There are three broad categories of criminal offences under the Canadian Criminal Code and we describe them in the following way: summary conviction offences, indictable offences and dual procedure criminal offences.
I will give you an example to explain. An example of a summary conviction is “causing a disturbance” which is a pretty simple, low-level offence. It’s still a crime though. You are in downtown Toronto screaming and yelling on the streets and disturbing the public for 15 minutes and the police arrest you for causing a disturbance. You might get convicted if you were acting in this is manner. The penalties are more limited for summary conviction offences compared to indictable offences because summary conviction charges are the least serious crimes. Under s. 787 of the Criminal Code, the Crown can now ask for up to 2 years less a day in jail even for lower level summary conviction charges and up to a $5,000.00 fine.
Now there are also straight indictable offences which are very serious crimes. Murder is a straight indictable offence. An indictable offence provides an accused with more procedural rights in court, but it also gives the Crown greater rights to ask for substantially increased sentencing penalties. An accused who is charged with a serious indictable offence where the maximum penalty is 14 years or more in jail, has the right to elect to have a preliminary hearing (“PH”) in the Ontario Court of Justice. They can also elect to be tried by a judge alone in the Ontario Court of Justice, or elect to be tried by a judge alone or by a judge and jury in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice with or without having a PH. It is often advantageous to elect to have a PH for a serious indictable criminal charge which I cover in another video.
Now there are also what are called dual procedure criminal offences. Murder is a straight indictable offence. There is no such thing as a summary conviction murder charge fortunately because it is a serious crime. There are also dual procedure offences where the offence can be minor or it can be serious. Now, let’s take an example such as assault causing bodily harm. The bodily harm could be very serious or it could be trifling. I mean a bruising could be bodily harm. For a mere bruising case where the accused has been charged with assault causing bodily harm, the Crown is going to elect summarily and again it limits the maximum penalty to 2 years less a day or a $5,000.00 fine. However, if the victim has a serious broken arm or leg, the crown is probably going to elect by indictment and there is a maximum penalty of up to 10-years in jail.
For dual procedure crimes, the matter could be more serious or less serious. Straight summary offences are obviously lesser Criminal Code offence and indictable is for more serious criminal charges.
Now an important issue under our Criminal Code is that the police have up to 1 year to lay a summary conviction offence against a person. There is a limitation period. If it goes to 1 year and 1 day from the time it happened, they can’t lay the charge. For example, for a straight summary conviction causing a disturbance screaming match in downtown Toronto, 1 year and 1 day after the incident occurred, the police cannot lay a charge.
Let’s take the example of a simple assault charge involving no bodily harm which is a dual procedure offence. So unfortunately, 1 year and 1 day after a very simple minor pushing assault incident resulting in no bruises, the police could still lay an assault charge, but the Crown would have to elect by indictment. So that’s a basic little primer on the 3 categories of crime in Canadian law. In summary, think of summary Criminal Code offences as being less serious offences and indictable offences as being more serious. However, there is a caveat that sometimes minor dual procedure crime has to proceed by indictment if the limitation period of 1 year passes.