Substantive Law on Criminal Offences (1:V)
A. Provincial offences
All offences created by provincial statute are prosecuted as summary conviction offences. Examples of provincial offences are those created by the Motor Vehicle Act, RSBC 1996, c 318, Liquor Control and Licensing Act, SBC 2015, c 19, Family Law Act, SBC 2011, c 25, Employment Standards Act, RSBC 1996, c 113, and the Residential Tenancy Act, SBC 2002, c 78. Other summary conviction offences are established by municipal bylaw (i.e. parking violations and lodging-house violations). Note that Criminal Code offences, though stemming from a federal statute, are prosecuted provincially.
B. Federal offences
A federal statute may create an offence that is an indictable offence only, or is punishable on summary conviction only, or is either indictable or summary (i.e. hybrid) depending on the Crown’s approach. Examples of federal offences are found in the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Income Tax Act, RSC 1985 (5th Supp), c 1 and the Customs Act, RSC 1985, c 1 (2nd Supp). Although the federal government regulates Criminal Code offences, the provincial Attorney General administers the law in this area. This distinction is important in determining who will prosecute the offence. Federal Crown prosecutors handle drug and tax-related offences.
C. Penalties and punishment
a) Summary offences
The Offence Act, RSBC 1996, c 338 provides that offences created under a provincial enactment (often called “regulatory offences”) are punishable by summary conviction (s 2). The Act establishes the maximum penalties that may be imposed upon conviction for a provincial summary offence. These provisions apply except where a provincial statute creating an offence provides for some other penalty. Under the Act, the maximum fine that may generally be imposed is $2,000; the maximum term of imprisonment is six months. The court may impose either or both of these penalties (s 4).
The procedure followed for laying an Information (or charge), issuing a summons, appearing for trial, etc. is set out in the Offence Act. However, the procedure to be followed may be altered by the provincial statute that creates the specific offence.
Where the Offence Act is silent concerning a procedural matter, the Criminal Code provisions governing federal summary proceedings apply. There is little difference between the procedures set out in the Offence Act and the Criminal Code provisions for summary proceedings.
Criminal Code and other federal summary offences
Unless otherwise specified, the maximum penalty for a summary conviction offence is a fine of up to $5,000, up to six months imprisonment (two years less a day on December 18, 2019), or both (Criminal Code, s 787(1)). An example of a summary offence which carries a greater maximum punishment is uttering threats, Criminal Code, s 264.1(2)(b), which carries a maximum punishment of 18 months jail time.
b) Indictable offences
Most indictable offences specify the maximum term of imprisonment. If no maximum is specifically stated, the maximum term is five years (Criminal Code, s 743). Minor indictable offences (e.g. theft under $5,000) carry maximum jail terms of two years. Other indictable offences carry greater maximum jail terms of five years, seven years (e.g. possession of a narcotic), 10 years (i.e. theft over $5,000), 14 years, or life (i.e. trafficking a narcotic).
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