Skip to Main Content

Penalties and punishment for criminal offences

As criminal offences are crimes against society, they carry punishments that range from fines to imprisonment.

There are different categories of penalties for criminal offences. Depending on how the government prosecutor, also known as the Crown, decides to proceed, you may face penalties either under summary charges, indictable charges or hybrid charges.

Summary offence penalties

If you have been charged under a summary offence, then it is a less serious offence and the penalties are smaller than those for indictable offences.

The punishments for summary offence penalties are usually a $5,000 fine, up to six months in prison, or a combination of both.

Indictable offence penalties

If you are charged with an indictable offence, then it is a more serious criminal offence and the punishment will be higher if you are convicted than it would have been under a summary conviction.

There are some crimes that will always proceed on indictable conviction due to the seriousness of the nature of the crime. Such offences include: murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, and kidnapping.

If convicted of murder, the offender usually looks at getting a life sentence in prison. For aggravated assault, an offender can look at a maximum of 14 years in prison.

Hybrid offence penalties

A hybrid offence is one where the Crown usually chooses whether it wants to proceed by either indictment or summary conviction. However, until the Crown makes its choice on how to proceed on the charge, the charge is considered to be indictable.

The penalty for the person charged with a hybrid offence depends on how the Crown decides to proceed.

Mandatory minimum sentences

There are offences in Canada considered terrible that they carry mandatory minimum sentences. In other words, if you have been found guilty of an offence that carries a mandatory minimum, there is a prescribed sentence you will serve, because the Criminal Code mandates that you serve at least this amount of time in prison.

Such crimes are always indictable offences like murder and sexual crimes, especially sexual crimes against minors. For example, for aggravated sexual assault against a minor person, the minimum mandatory sentence is five years, meaning if convicted, the offender will serve at least five years.

However, what does and doesn’t carry mandatory minimums can change. Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a law that required minimum sentences for crimes involving prohibited guns.

Purpose and principles of sentencing

Canadian law takes sentencing quite seriously, because a person may potentially be deprived of freedom. However, given the objective of Canadian law is to protect the public and contribute to crime prevention, as well as foster respect for the law and its maintenance, there are objectives that Canadian law follows in determining sentences.

Those six objectives, as per s. 718 of the Criminal Code, are:

  • To denounce unlawful conduct and the harm done to victims or to the community that is caused by unlawful conduct;
  • To deter the offender and other persons from committing offences;
  • To separate offenders from society, where necessary;
  • To assist in rehabilitating offenders;
  • To provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and
  • To promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims or to the

If you have been charged with a criminal offence, contact a criminal lawyer as soon as possible.

Read more:

Mandatory Minimum Penalties under the Criminal Code   

Summary Conviction or Indictable Offence

Purpose and Principles of Sentencing