Canadian criminal justice: Regulatory and criminal offences

2 - Regulatory and criminal offences

An “offence” is a legal rule that imposes a penalty for doing something that is prohibited or for not doing something that is mandatory. In other words, it is a law that punishes someone for not following a rule. It is one of the many tools that governments use to regulate society and uphold values.

  • Some offences are “regulatory” in the sense that they are intended to ensure proper compliance with regulatory regimes. A finding of guilt for a regulatory offence can result in a regulatory record (e.g. a “driving record”), a fine, and even jail.

For example, the Ontario Highway Traffic Act includes a number of offences designed to regulate driving (e.g. speeding, failing to stop at a stop sign, careless driving).

  • Some offences are “criminal” in the sense that they are intended to enforce the fundamental values of Canadian society. A finding of guilt for a criminal offence can result in a criminal record, a fine, and jail.

For example, the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act include a number of domestic offences, driving offences, drug offences, homicide offences, sexual offences, theft / fraud offences, and weapons / firearms offences.

There are hundreds of regulatory and criminal offences in Canada and new offences are periodically added in response to new social issues. Unfortunately, the law presumes that people know about each and every offence, no matter how recent or nuanced or obscure – section 19 of the Criminal Code states that “[i]gnorance of the law by a person who commits an offence is not an excuse for committing that offence.”

When someone is “charged” with an offence, it means that a police officer (normally) or a private citizen (in rare cases) has formally accused that person of having committed an offence and a justice of the peace has approved of that accusation. People who are charged with offences are presumed to be innocent until and unless the prosecution can prove that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  However, people who are charged with offences - especially criminal offences - often face other important hurdles while they wait for their trial, including restrictive bail conditions, increased police scrutiny, and stigma from other community members.

Our team is available to represent people and organizations that are already being investigated or have already been charged with regulatory or criminal offences. Our team is also available for consultations with people and organizations that want to minimize the risk that they unknowingly commit a regulatory or criminal offence. Our team offers free consultations to determine whether your legal issues require a criminal defence lawyer – if not, we are happy to refer you to another legal professional to assist with your matter.

Contact the lawyer of your choice for a free consultation.

This blog post is part of our Canadian criminal justice series – we hope that these blog posts will shed some light on the Canadian criminal justice system for clients and potential clients, members of the community, and law students. Feel free to e-mail us at to propose any changes or updates.