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What are the categories of criminal offences?

Crime scene tape in front of a car.
Photo: iStock

There are many criminal offences in the Criminal Code of Canada, with some offences are more serious than others.

A crime in Canada is defined as a wrongdoing committed against society as a whole. Therefore it must be punished accordingly, and can even lead to the loss of someone’s liberty if they are convicted of a serious crime.

However, not all crimes are serious in nature, and not all lead to serious consequences.

For that reason, there is a differentiation, not just in the categorization of offences, but also in sentencing which goes according to category.

The three categories of criminal offences are:

  1. Summary offences
  2. Indictable offences
  3. Hybrid offences

Summary offences

Summary offences are those offences under the law that are seen as minor. They are often called “less serious offences”.

Usually summary crimes are crimes like causing a disturbance, meaning you are seriously disturbing your neighbours, or other people, because you’re yelling, fighting, drunk, obstructing people or acting in another obnoxious way that interferes with others.

Other minor offences include offences such as:

  • Theft under $5000 (although often treated as a hybrid offence);
  • Trespass;
  • Graffiti.

A person who has been charged with a summary offence is often ordered to appear to a court date, as they are generally not arrested, just charged. Summary conviction cases are typically heard in provincial court.

Furthermore, there is a six-month limitation period to proceed by way of summary conviction.

Sometimes when committing a minor crime or people are charged with a hybrid offence, which will be discussed further on in the article.

The punishment for summary offences is usually limited to a $5000 fine, six months in prison or both.

Indictable offences

Where summary offences are classified as minor crimes, indictable offences are classified as serious offences.

Serious offences include crimes like:

  • Murder;
  • Manslaughter;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Terrorism;
  • Sexual offences;
  • Other violent offences like aggravated assault, assault causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon and more.

The process is a lot different with indictable offences than summary.

Usually, the accused is arrested and taken into custody when the police have reasonable grounds to believe the person has perpetrated an indictable offence or was about to commit an indictable offence.

A person charged with an indictable offence has three choices as to how his or her case will be heard in a court of law:

  • Have a trial by judge alone in superior court;
  • Have a jury and judge hear the case in superior court; or
  • Have a judge alone hear the case in provincial court.

Often before a trial is even to be held, there is a preliminary inquiry. In this proceeding, a judge looks at whether there is even enough evidence to send the accused to trial. If the judge finds there isn’t, then the case is discharged.

Hybrid offences

This type of offence is one where the prosecutor can choose whether to treat it as a summary or indictable offence. Most offences fall into this category.

However, there are some criminal offences that are strictly indictable and do not qualify for hybrid status. Crimes such as murder and aggravated assault do not qualify as hybrid offences, as they are strictly indictable.

Hybrid offences are items such as:

  • Assault;
  • Sexual assault;
  • Fraud under $5000.00;
  • Assault with a weapon;
  • Assault causing bodily harm;
  • Possession of cocaine (simple possession).

Read more:

Department of Justice Canada

Types of offences