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Is There A Statute Of Limitations On Crimes In Canada?

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Is There A Statute Of Limitations On Crimes In Canada?

 

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You may have recently read in the newspaper of a man by the name of Ronald Stan who, back in the mid-1970s, burned down a farmer’s barn in the Ontario county of Middlesex. After committing the crime, he travelled south to a small town in Oklahoma, where he resided for the next 37 years under an assumed identity. Despite being presumed dead by Canadian law enforcement, he was apprehended back where the crime was committed, 37 years later, in Middlesex County.

 

His arrest raised an interesting question: had the limitation period for charging him with arson lapsed? Before we answer that, it’s helpful to first understand what a limitation period is. Put simply, a limitation period is a law that defines a specific window of time during which a person who’s committed a criminal offence in Canada can be charged with that offence by law enforcement. Once that time has lapsed, law enforcement is statutorily barred from charging the accused individual with the offence in question, despite the existence of evidence tending to prove his/her guilt.

 

Under the Canadian criminal law, a limitation period only exists for summary conviction offences – which begins running on the date the offence was committed. You’re probably wondering what a summary conviction offence is. Put simply, there are three types of offences in Canada: summary conviction offences, indictable offences, and hybrid offences. Summary conviction offences tend to be less serious crimes, like theft under $5000, while indictable offences tend to be the more serious kind, like arson and murder. A hybrid offence is a middle ground: it’s an offence that can be categorized either as summary or indictable. The majority of offences enumerated in the Criminal Code of Canada are hybrid offences. The purpose behind hybrid offences is to provide the Crown Attorney with some flexibility in how they pursue a certain matter. For example, if the accused has no prior criminal record, then the Crown is likely to pursue the matter summarily, as opposed to by indictment. This is because if the Crown proceeds by indictment, the accused will be subject to a more stringent sentence, if convicted.

 

So how does the limitation period on summary conviction offences apply to hybrid offences? The answer depends on how the Crown Attorney “elects” to pursue the charges. If the Crown proceeds summarily, then the limitation period will lapse 6 months after the date the offence was alleged to have committed. However, if the Crown proceeds by way of indictment, then there is no limitation period before which the charges need to be laid. Therefore, anyone who’s committed an offence that’s classified as either hybrid or indictable will not benefit from the protection provided by the criminal law limitation period.

 

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