- The law sets out what acts are crimes.
- Everyone is expected to know what acts are crimes.
- Crimes include cases where someone meant to do harm and cases where they caused harm by being very irresponsible.
Criminal law sets out what acts are considered crimes. In Canada, crimes must be set out in a written law, such as the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. That way everyone can be certain about what behaviour is against the law. They can also know what penalty applies when a law is broken. Not knowing that something is a crime is not an excuse under the law. Everyone is expected to know what is against the law. You can be charged with a crime even if you did not know that your behaviour was a crime.
Criminal Code offences include things like theft, break and enter, assault, fraud and drunk driving. There are also offences dealing with weapons, arson and sexual crimes.
Criminal acts are intentional or deliberate. For example, if you hit or slap someone you could be charged with assault. However, if you accidentally trip and knock someone else over, this would not be the crime of assault because you did not mean to touch the person.
People do not need to intend the results of their actions. A person can be charged with murder, for example, if a victim dies from injuries that the person caused, even if the person did not mean to kill the victim. It is still murder if the person knew the injuries would likely cause death and did not care if the victim lived or died. It can also be a crime to not act responsibly, even if you did not realize you could harm someone with your actions. An example of this is injuring someone in an accident while driving drunk.
Assault and Sexual Assault
Assaults are a common crime against a person. Physical contact without permission is a crime called assault. Sexual contact without permission is a crime called sexual assault.
The criminal law protects people from unwanted contact. Even something that does not cause any harm to a person can be an assault if they did not agree to it. This applies to any kind of sexual contact as well. The laws apply whether the people involved are strangers, co-workers, dating partners or family members.
If a person is asleep, passed out or intoxicated they cannot give consent. In this case any sexual contact is sexual assault. People’s consent must be freely given. If someone agrees to sexual contact because they are threatened this not consent.
People must be at least 16 years old to consent to sex. There are exceptions for younger people who are close in age. 12 and 13 years old can agree to have sex with someone who is less than 2 years older than them. 14 and 15 year olds can agree to have sex with someone who is less than 5 years older than them. Unless one of these exceptions apply it is always sexual assault to have sex with someone who is under 16.
While an assault does not need to involve any harm to the victim, it often does. It is never okay to harm someone because you think they deserve it. The law does not allow people to take justice into their own hands. It is never okay to harm someone because you think it is for their own good. Even if you think it is not harmful it can be a crime if someone is in fact harmed. Beliefs about what is harmful are not a defence.
Property crimes are offences against another person’s property rights. Some examples are vandalism, trespassing, theft, fraud, and arson. When the property involved is valued at more than $5000, the offence is more serious. When an individual is threatened or hurt, the consequences are even more severe.
Separate legislation called the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act deals with drug use in Canada. There are five main offences related to drugs:
- possession for the purpose of trafficking
- importing and exporting
Controlled drugs include:
They also include drugs derived from prohibited drugs or used to make prohibited drugs. Some controlled drug are legal to have if you have a prescription for it. Cannabis was a controlled drug but since it has become legal it is deal with under specific laws and regulations for cannabis.
There are criminal laws that make it illegal to harm or neglect an animal. There are also provincial laws designed to prevent animal cruelty. These laws apply to pets, wild animals or farm animals. Owners are required to provide their animals with adequate food, water, care and shelter.
For most crimes, it does not matter why the person did what they did. There are a few specific exceptions that can be raised as a defence, such as:
- Self-Defence: If you use force to defend yourself. You can only use enough force to protect yourself. For example, if someone is attacking you and you hit them in order to get away.
- Duress: If someone else makes you commit a crime. For example, if an innocent bystander was forced at gunpoint to drive the getaway car after a robbery they might use this defence.
- Provocation: If someone provokes you and your reaction is a crime. For example, if someone deliberately taunts you and you react by hitting them. Your actions would still be an assault but your punishment could be reduced.