown Prosecutor prosecutes the offence as a summary conviction or an indictable offence.