What is a Crime?
Concepts of Justice
 Explain the purpose of criminal law
 Explain the legal definition of a crime
and the concepts of mens rea, actus
reus, and strict and absolute liability
Crime: Canadian Definition
 a violation of a law that prohibits
specific activities, and for which
there is a punishment that is set out
by the state
 In Canada, a crime is anything that
is defined by Parliament to be a
 Only offences defined in federal law can
truly be called crimes in Canada
 Activities covered by provincial or
municipal laws for which there are penalties
similar to those for criminal acts, are not
“crimes” per se, but are generally referred
to simply as “offences”.
i.e., speeding, not wearing a seatbelt,
drinking under age
To be convicted of a crime…
…two elements are required
Mens Rea
Actus Reus
A Crime
A defendant must not only
commit a guilty act, he
must also have the
intention to commit a
guilty act and thus have a
guilty mind.
Actus Reus (Guilty Act)
 In any offence, the actus reus can refer either to a specific
action, or to the failure to act.
 For example, the failure to do something that is considered to be
one’s duty, such a parent’s duty – Criminal Code 215
 The actus reus of a criminal act must be voluntary.
 Actions over which an accused has no control are not actions
which will normally result in criminal liability.
 Example: A person who has a heart attack at the wheel of a car
and drives into another vehicle has not voluntarily committed the
actus reus of the offence of dangerous driving.
Mens Rea (Guilty Mind)
 The Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the
defendant carried out a guilty act with the criminal intent or
mens rea.
 Intent in the legal sense means having knowledge or being
reckless or wilfully blind to the consequences of an act.
 Knowledge: You know that your acts might cause a crime
 Recklessness: You’re aware that there is a risk that your acts might
cause a crime
 Wilful Blindness: you know that your acts might cause it, but you do it
 Depending on the crime, the definition of intent can change
 Intent can be either general or specific.
 In general intent, which covers most crimes, it must be
demonstrated that the defendant meant to commit a crime
– but didn’t necessarily know the outcome.
 Example: Texting and driving – then hitting and killing
someone by “accident”.
 In specific intent, it must be demonstrated that not only did
the defendant intend to commit a crime but intended to
commit a specific indictable offence.
 Example: Murder
 So, the defendant needs to not only intend to commit a
crime, but intends to violate the law.
 For example a person is not guilty of stealing just
because he took someone else’s property; the courts
must prove he took it with the purpose of keeping it
Sleepwalking a Murder
Kenneth Parks, a 23-year-old Toronto man with a wife and infant
daughter, was suffering from severe insomnia caused by
joblessness and gambling debts. Early in the morning of May 23,
1987 he arose, got in his car and drove 23 kilometers to his in-laws'
home. He stabbed to death his mother-in-law, whom he loved
and who had once referred to him as "a gentle giant." Parks also
assaulted his father in law, who survived the attack. He then drove
to the police and said "I think I have killed some people . . . my
hands," only then realizing he had severely cut his own hands.
Under police arrest he was taken to the hospital where he
underwent repair of several flexor tendons of both hands.
Is Parks Guilty or Not Guilty?
 NOT Guilty
 Because he could not remember anything about the murder and
assault, had no motive for the crime whatsoever, and did have a
history of sleepwalking, his team of defense experts (psychiatrists, a
psychologist, a neurologist and a sleep specialist) concluded Ken
Parks was 'asleep' when he committed the crime, and therefore
unaware of his actions.
 Parks' sleepwalking defense proved successful and on May 25, 1988,
the jury rendered a verdict of not guilty. Subsequently Parks was also
acquitted of the attempted murder of his father-in-law. The
government appealed the decision and in 1992 the Canadian
Supreme Court upheld the acquittals (R v. Parks, August 27, 1992).
Is it a Criminal Offence?
Activity Handout
Absolute and Strict Liability
 Not all crimes require mens rea.
 In cases of strict liability, the defendant will be convicted unless
he can demonstrate that he acted with due diligence.
 Due Diligence: the defence that the accused took every
reasonable precaution to avoid committing a particular offence
 In cases of absolute liability, there is no defence. The defendant
is responsible for his actions regardless of negligence or intent.
Types of Offences
The nature of the offence determines which
court has jurisdiction to hear the case,
 the powers of police to arrest,
 the accused’s right to be released before trial,
 the kind of trial the accused receives.
Three Types of Offences
Summary Conviction Offences
Indictable Offences
Hybrid Offences
Summary Conviction
 These offences are the least serious and trials for these
convictions are held at the lower courts of the Ontario Court of
 The accused does not have a right to a jury trial.
 Trials in these cases are held in front of a judge alone, and
sentencing for this type of offence ranges, with the maximum
penalty being a fine of up to $2000 and/or six months in jail,
unless otherwise specified by law.
Summary Conviction Cont…
 Usually a person is not arrested for a summary offence, but will
receive a notice to appear in court.
 The accused does not have to appear in court personally. A
lawyer may represent the person in the court proceedings.
 A person cannot be fingerprinted for a summary conviction
offence and is eligible for a pardon three years after the
sentence is completed.
 Examples of summary offences include: causing a public
disturbance, loitering, and having open alcohol in public.
Indictable Offences
 Indictable offences are more serious than summary offences
 The procedure followed depends on the seriousness of the
 For less serious indictable offences, trials are done before a
provincial court judge, while the most serious indictable
offences, such as murder, must be tried by a judge and jury.
 For some indictable offences, the accused is put to an election
between being tried by a provincial court judge, a superior
court judge alone, or a superior court judge with a jury.
Indictable Offence Cont…
 A person charged with an indictable offence must show up
personally in court.
 There is no limit on how much time can elapse between the
alleged act and the arrest, which means that police can
charge the person years after the offence occurred.
 The maximum penalty for indictable offences is life
 Examples of indictable offences include: murder, robbery, and
Hybrid Offence
 Hybrid offences are also known as “dual procedure offences” and
can be tried as either summary conviction or indictable offences.
 The Crown chooses whether it wants to prosecute as a summary or
an indictable offence, usually depending upon the circumstances
of the incident, and factors about the offender.
 Examples of hybrid offences include: impaired driving, assault, theft
under $5000, and failing to provide the necessaries of life.
 Most offences in the Criminal Code are hybrid offences. Hybrid
offences are treated as indictable offences until the Crown
chooses which way it wants to proceed. This means that an
accused will be fingerprinted on arrest, even though it is possible
that he will be tried for a summary conviction offence.
Criminal Offence Penalty Charts
Discussion Question
 Fingerprinting for Hybrid Offense
 Police are able to fingerprint those who are charged with indictable
offences. Police often fingerprint those charged with petty hybrid
offences in order to obtain as many fingerprints for police databanks
as possible. These fingerprints can be used to identify persons in future
 Should police be able to fingerprint those who are charged with
hybrid offences?
 Is this a violation of the accused’s rights? Justify your answer.
Word Wall:
 Mens Reus
 Due diligence
 Actus Rea
 Reasonable person
 Crown
 Absolute liability
 Specific intent
 Summary conviction
 General intent
 Hybrid Offences
 Colour of right
 Automatism
 Motive
 Strict Liability