Criminal Code (Canada)

Statutes of Canada Parliament of Canada Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Criminal Code
Parliament of Canada
CitationRSC 1985, c C-46
Enacted byParliament of Canada
EnactedFirst enacted: SC 1892, c 29; carried forward in statute revisions, RSC 1906, c 146 and RSC 1927, c 36; substantially revised and re-enacted, SC 1953-54, c 51; carried forward in statute revisions, RSC 1970, c C-34 and RSC 1985, c C-46

The Criminal Code[1] (French: Code criminel[2]) is a law that codifies most criminal offences and procedures in Canada. Its official long title is An Act respecting the criminal law (R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, as amended). Section 91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867 establishes the sole jurisdiction of Parliament over criminal law in Canada.

The Criminal Code contains some defences, but most are part of the common law rather than statute. Important Canadian criminal laws not forming part of the code include the Firearms Act, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Canada Evidence Act, the Food and Drugs Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the Contraventions Act.

One of the conveniences of the Criminal Code was that it constituted the principle that no person would be able to be convicted of a crime unless otherwise specifically outlined and stated in a statute. This legal document has played a major part in Canada's history and has also helped form other legal acts and laws, for example, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.[3]


Picture of the first page of the Criminal Code, 1892
Canadian Criminal Cases collection

The main body of the Criminal Code is divided into the following major components. In these major sections, there are many subsections that help to accurately layout the law:

The Criminal Code also includes the descriptions of each drug and what schedule it is. This extension helps to determine the severity of the drug and the length of punishment when caught with the drug. It also distinguishes what amount is considered for personal consumption and what amount is considered meant for trafficking. It also includes the different layouts for warrants so that people can familiarize themselves with the form of warrant that the police should have with them depending on the type of search they are conducting. However, the majority of the public may not take the time to view the different warrants, the government has to provide them so that people can refer to them if ever to come in contact with a warrant.

History and evolution

The Criminal Code of Canada stems from a long history of legal documents. The following documents play a part in the construction and changes brought on the Criminal Code:

Evolution of the Criminal Code (Canada), 1892–Present
Act In force Highlights
The Criminal Code, 1892, S.C. 1892, c. 29 July 1, 1893 Sponsored by Minister of Justice Sir John Sparrow David Thompson, it was based on the "Stephen Code", written by Sir James Fitzjames Stephen for a Royal Commission in England in 1879, and subsequently modified by Canadian jurist George Burbidge to address the Canadian context. Its significant provisions included:
  • Ousting from Canadian criminal law any offence under an Act of the British Parliament, "unless such Act is, by the express terms thereof, or of some other Act of such Parliament, made applicable to Canada or some portion thereof as part of Her Majesty's dominions or possessions."[4]
  • Standardization of the age of criminal culpability, so that no juvenile under the age of seven could be convicted, and those between the ages of seven and thirteen could be convicted only where they were "competent to know the nature and consequences of the conduct, and to appreciate that it was wrong."[5]
An Act respecting Arrest, Trial and Imprisonment of Youthful Offenders, S.C. 1894, c. 58 July 23, 1894 Provided for the separation of juvenile offenders from older persons and habitual criminals during arrest, confinement, trial and subsequent imprisonment, as well as integrating efforts with those of children's aid organizations being organized by the provinces.
The Juvenile Delinquents Act, 1908, S.C. 1908, c. 40 Implemented over time by specific proclamations, with respect to a specified province or a portion thereof.[6] The Juvenile Delinquents Act was designed to operate in a similar manner to the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 passed by the British Parliament in the previous year, as well as the juvenile delinquent provisions contained in the later Children Act 1908.

While the minimum age for those subject to the Act remained at seven years, the maximum age varied by province. By 1982, it was set at 16 in six provinces, 17 for British Columbia and Newfoundland, and 18 for Quebec and Manitoba.[7]

Criminal Code, S.C. 1953-54, c. 51 April 1, 1955[8] Reenactment of the Code, with modernization of provisions. It abolished all common law offences (other than for contempt of court), as well as any offences created by the British Parliament or in effect under an Act or ordinance in any place before becoming part of Canada.[9]
Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968–69, S.C. 1968–69, c. 38 Various, from July 1, 1969 to January 1, 1970 An omnibus bill promoted by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968–69 provided for the decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults, the legalization of abortion, contraception and lotteries, new gun ownership restrictions as well as the authorization of breathalyzer tests on suspected drunk drivers.
Young Offenders Act, S.C. 1980-81-82-83, c. 110 April 2, 1984.[10] The Young Offenders Act raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years, and standardized the maximum age to 16–18 years (depending on the province), as well as setting limits on the length of sentence that could be imposed.
Anti-terrorism Act, S.C. 2001, c. 41 December 24, 2001 (principally)[11] Enacted in response to the terrorist attack against the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the Anti-Terrorism Act included provisions regarding the financing of terrorism, the establishment of a list of terrorist entities, the freezing of property, the forfeiture of property, and participating, facilitating, instructing and harbouring of terrorism.
Youth Criminal Justice Act, S.C. 2002, c. 1 April 1, 2003[12] The Youth Criminal Justice Act was passed to address concerns raised by the effects of the Young Offenders Act.

Case studies

There are many case studies out on the Criminal Code, however, there are only five that have been used by the government to analyse the document itself. Each of the case studies focuses on a different area of the Criminal Code. In the case study of Corletta, she is faced with a person who continues to criminally harass her and once he is charged continues the harassment. However, once the time for trial comes, he pleads guilty and gets a one year intermittent sentence. She does not feel this is enough, however, she is unable to do anything as she did not have the proof that he harassed her after his initial arrest (one of the two key factors for his sentence). Therefore, the fact that she was unable to come forward with new evidence that he continued after the initial arrest, he was unable to receive the possible treatment that he may have needed to avoid another incident from occurring. The other four case studies deal with harassment by a known stranger, a partner, a customer, and an anonymous stranger. (For further on the other four cases refer to A review of section 264 (criminal harassment) of the Criminal Code of Canada).

See also



  1. ^ The citation of this Act by this short title is authorised by the English text of section 1 of this Act.
  2. ^ The citation of this Act by this short title is authorised by the French text of section 1 of this Act.
  3. ^ "1892, Canada's Criminal Code". Duhaime.org – Learn Law. Retrieved 2016-09-19.
  4. ^ 1892 Code, s. 5
  5. ^ 1892 Code, ss. 9–10
  6. ^ 1908 Act, s. 36
  7. ^ Robin, Laura (26 May 1982). "Laws affecting young to change". Ottawa Citizen. p. 47.
  8. ^ An Act to amend the Criminal Code, S.C. 1955, c. 2
  9. ^ 1953-54 Act, ss. 7–8
  10. ^ Young Offenders Act: Proclaimed in force April 2, 1984, SI/84-56
  11. ^ [http://www.canadagazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2002/2002-01-02/pdf/g2-13601.pdf Order Fixing December 24, 2001 as the Date of the Coming into Force of Certain Sections of the Act], SI/2002-16
  12. ^ [http://www.canadagazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2002/2002-06-19/pdf/g2-13613.pdf Order Fixing April 1, 2003 as the Date of the Coming into Force of the Act], SI/2002-91