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Criminal law is federal law, or is it?

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Most people in Mississauga know that criminal law is the domain of the federal government, so why have provinces and territories passed civil and administrative laws that, in effect, criminalize certain behaviour? And, if provinces are creating these quasi-criminal laws, are individuals’ Charter of Rights and Freedoms rights being respected? These are some of the questions that many people in the criminal defence field have.

One of the great things about the Canadian legal system is that everyone has a certain set of rights and responsibilities granted to them by the Charter. These rights protect against government intrusion and are designed to ensure that the government acts fairly toward all its citizens, which is of particular concern in criminal law. Since these provincial laws are not technically criminal laws, however, there is suspicion that the Ontario government may not always respect its citizens’ rights.

One such right is that in order for someone to be convicted of a crime, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed a crime. This is a high standard and one that is designed to prevent wrongful or accidental convictions. It requires a certain amount of credible evidence, but civil and administrative laws do not require such a high standard.

In order to be found liable under a civil law, the province must only show that is more likely than not that the individual committed the action for which he or she is being tried. Ultimately, this means that it will be much easier to convict people, whether they are guilty or not.

Though there hasn’t been too much of a push by provincial and territorial governments to create this quasi-, back-door-criminal law, there is potential for an erosion of Canada’s most important rights and freedoms.

Source: Canada.com, “Provinces and cities creating ‘criminal law through back door’,” Douglas Quan, June 17, 2014

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