The Classification Of Offences In Canada

Pile of books

The Canadian legal code is fairly complex – that’s no surprise, seeing as our criminal code is based on common law, and we have over a century and a half of legal precedents to work through.

One of the complexities of our criminal code can be found in how criminal offences are classified. Fortunately, the classification system is relatively straightforward. There are three types of criminal offences in Canada: summary, indictable, and hybrid.

Summary Offences

Summary offences are the least serious offences. A person who is charged with a summary offence is rarely arrested unless they are “caught in the act” – in other words, if they’re found committing the offence by an arresting officer.

These offences are not tried before a jury – they’re tried before a judge in provincial court. In most cases, a person charged with a summary offence is not required to appear in court – their attorney can appear in their stead. 

Finally, summary offences do not have mandatory minimum sentences and carry a maximum prison sentence of 2 years less a day. That sentence is served in a provincial prison. The maximum fine for a summary offence is $5000.

There are several types of summary offences, including:

  • Engaging in a prizefight
  • Public nudity
  • Causing a disturbance
  • Defacing coins
  • Assisting deserters (that’s an old one)

The list goes on (and on). A good defence attorney can help you reduce your fines and jail time, or even get the charges dropped entirely. 

Indictable Offences

Indictable offences are the most severe criminal offences. These offences include:

  • Murder (1st and 2nd degree)
  • Manslaughter
  • Attempted murder
  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Kidnapping
  • Drug trafficking (Schedule I or II)
  • Theft over $5000

Indictable offences lead to arrests in Canada. The type of indictable offence will dictate if you can have a preliminary hearing, what court you’ll appear in, and whether or not you’ll be able to choose trial by jury. Indictable offences are extremely complicated, and it’s imperative that you hire a lawyer to represent you. 

Finally, indictable offences may carry mandatory minimums – this means that, if found guilty of an indictable offence, you may face a minimum prison sentence, with no discretion in sentencing. 

Hybrid Offences

Hybrid offences are a mix between summary and indictable offences. It is to the Crown prosecutor’s sole discretion whether a person who has been charged with a hybrid offence will be tried for a summary offence or an indictable offence. 

This is because hybrid offences may blur the lines between summary and indictable offences, and a number of circumstances may affect the perceived severity of the offence. Hybrid offences include:

  • Rioting
  • Assault
  • Public mischief
  • Certain forms of drug possession and trafficking

As you can imagine, hybrid offences are even more complex than indictable offences, as you’ll need to contact an attorney who can help whether the prosecutor decides to charge the offence as a summary or indictable offence.

Matt Gould is a defence attorney with experience defending clients charged with summary, indictable, and hybrid offences. To learn more, or to get a defence attorney now, visit