Summary vs Indictable Offences: The Differences

May 27, 2024

Summary vs Indictable Offences: The DifferencesIn Canada, the Criminal Code of Canada and associated acts, such as the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, divide criminal offences into three categories: “summary,” “indictable,” and “hybrid“. Knowing the difference between these categories is essential to understanding the potential consequences if you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offence. This categorization determines how the criminal charge is tried and how high the minimum and maximum penalties can be. In this blog, we will look at examples of summary, indictable, and hybrid offences, their differences and the consequences they can have for you if you are convicted.

What Are Summary Offences?

Summary conviction offences are generally less severe in nature. However, this does not mean they should be taken lightly, as they still constitute breaches of the law.  Generally, summary offences pass through the judicial system quicker, where the matter is addressed through the provincial court, such as the Ontario Court of Justice Examples of summary conviction offences are:

Causing a Disturbance

Engaging in disorderly conduct, such as fighting, screaming, using obscene language, or insulting people, in a public place such as a nightclub, restaurant, shopping mall, or out on the street, could result in a charge of causing a disturbance.

Minor Drug Possession

Drug possession in and of itself is a hybrid offence, meaning that the Crown prosecutor can elect to proceed with a summary conviction or by indictment. The possession of small quantities of certain drugs for personal use might be considered a summary offence. However, it depends on the kind of drug and the quantity. 

Petty Theft (under $5,000)

Unlawfully taking someone else’s property with a total value under $5,000 is considered petty theft. Typically, this involves inexpensive items at a store or pickpocketing. In more severe cases, the Crown prosecutor may elect to proceed with an indictment, making theft, in general, a hybrid offence.

Solicitation

Section 213 (1.1) of the Criminal Code of Canada states that it is a crime to converse with any individual – for the purpose of offering or providing sexual services for a fee – in a public space or any place visible to the public that is situated close to a school area, playground, or childcare centre.

What Are Indictable Offences?

Indictable offences involve more serious crimes and carry more severe sentences. The legal process of indictable offences also differs from that of summary offences.  If you are charged directly with a straight indictable offence or the Crown has elected to proceed by indictment in the case of a hybrid offence, you can choose which trial mode will be applied:
  • A trial in the Ontario Court of Justice before a judge alone
  • A trial in the Superior Court of Justice before a judge alone
  • A trial in the Superior Court of Justice before a judge and jury
While retaining an experienced criminal defence lawyer is heavily recommended if you have been charged with a criminal offence, he or she is particularly critical in this situation as he or she can review your case and determine which trial mode would be most beneficial in your case.  The Preliminary Hearing  Where the Crown has elected to proceed by indictment, you have the right to a preliminary inquiry but only when the maximum penalty is 14 years or more incarceration A preliminary inquiry allows you and your legal counsel to review and evaluate the evidence submitted against you in a live court setting. The purpose of this inquiry is not to determine whether you are guilty or not guilty but to determine whether the Crown has enough evidence to proceed with a trial. Whether you should elect to have a preliminary hearing will depend on the circumstances unique to your case, a decision that should be made in consultation with your defence counsel. Examples of straight indictable charges include:

Murder

Murder is the most severe and well-known indictable charge. The Criminal Code of Canada defines it as the intentional killing of another person. While it can be further broken down into first- and second-degree murder and manslaughter, each with different circumstances and potential penalties, they all are straight indictable criminal charges.

Aggravated Assault

The most severe form of assault is aggravated assault, where the perpetrator intentionally inflicts grievous bodily harm with life-threatening injuries or permanent disfigurement. It is one of the most severe, straight indictable offences.

Arson

Arson involves deliberately setting fire to property, whether your own or someone else’s, for a malicious purpose. It is not limited to buildings but can also concern vehicles, land, and other property types.

Kidnapping

The Criminal Code of Canada defines kidnapping as forcibly seizing and detaining a person against their will, often involving threats or force. These cases cover a wide range, from parental abduction to cases involving ransom demands.

Robbery

Robbery, as opposed to theft, involves the taking of someone else’s property with the use of violence or threats of violence. This makes it another straight indictable offence and is considered a serious crime with equally severe penalties.

Summary vs Indictable Offences

Summary and indictable offences are not as clearly separable as many may think. The majority of crimes are considered hybrid offences, meaning that the Crown attorney can elect to prosecute as either a summary conviction offence or as an indictable offence. This may depend on the severity of the crime, the accused’s criminal history or a case’s specific facts. Let’s have a closer look at the main differences:

Severity

The most distinguishable difference between summary and indictable offences is their severity. Summary offences are generally less severe and often involve non-violent crimes or minor violations. On the other hand, indictable offences cover more severe crimes, which typically involve violent crimes or substantial property damage or loss.

Legal Procedure

Summary offences do not allow for a preliminary hearing or a jury trial, making their legal process a lot more straightforward. Indictable offences, as stated above, follow a full trial process, with an indictment process, choice of trial mode and potential trial before a jury. 

Penalties

The possible penalties for these criminal offences also vary significantly. Whereas with summary offences, penalties include community service, fines, or short-term imprisonment, indictable offences carry far more severe penalties, such as substantial fines, lengthy imprisonment, or both.

Long-Term Implications

Whether you are facing charges for a summary conviction or indictable offence, a conviction will lead to a criminal record, although the consequences are generally less severe for a summary conviction. A criminal record can impact your ability to find employment, travel abroad, and more. As well, whether the Crown elected to proceed summarily or by indictment impacts the waiting period before one can apply for a record suspension.

Charged With an Offence? Speak With Our Criminal Lawyers

Have you or someone you know been charged with a crime? Contact Fedorowicz Law for legal advice. Richard Fedorowicz has over 20 years of experience in criminal defence and a proven track record of success. He will fully assess any elements of a criminal case that could help the most effective defence for each of his Greater Toronto Area clients. Call Fedorowicz Law today at 249-266-4222 or fill out our convenient online form to learn how we can help you with your criminal defence in Toronto!