The Criminal Code of Canada
The Criminal Code is a federal law that includes definitions of most of the criminal offences that the Parliament of Canada has enacted. It is often updated as society evolves and to improve the Canadian criminal process.
Infographic: The Criminal Code of Canada
What is in the Criminal Code?
The Criminal Code includes a wide range of crimes, such as murder, assault, theft and fraud.
The Criminal Code
- defines the conduct that constitutes criminal offences;
- includes rules that set out how people can be guilty of crimes if they help or encourage others to commit crimes, and rules for how corporations and other organizations can be found guilty of crimes;
- sets out defences that a person can raise if they are charged;
- establishes the kind and degree of punishment that may be imposed on someone convicted of an offence; and
- describes the powers and procedures to be followed for investigation and prosecution of an offence.
While the Criminal Code includes most of the criminal law in Canada, it doesn’t contain all of it. There are other federal laws that also contain criminal law but do not form part of the Criminal Code, such as the Firearms Act, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Some parts of the law are set out in court decisions, like some additional defences and definitions of some elements of crimes that are included in the Code.
Why is it called a “Code”?
The Criminal Code is called a “code” because it “codifies” most of the criminal law in Canada in one place. In legal terms, codification is the process of collecting and restating the law in certain areas, usually by subject, forming a legal code such as a book. The Criminal Code is also known by its official, longer title, An Act respecting the Criminal Law.
Where does the Criminal Code apply?
Criminal law exists to help maintain public safety, security, peace and order in society. In Canada, the responsibility for criminal justice is shared between the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments.
Canada’s constitution gives the federal Parliament the power to make criminal laws and as a result, criminal law applies across the country.
The provinces and territories are primarily responsible for enforcing the criminal law. This includes investigating and prosecuting most offences, and providing services and assistance to victims of crime.
When was the Criminal Code made?
The Criminal Code was made law in 1892 by the Parliament of Canada in accordance with section 91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which gives the federal government the power to make criminal laws in Canada.
How often is the Criminal Code updated?
While the Criminal Code became law over one hundred years ago, updates to the Code are made regularly, including to reflect changes in society. New criminal law bills are considered and approved by the Parliament of Canada. Some recent examples can be found here.
Where can I find a copy of the latest Criminal Code?
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