In Canada summary offences are usually referred to as summary conviction offences. Summary conviction offences are considered less serious than indictable offences because they are punishable by shorter prison sentences and smaller fines. These offences appear both in the federal laws of Canada and in the legislation of Canada’s provinces and territories.
For summary conviction offences that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, section 787 of the Criminal Code of Canada specifies that, unless another punishment is provided for by law, the maximum penalty for a summary conviction offence is a sentence of 6 months of imprisonment, a fine of $5000 or both. Section 786 of the Code has a statute that prohibits persons from being tried for a summary conviction offence more than 6 months after the offence was committed unless both the prosecutor and defendant agree otherwise.
Categories of Criminal Offences
The main categories of criminal offences in Canada are summary conviction offences and indictable offences.
- A summary offence is a criminal act that can be proceeded with summarily, without the right to a jury trial and/or indictment (required for an indictable offence).
- An indictable offence is an offence which can only be tried on an indictment after a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is a prima facie case to answer or by a grand jury (in contrast to a summary offence). In trials for indictable offences, the accused normally has the right to a jury trial, unless he or she waives that right.
Summary Conviction Offences
Generally speaking summary offences are less serious and indictable offences are more serious. Many offences can be prosecuted as either a summary offence or an indictable offence — the Crown prosecutor makes this choice. These offences are called dual offences or hybrid offences. Usually, Crown prosecutors prosecute the less serious of these as summary conviction offences, but they may choose to treat them as more serious indictable offences when, for example, the accused person has a criminal record or where the circumstances make the crime more serious. Court procedures and possible sentences vary according to the category of the criminal offence. “Summary” means in a quick and simple manner. A judge hears summary conviction cases in provincial court. There is no choice of court, and the accused does not have a right to a jury trial. Usually, a person charged with a summary conviction offence is not arrested, but given a notice to appear in court on a certain date at a certain time. The person must be charged within six months of the offence. After this time a person cannot be charged with a summary conviction offence.
Summary Conviction Offences
- Accused must be charged with a summary conviction within 6 months after the act happened. Note that the statute of limitations does not apply to the Criminal Code. Limitation periods are set out in the Criminal Code directly.
- The police can arrest under summary conviction without an arrest warrant notwithstanding s. 495(2)(c) of the Criminal Code.
- Accused does not have to submit fingerprints when charged under Summary Conviction.
- Appeals of summary conviction offences go first to the highest trial court within the jurisdiction.
- After Ontario Superior Court a further appeal would go to the Ontario Court of Appeal, and then finally to the Supreme Court of Canada, but as a practical matter very few summary convictions are ever heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.
- Accused convicted under summary conviction are eligible for an automatic pardon after 3 years provided the accused is not convicted of any further offences during that period.
- Almost always heard first in a provincial court (although some exceptions apply, such as a summary conviction offence included for trial with an indictable offence).